BUILDING INSPECTION FROM A FIREMAN’S STANDPOINT*
When a fireman is called upon to inspect a building there are three points of fundamental importance presented for his consideration; if proper precautions have been taken to enable all employees to reach the street level quickly and directly, what possibilities are present for confining a fire to a limited area of the building or even to the entire building and the accessibility of the building to the fire department. With these cardinal points in mind the inspector will first make his way to the roof; the starting of an inspection from this point is not only customary but is founded on good reasoning as the roof affords a much clearer mental picture of fire sections, exposures, and accessibility than can be gained from starting in the basement of the building and inspecting the entire building without being sure of which interior walls are fire walls. Once on the roof the inspector will concern himself with the fire walls dividing the building into sections if there are any such walls, their height and thickness above the roof as well as the height and thickness of the exterior walls above the roof, both being of major importance and especially so when the building in question is exposed by buildings of equal or nearly equal height. Quite frequently the inspector will find that the plant may be cut up into two or more distinct fire sections but that a continuous wooden or hollow metal cornice makes it possible for a fire to spread from one section to another or that a combustible elevator head is located near one of the parapets on the interior fire walls so that a fire could jump directly to it. These are features which must be carefully noted. If the building is equipped with automatic sprinklers there will be a gravity tank on the roof and possibly the pressure tank will also be set on the roof in a pent house. Sec that the gravity tank is full of water and carefully investigate both the metal hoops on wooden gravity tanks and the steel or iron supports of the tank if same is set on a trestle; all this iron work must be thoroughly protected by mineral paint. Then look at the gauge on the pressure tank and see if it registers at least 75 pounds pressure. If the building is not sprinklered it may be provided with an inside standpipe in which event there is likely to be a gravity tank on the roof for primary supply, the same remarks applying to this tank as to the sprinkler gravity tank. Before leaving the roof also investigate the motor in the head of the elevator shaft, note the condition of the wiring, if oil is permitted to soak into the wooden flooring under the motor and also note the condition of the elevator supports. After seeing that fire escapes are all well painted, have ladder extensions to the roof and that outside standpipes in connection with these fire escapes are well supported, roof valves closed and threads well oiled descend to the top floor. On this floor, as well as on all floors below, note if there are any communications through the interior fire walls or to adjoining buildings, how they arc protected and the condition of the fire doors. Also observe if stair and elevator shafts arc enclosed, in what material, if the openings to shafts are provided with self-closing or automatic fire doors and if the doors to the elevator shaft are of the type which close automatically when the elevator leaves the floor level. If automatic trap doors are, provided in the elevator well make inquiry at the office and find out if they are regularly tested. See that “Fire Escape” signs are provided at all fire escapes and “Exit” signs at all other means of egress and that a gas or electric light enclosed within a red globe is provided at each such sign if plant is occasionally or regularly operated after sun-down.
Also note if adequate aisles are provided leading directly to all means of egress, if there are any obstructions on stairs and fire escapes and if all doors open outward and without the use of a key. In passing it might also be well to observe that when sills of windows opening upon fire escapes are more than two feet above the floor a stair should be built to the sill from the inside. The inspector must also concern himself with the amount of portable apparatus on the various floors such as liquid chemical extinguishers, fire axes, water barrels and pails and see that tag is attached to all chemical extinguishers bearing the date upon which same was last filled. If there are one or more inside standpipes see that hose is sufficient in length to reach all parts of the floor, that hose is attached to standpipe and supported on self-releasing brackets and that all hose is in good condition and fitted with smooth bore brass nozzles. Also see that floor load and “No Smoking” signs are posted. Under the general heading of “Housekeeping” the inspector will note what provision is made for the care of rubbish and sweepings, if metal cans with tight fitting metal covers are provided for same and what final disposition is made of it, if rubbish is allowed to accumulate behind steam pipes, if the pipes themselves are clear of all woodwork both in regard to supporting racks and in passing through floors, if metal cans with self-closing covers are installed for oily rags and waste, if metal pans are provided under metal working machines to catch oily metal shavings or if sawdust is used for absorbing oils from floors or used in wooden spittoons. Among the more prolific sources of fire in factory buildings is the presence of dummy elevator shafts which are frequently used as catch alls for rubbish. The line shafting should also be carefully noted to see if same is well aligned and the bearing running cool and note if drip cups are provided under the hangers. The disposition of ashes from stoves, etc., should be noted as well as the practice of hanging drop cord electric lights over nails and gas pipes, the latter being a very dangerous and a very common custom. Also observe if there are any swinging gas brackets and if stationary brackets have ample clearance to combustible ceilings. Resides bearing’ in mind these points the inspector, as he passes from floor to floor, should take note of all hazards arising from the various processes of manufacture and if such processes are carried on in the open or are partitioned off in fireproof or incombustible rooms with standard fire doors on openings. The uses of various highly volatile oils are common sources of hazard in a great number of factory buildings and the inspector should pay particular attention to the kind and quantity of such oils handled as well as to the manner in which they are handled and their proximity to open lights or fires of any kind. Heat devices of all kinds must also have the consideration of the inspector, their setting, construction, maximum temperature and clearance to combustible material being of paramount importance. Upon arriving in the basement note the setting of the boilers, their clearance overhead and at sides as well as the clearance of the steam dome to the ceiling, the construction of the ceiling immediately over the boiler and the construction of the smokepipe (whether metal or brick) and its clearance to combustible material. Also make note of how ashes are handled and if waste paper and rubbish and coal is allowed to accumulate either around the boilers or the hot water heater. If there is a steam or electric fire pump in connection with the inside standpipe system note if it is automatic in its operation and inquire of the engineer as to its capacity and pressure. Lastly, locate all floor drains and see if they are unobstructed and indicated by signs and request the engineer to oil all valves and hose connections on outside standpipes and as you leave the premises note the best method of entering in event of a fire at night. After leaving the building the last thing to be accomplished is to locate all steamer connections to sprinklers and inside standpipes and to see that they are all properly oiled and capped with non-corrosive plugs.
*Read at Convention of Illinois Firemen’s Association, Murphysboro, Ill.