Building Inspections by Firemen

Building Inspections by Firemen

The Important Part This Work Plays in Fire Prevention—Majority of Fires Arise from Preventable Causes—Inspection Work in Boston

THE important part that efficient inspection plays in the matter of fire prevention in connection with the up-to-date fire department is emphasised in the following article. Boston is a leading example of what can he accomplished in this respect.

The work of the modern tire department is divided into two sections. One of these is that pertaining to fire-fighting, which covers all of the work of extinguishment in any branch. The other—and it is of fully as great importance in the up-to-date department as the first—is that of fire prevention. It has been well said that the efficient fire department fights the greatest number of its fires before they occur. This means that the majority of fires arise from causes that can be prevented, and that, with a measurable amount of care and common sense, they need not occur. The office of the fire prevention section of the fire department is to see to it that these fires do not occur.

Inspection as a Help to Fire Prevention

One of the most important means in the hands of the fire department to carry out this object is that of inspection. The inspector, by the exercise of firmness and tact, can do a great work in this respect. In the first place, the inspector is carefully trained to detect hazards which the ordinary layman would not dream of. In the second, there is behind him the authority to enforce his recommendations in case the owner or the occupant of the building is disinclined to consider and act upon them. The nature of this authority varies. Sometimes it is vested in the chief of the fire department; sometimes in the state fire marshal; but there are few modern cities or towns which, either through their own codes, or through those of the state, are not in a position to see to it that the necessary recommendations of the fire inspector are complied with by the individual or corporation receiving them.

Centralized in Bureau of Fire Prevention

The work of inspection in most of the larger cities is being centralized in a bureau of fire prevention, or some similar body, whose head is responsible to the fire chief for this important branch of the department’s work. In some cities all inspection is done by the fire department members assigned to the bureau. In others, by all of the firemen in turn, under the supervision of the bureau’s officers. In others, again, the work is under the direct charge of the fire chief, or one of his assistants, but, in this case, it is usually a smaller municipality which does not need so elaborate an organization.

An Example of the Benefits of Inspection

A recent example of what can be accomplished by systematic, intelligent and careful inspection is the case of Boston, Mass. In that city under direction of Fire Commissioner Theodore A. Glynn and Chief John O. Taber, of the Boston, Mass., fire department orders have been given for an inspection and report on conditions in all buildings in the high value district of the city.

*Boston Correspondent, FIRE AND WATER ENGINEERING.

This work has been going on now for several months by uniformed firemen from the bureau of fire prevention and intelligence, of which Edward I, Tierney is chief. The executive offices and clerical stall are located on the third floor of fire headquarters on Bristol Street.

The information obtained by these department inspectors is being filed for use in making out the building cards for the various district chiefs. These cards as previously described in an article in FIRE AND WATER ENCINEKRIM; show the location of stairways and elevators, kind of goods in buildings, and other details.

Many serious defects from a fire prevention standpoint have already been noted by the inspectors and referred to the proper authorities. In some cases it was found that automatic fire doors were defective in operation, sprinkler systems turned off at the supply valve, and fusible links of chains controlling fire doors painted over.

There are a great many different hazards that must be considered by the inspectors and to make a thorough and complete examination of a large building requires painstaking care in order that no minor violations of laws and ordinances may be overlooked.

Some Hazards to Be Watched for

In tenements of course the chief things to be looked for are accumulations of rubbish, stoves and gas jets too close to wooden partitions, wood piled near basement furnaces, and obstructions on rear fire escapes. Oily mops and rags left in closets are believed to be the cause of many fires by spontaneous combustion. There are a hundred and one things that may cause fire and the inspectors have to be alert and “on the job” all the time.

In one business building a veritable death trap was found in the position of a fast moving belt connected to an electric motor, the installation being close in front of a window where a fireman entering the building from a ladder would step directly into the moving machinery. There was no marking on the outside of the window to indicate the danger. Likewise elevator shaftways are often not marked and in many instances stairways and exits lack the required distinguishing signs.

Cellars Are Especially Troublesome

Especial attention is being paid to having rubbish removed from the cellars of one-story blocks of stores as many bad fires have taken place in buildings of this nature. A fire will break out in the basement of one of these single story blocks containing four or five stores and before the blaze is discovered the flames will have burned through the frame cellar partitions and thus spread underneath a number of stores often involving the whole block. Fire department officials are advocating the enactment of an ordinance or law requiring brick party walls between each separate store in a block.

Besides the inspection of buildings in the down town district firemen are being sent out through the suburban sections of the city to discover any existing hazards and make recommendations for the correcting of the same.

The Boston inspectors have come across considerable amounts of oils and other inflammable liquids stored without permits; they have found NO SMOKING signs in garages often disregarded; they have found rubbish piled up in cellars and attics.

Usually two visits at least are made to a building, the second visit following a week or so after the first in order to make sure that the recommendations made have been complied with by the owners of the property.

Results of Aggressive Inspection Campaign

As a result of this aggressive inspection campaign the number of fires occurring in the business district of the city has been materially reduced. A drive is now being made to keep parked automobiles away from street corners and hydrants and red fire department cards are being left in all cars found violating the city traffic ordinances which prohibit vehicles stopping within ten feet of a hydrant or twenty feet of a street corner.

A Sample Report by Inspector

In order to show the thoroughness with which the building inspections are being made in Boston and as an example of some common hazards the following sample report showing the conditions found in the State Street Block in the heart of the down town district of the city may prove of interest. This report was made by Fireman John F. Good, then a private but since promoted to the ranking of a lieutenant. lie was formerly attached to Ladder Company 9 but for the past year has been detailed to the bureau of fire prevention and intelligence.

Report of Inspection of the State Street Block, Boston, Mass.

This long block of buildings in the heart of the downtown cfistrict of the city is of granite construction. It was started in 1857 and finished in 1858.

The buildings arc numbered from 177 to 235 State Street, brick and granite second class construction, separated from one another by party walls that are carried above the roofs, each building having an average frontage of 25 feet on State Street and extending in depth about 120 feet to Central Street, varying in height from 5 to 8 stories. The buildings have various owners.

Building No. 177 State Street, occupied by various firms for office purposes. Seven storied in height.

Complaint—Valve controlling supply of fuel oil from storage tank to burners not properly marked as required by the regulations of the State Fire Marshal; remote control of oil not plainly labeled to comply with special order of chief of department issued in November, 1922. Fire door of boiler room left open and exposing the rest of basement. Accumulation of waste paper in basement.

Building No. 183 State Street. Seven stories and basement, Occupied for storage purposes by a food concern. Promises in good condition. There was a small accumulation of rubbish which an employee removed during my presence.

Building Nos. 185-187 State Street. Eight stories and basement. Occupied by dealers in nuts. There are about 130 gallons of lubricating oils on the premises without a permit, also some peanut and cocoanut oil. An inflammable fluid application blank was left by me with the manager.

On the 3rd floor of this building there are a battery of eight open kettles containing cocoanut and peanut oil which is heated by the circulation in a jacket around the kettles of an oil called Mepoline, a Standard Oil product. This Mepofine oil is heated by a furnace in basement to about 400 degrees Fahrenheit and is conveyed to kettles on third floor by pipes that are enclosed in a wooden box that runs to third floor; this system of heating kettles by hot oil is the same in principle as that of hot water heating. The kettles are used for the cooking of shelled peanuts.

Building Nos. 189-191 State Street. Occupied by dealers in spices. Eight stories and basement. Room on the 5th floor known as baking powder room in which there is inflammable dust suspended in the air when work is carried on in the room which is lighted by an unprotected electric light bulb. Three windows on 5th floor of State Street side of building obstructed, two by the storage of goods, one by a flag pole and pole standards. Two windows on top floor open directly into a space set off from inside of building in which there is an electric motor and belt that travels with considerable speed. This condition would be a death trap if a fireman was to enter this floor by the said windows during the hours in which the plant is operated. Two tin doors that are supposed to protect opening into a fireproof enclosed elevator shaft have been removed from opening into shaft in basement. This elevator shaft extends from basement to eighth floor.

Building Nos. 193-195 State Street. Occupied by dealers in nuts. Seven and a half stories and basement. A metal dumbwaiter shaft extends from the first to the third floor. The doors of this shaft on the first floor are held open by a rope. The doors or slides on the third floor slide down by their weight, thus leaving shaft open on the third floor.

Buildings Nos. 197-207 State Street. Occupied by dealers in bakery and confectionery supplies. The three buildings are owned by different persons; the buildings are connected to one another by openings in the party walls, the openings being protected by automatic firedoors. Buildings are seven and a half stories and basement.

Building Nos. 197-199 State Street. Elevator shaft open on top floor. On sixth floor sugar syrup dripping from vat onto electric wiring.

(Continued on page 564)

Building Inspection by Firemen

(Continued from page 542)

Building Nos. 201-203. Elevator shaft that extends from basement to the top floor enclosed in wood, with wooden doors opening into shaft and wood trap doors held open during hours in which business is carried on by the occupant. Wood enclosed dumbwaiter shaft extending from, the first to the fifth floor.

Building Nos. 205-207 State Street. Seven and a half stories and basement. Elevator shaft that extends from the first floor to the seventh floor enclosed in wood, wood doors opening into shaft on all floors, wood trap doors on shaft held open during business hours. Wood elevator shaft extends from the 6th to the 7 1/2 floor with no doors on same. Brick enclosure extending upward through building used as conduit for steam pipes. Large opening in same on 6th floor, defective brick work of same on 4th floor. Opening in floor around pipes on 4th floor. Power is transmitted from engine room in basement to 3rd floor by belting enclosed in wooden box and by use of counter shaft and belting is transmitted to the top floor of building from the 3rd floor. There are two openingin this belt box on 6th floor covered with wire mesh and two openings on the 4th floor covered with oil cloth Rubbish and saw-dust found in counter shaft room on 3rd floor. Fusible links on fire doors on the various openings in party walls painted. Fuel oil storage tank of 12,500 galloncapacity on premises. 7,500 gallons of oil in same, no license or permit for the same on premises and no record of same in the Bureau of Fire Prevention and Intelligence Main supply valve not marked as required by regulations of State Fire Marshal. System installed about 5 years ago. Wood door and partition from boiler room where oil is burned exposes rest of basement.

Building Nos. 213-215 State Street, 7 stories and basement. Occupied by dealer in seeds. Elevator shaft that extends upward through building enclosed in wood. Windowon front and rear of building obstructed by storage of goods against the same on 3rd floor level. Wall on right hand side of building cracked on the 2nd and 3rd floors. This condition is due to the recent fire in adjoining building. Two openings in chimney on upper floors. There is a stove connected to this chimney in the 3rd floor.

Building Nos. 217-219 State Street, occupied by wholesale grocery firm. Box on 2nd floor usedfor the keeping of excelsior provided with plain wood doors. About one bale of excelsior left on floor to be used in packing goods. 160 gallons of motor oils on premises. There is a question as to a permit being issued for the storage oi the said oil.

Buildings Nos. 221-223 and 225-227. occupied by dealers in bakery and confectionery supplies. Eight stories and basement. These buildings are connected with one another byopenings in party walls, the openings being protected by automatic closing firedoors. The links of these doors on all floor levels are painted. Automatic closing firedoors on openings into an elevator shaft, the links of these doors are also painted. One defective operating fire-door on 6th floor level in room known as cooler room. Defective operating firedoor on opening into elevator shaft on 5th floor level. All but one window on the front and rear of building on 4th and 5th floors obstructed by the storage of goods against the same. Excelsior storage box on 3rd floor provided with two hinged covers which are left open and in their present condition would have to be closed manually. Automatic closing firedoor on opening in party wall on first floor held open and not provided with weight, rope, and link. Automatic closing firedoor in basement in defective operating condition due to the absence of closing mechanism. Two fire-doors of the vertical sliding type protecting openings into an elevator shaft on the second and first floors in a defective condition due to the guideof doors having pulled out from the masonry.

Building Nos. 229-231 State Street. 8 stories and basement. Occupied by wholesale grocery firm. Wood enclosed elevator shaft extends upward through building. No dooron top floor. Wall cracked on the 3rd and 4th floor level. The crack on 4th floor is directly under brick work of wall that is corbeled out to support a floor timber. One window on third and fourth floor front is clear. The others are obstructed by storage of goods.

Building Nos. 233-235 State Street. Owned and occupied by a creamery company. The present owners are moving to larger quarters, but premises are to be occupied by another tenant. There is considerable rubbish due to present occupant moving out. There arc two stairways in building, one open and one enclosed. The one enclosed is little better than the open one, due to fire doors of same being closed manually and at time of my inspection they were all left open. There are openings in all floors near chimney for passage of steam pipes.

Building Nos. 209-211. Occupied by wholesale groceryfirm. This is the building in which there was a four alarm fire. A survey of the structure was restricted due to itpresent condition as the insurance loss has not yet been adjusted. I cannot refrain from including in this report comment on the able and efficient manner in which this fire was controlled. This is obvious when one takes into consideration the inflammable nature of goods on second floor, which consisted of packing cases, in which goods were stored and filled with straw, excelsior and paper; wood constructed floors and floor timbers; and open stairway leading upward through building in close proximity to body of fire; and the large body of fire which must have been present as evident by the almost burning away of the large hard pine floor timbers used in the construction of this and other buildings of early construction.


Building No. 177. That agent of property be requested in writing to mark controls of fuel and properly dispose of paper in basement.

Building Nos. 185-187. That upon failure of the nut company to make early application for permit to keep inflammable fluids, they be requested in writing to do so. That the manner of heating oil and open kettles containing oil be referred to the State Fire Marshal and the Boston Board of Fire Underwriters for their information and any action that they may care to take in this matter.

Building Nos. 189-191. That the owners be requested in writing to provide a vapor proof globe and guard for electric light in room known as the baking powder room. That at least one of the three windows on fifth floor front be cleared of goods and the same be marked with a cross painted white so that the same can be plainly observed from the street. That a guard he placed around motor and belt located on the top floor on side near windows so that firemen will not be trapped by the same if they enter building by either of the two windows. That orders be given to replace fire doors on opening into elevator shaft in basement; that the building department be informed of this condition.

Building Nos. 163-195. That the owners be requested in writing to equip metal sliding shutters or doors of dumbwaiter shaft with fusible links.

Buildings Nos. 197-199-201 -203, 205-207. That the occupant be requested in writing to remove paint from fusible links of automatic closing fire doors; protect electric wires from sugar syrup dripping on the same on the sixth floor of Nos. 197-199; properly close up opening on sixth and fourth floors in brick enclosure used as conduit for steam pipes in Nos. 205-207; remove rubbish from counter shaft room on 3rd floor of Nos. 205-207; protect opening in floor around pipes on fourth floor of Nos. 205-207; make application to the street commissioners for the storage and use of fuel oil, and to see that the main supply valve of oil system is plainly marked. That the building department be notified of opening at top of elevator shaft in Nos. 197-199; wood

enclosed elevator shaft and dumbwaiter shaft in building Nos. 201-203, wood enclosed elevator shafts in building Nos. 205207; wood boxes used for housing power belting that extends upward through building Nos. 205-207; wood door and partition of boiler room in basement where fuel oil heating system is located. Also of the open wood stairways in all the buildings occupied by this concern.

Building Nos. 213-215. That the building department be notified of crack in walls on the 2nd and 3rd floors of this building, caused by fire in adjoining building; also of the wood enclosed elevator shaft in building. That the occupant be requested in writing to leave one window front and rear free of goods on the 3rd floor and to mark same by a cross painted white so that the same can be seen from the street. That the opening in chimney be properly closed up.

Building Nos. 217-219. That the occupants be requested in writing to keep excelsior in metal container; to tin doors of box used for main storage of excelsior. That if there is no record of a permit for the storage of inflammable oils at this address that the occupant be requested to make application for the necessary permit.

Buildings Nos. 221-223, 225-227. That the occupants be requested in writing to remove paint from the fusible links of doors protecting openings into elevator shafts and party walls; to put in good operating condition the defective doors on 6th and 5th floors and basement and the sliding doors of elevator shaft in the second and first floors. That the covers of the excelsior box be so hinged and provided with links (fusible) that the same will close automatically.

Building Nos. 229-231. That the building department be informed of the crack in walls on the third and fourth floors and that particular attention be paid to the crack on the fourth floor directly under where all is corbeled to support floor timber; that building department be also informed of wood enclosed elevator shaft. That the occupant be requested in writing to leave one window clear on the 3rd and 4th floors and to so mark windows that same can be seen from the street.

Building Nos. 233-235. That the occupants be requested in writing to properly enclose pipes or protect the openings in the various floors where the steam pipes are carried up through the same.


This block has been the scene of many big fires in the past; and due to the open wood stairs in most all the buildings, open and wood enclosed elevator shafts, lack of automatic sprinklers, failure of the present building law to properly protect the existing vertical openings in the various buildings. it is safe to assume that the fire department will be called in the future to cope with fires in this block that will be extremely hard for the department to confine to the place of origin. The buildings that are properly protected arc those in which there has been a large fire in the past and to which, due to the reconstruction of same it was possible to apply the present building law. thereby protecting all vertical openings in the buildings.


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