Chief Lindsay Talks.
A good deal has been printed in the daily newspapers since the burning of the Mansur-Tebbetts building at St. Louis, which was described as a structure built upon approved modern slow-burning methods, but which, filled with inflammable goods, went down in short order before the flames. The construction of the building and the work of the city fire department have come in for about an equal amount of criticism from persons better or worse informed upon the subject, but the statements were so conflicting that we did not care to reprint them.
Now, however, Chief Engineer John I.indsay of the St. Louis Fire Department, has chosen to say what he thinks about the matter, in a letter to The New York Commercial Bulletin, from which we abstract the following :
The Mansur-Tebbetts warehouse was a building of the slow-burning construction class, and scarcely two months old. It was six stories high, 120 feet by 120 feet in area, and had large openings on all four sides. It was, in a measure, isolated from all other buildings except on the east. Adjoining it there was the Pacific warehouse, an old two-story brick building, 120 feet long by 120 feet wide, a fifteen-foot alley intervening between them. The windows of the Mansur building on the east wall were provided with iron-clad wooden shutters on all the floors except the first, which was without any protection except ordinary wood doors. The Pacific warehouse was vacant, or nearly so, at the time of the fire. The wall on the west side abutting the Mansur building was of inch boards.
The fire originated in the Pacific warehouse from some unknown cause, while the department, or a large portion of it, was at work at the Plant mill, a very serious and disastrous fire, for which a third alarm had been sounded. Four of the engines and two hook and ladder trucks that were due on first call to respond to the box (75) from which the alarm for the warehouse fire was sounded were not in quarters, but were engaged at the mill fire. The nearest engine company, a “ back up ” called from another section of the city to cover unprotected territory and stationed five blocks from the MansurTebbetts building, had been called out a few minutes before on a still alarm for a fire caused by sparks from the mill fire. The burning brands and sparks which were driven by a southeasterly wind over the city from the Plant mills, alighting on the roofs of other buildings, were the cause of innumerable small fires. This was largely due to the fact that the atmospheric conditions were never more favorable for the rapid spread of fire. For several weeks before not a drop of rain had fallen, the weather for the same period was excessively hot, and everything combustible was parched and dry. The alarm for the warehouse fire, box 75, was the tenth responded to by the department that day. When the first officer arrived upon the scene he found the Pacific warehouse, 120X 120 feet, a solid mass of flames from one end to the other, the fences, lumber yards and telegraph poles on the opposite side of the street all ablaze, burning fiercely. The iron-clad shutters in the Mansur-Tebbetts building were red hot and every one of them ablaze, in fact some ot them sprung open. A second and third alarm combined was immediately given, which our records show to be three minutes after the first. A general alarm was sounded a few minutes later by myself. The fire had seized upon the very inflammable stock of newly painted and varnished buggies, wagons, farming machinery, etc., and was burning slowly but surely on every floor, each of which had an area of over 14,000 square feet without a division wall, filling the entile building with volumes of dense, stifling black smoke, making it an utter impossibility for any human being to enter. Some of the men ascended by the stairway to the second story and had to be rescued from the windows by a ladder. The pipemen of one engine company who entered the first floor were dragged out almost suffocated. Every possible effort was made to ventilate the building, but to no avail, the men being driven back by the smolce and heated gases. The department, though greatly handicapped on account of the previous fires, did all that was possible for firemen to do to stay its progress. It is my unqualified opinion that, under the circumstances as narrated, no known human agency could have prevented the building from burning as it did. The destruction of a building of this class furn shes a good theme for thought and reflection to all interested parties, with regard to what purposes they may be safely used for their size, location, surroundings and various other pertinent matters that will doubtless be of benefit in the future. But to profit by the lesson given we must deal with all the facts, and not upon vague generalities or theories. Without all the facts nothing conclusive or definite can be arrived at. I am credited with having expressed the opinion that such a building would burn twenty-four hours without being destroyed. This, of course, is absurd. No building constructed of wood, filled with wood, could burn for such a time, no matter upon what plan it is constructed. But I did entertain and often expressed a notion which this fire has confirmed, and that was that if a fire gained sufficient foothold in such a building of large area, stocked with inflammable material, to prevent a department attacking it at short range, it is inevitably doomed, and being much stronger than the ordinary building will stand considerably longer while burning, and so prove a source of very great danger to all surrounding buildings. 1 dare say I am sup|K>rted in this opinion by a large majority of all practical firemen in this country. The statement that every incentive and opportunity was given the building to burn is, as alleged, literally true, but the department is by no means to blame for it. The causes that insured its destruction are : First, the tardiness in giving the alarm ; second, the openings in the Mansur building on the first floor had no iron covered shutters for protection, and the Pacific warehouse had no west wall to retain the fire within it ; third, the dry state of the weather was favorable ; fourth, the department had its hands full elsewhere at the time of its occurrence. And last, but by no means least, the enormous area of the building, the amount of and nature of the stock which was set 011 fire on each floor.
There was no possibility of any fire department preventing its destruction at the time we arrived on the scene. In my judgment the most serious defect in buildings of this design is the lack of means for quick ventilation. Without ventilation a department can do no more than throw streams from the outside. If the building is ventilated and the smoke and gases driven out, the firemen can reach the flames and fight them successfully. A reliable method of quick ventilation is, in my Opinion, the best field for study for underwriters and architects. My practical observation has been that windows are poor ventilators. An ordinary flue, or a scuttle the size of a man’s body, will carry off more smoke and gas than all the windows and be no trouble to open. The work for the architects now is to devise some means of ventilating each floor without the risk of communicating fire to the floors above.