CONTROL OF FIRES.

CONTROL OF FIRES.

IMPORTANT PAPER BY FIRE COMMISSIONER JOHN R. MURPHY OF BOSTON, IN WHICH HE CONSIDERS INSURANCE RATES, RISKS, METHODS OF CONSTRUCTION OF BUILDINGS AND FIRE DEPARTMENT SYSTEMS ABROAD AND IN THIS COUNTRY.

PART I.

HERE is no way of ascertaining the actual fire losses on property in London. The fire brigade keeps no record. It says that it is not its business to doso. Unlike us, it gives no attention on this point.

It is also absolutely impossible to obtain exact figures of the losses of insurance companies for any year or aeries of years. It is the custom of every company (with some exceptions) to publish full particulars of its receipts and loss payments as a whole, at home and abroad ; but no company thinks to make public its experiences in any London district. The reason for this is, that if the experience be an adverse one, the company can quietly curtail its operations in that district ; and if favorable, it can continue to make a profit without attracting too much attention. The correct figures, doubtless, are in the hands of some insurance managers, but they do not make them public.

According to the annual report of the London salvage corps, which is supported by the insurance companies to iook after their property, it is estimated that twenty-live per cent of the total number of fires in the metropolitan area have no insurance.

The report draws attention toseveral peculiarities in fire risks. In eleven years the number of fires has increased sixty per cent ami the serious fires have fallen from fourteen to six per cent. The claim is made that this result is caused by the special attention given to the isolation of portions of large warehouses and storage premises, and alio to a lately introduced system of patrolling and inspecting, under the directions of the fire insurance managers.

1 found it impossible to obtain definitely the number of fires in London causing a loss of over $25,000, but doubtless those marked “serious” in the brigade report are above that amount. In regard to notable fires, the reports of 1842 will show the casts of extension from one building to another. The construction of their buildings is of such a nature that the losses are confined generally to the building in which the fire originates, although during my short stay, there were a number of extensive fires fully as large as would have occurred during the same time in any American city.

For many years London has been singularly free from disastrous fires. Recently, however, she has had a different experience. The history of fires in great cities is more or less similar. They may have years free from conflagrations, and then they come with a vengeance. London has been no exception to the rule.

It has been said again and again that conflagrations were limited to American cities, owing to the wooden and careless construction. London has been held up for out edification. Yet a day or so ago they had a ‘arge conflagration and a few weeks ago they had another. Of the later one, it has been impossible for me to obtain the exact losses, owing to the peculiar methods that characterise the fire brigade’s records. In this fire, the newspapers claim that the losses are between seven and eight millions.

THE FIRE IN BOSTON.

The accompanying plan of the fire was sketched and afterward verified by a competent engineer. The lines running from the top to the left obliquely represent the buildings, the lines running to the right obliquely represent skylights and the line drawn around in a circle the limits of the fire. The amount of territory burned over was large. Forty buildings were destroyed, and twenty partially so. The buildings were all very small and airy. The heights ran from three and a half to five stories, very few of them the latter height. The buildings were well constructed, with slated roofs ; in many cates occupied by offices, and presented no great difficulties incase of fire, from the construction standpoint. The fire started in the corner ol the building, at the point marked by a star. Owing to the slowness of the methods of the fire departments, and the inflammable contents of the building, the fire, doubtless, got great headway. Even under these drawbacks, it would seem, however, that, with so many partition walls, the fire should have been confined to its point of origin. If in such buildings as these in London, which are built not to burn, a disastrous fire of this kind can occur, the wonder is that in American cities, with their large area buildings and wooden construction, we have not had greater conflagrations.

THE LONDON FIRE.

The history of fires in New York, Chicago and Boston show somewhat similar results. A few days ago New York (if you will remember) bad a large fire, the loss upon which, according to re (Wits, was over $2,000,000. I say according to reports, because the final results, doubtless, will curtail that figure.

I submit a plan of that fire. The star marks the place where the fire started, in Campbell & Co.’s paper hanging establishment. The unbroken floor area of the building where the fire began was large. The result was inevitable, with such a large area, filled with inflammable material. A great volume of flame was produced, and although forty-two engines were on duty (a force equal to the entire Boston Fire Department), the flames jumped a street fifty-five feet wide, and altogether burned over twenty buildings.

If at this fire there had been other large area buildings adjoining the territory burned over, it would have required all the efforts of tfie excellent New York service to have prevented further spread, and it is a question whether they would have succeeded in so doing.

I submit a plan of a fire in Chicago that occurred some time ago, which still further illustrates the dangers from large floor areas and ill-constructed buildings. The star shows where the fire started. It began in a one-story lrame shed in the rear of a block of five buildings full of windows, and from this block the flames jumped a street eighty feet wide and burned the low buildings on the other side, three and four stories high ; also the low buildings in the rear, on the other side of School street. The number of buildings affected in this fire was about twenty.

Here, again, was a case that, owing to the fact that in the neighborhood there were only low three-story brick buildings, the fire did not extend farther. The number of engines at this fire were thirty four. It required the united efforts of a large part of the Chicago service to stop this conflagration.

We have the same trouble in Boston that they have had in New York and Chicago, but our large floor area buildings appear to be more poorly constructed than in the latter cities, and we are unfortunate in the sense that they are in the neighborhood of other large area buildings, and are surrounded by narrow streets.

I submit a plan of the Hecht building fire. The point where the fire was supposed to have started is shown by the star. It jumped across the small passageway (over the skylight), eight feet in width, into the Summer street building, which had no shutters; and the falling of the walls sent the fire into the building next the one without the shutters, also into the annex buildings on the Federal street side, connected with the main building by iron doors. The construction of this building was of the usual American construction, which characterized buildings fifteen years ago—plenty of wood, some iron and brick.

The fire in New York the other day jumped fifty-five feet ; the fire in Chicago eighty feet ; and the fire in Boston only eight feet. These three fires owe their spread to the vast volume of flame generated in a large area. In view of the construction of the buildings, and of the result of these fires, a great deal of credit should be given to the respective fire departments, especially so when we compare these fires with the plan of the fire in London, which spread as far and destroyed more buildings. With us they would be considered, from their small size, numerous brick partitions and good construction, extremely easy to handle in case of fire.

SCENE OF THE CHICAGO FIRE.

I went through six of the most difficult “ warehouse ” risks in London. The business is similar to our large retail houses.

My personal inspection of these buildings showed that the floors were generally of concrete, the roofs of slate or metal, the ceilings concrete, arched bricking used everywhere, openings made in the walls protected by double steel doors, partiwalls of great thickness, subways from one building to another, rather than passages over ground—in short, everything was done to produce perfect construction. The reason for this action of the occupants was that they might obtain low rates of insurance. Yet with all this excellence of construction in London, there are many large houses, as in Boston, who have to go abroad to obtain all the insurance they want.

The buildings of Maple & Co., upholsterers, cabinet makers and general house furnishers, are divided into three divisions. Personally I went through these buildings, and found the construction well-nigh perfect from a fire standpoint. In addition, they seemed to have provided every appliance in the way of hose, night watchmen, etc., for meeting any possible emergency.

The average area of each building in division r is 1256 square feet; the heights ®f the buildings vary from three to four stories, and in some instances they are five stories high. The stories are excessively low studded, and the five-story building in this case, as in most London buildings, appears to be not higher than an average three-story building in America. The total number of buildings occupied by Maple & Co. is seventy-five in one division, twelve in another and five in a third. The result of having so many buildings divided by brick walls, with double iron doors covering the openings (and the size of these doors limited), is the general prevention ol the spread of fire beyond the building where it originates.

The theory of the construction of all large buildings in London is to be praised. It is the same principle which makes the modern ocean steamer well-nigh unsinkable. A series o{ water-tight compartments, with all connections provided with doors, has robbed the sea of many of its dangers. The same principle, with fireproof construction, applied in buildings in London, has prevented the disastrous fires from large floor area buildings by which American cities have suffered.

PLAN OF THE NEW YORK FIRE.

A few of the marked characteristics of Maple & Co.’s are concrete ceilings ; in many cases stone stairs ; windows protected by iron shutters, and the isolation of the dangerous portions of the business in specially constructed buildings, so that in case of fire that particular portion of the business would be injured and no other.

What is true of the construction of Maple & Co. is equally true, to a greater or less extent, of the plans of five other buildings.

In William Whiteley’s stores there have been many costly fires in times past, involving large losses, yet, owing to the method of sub-division into numerous small buildings by partition walls, the fires have never completely destroyed the whole property. It is divided into two distinct parts by Douglas place, under which subways are run. The total area of one part is 70,400 square feet, and it is divided into log buildings. The area of part 2 is 72,000 square feet, divided into forty buildings. Owing to the fact that the rate of insurance paid upon these buildings is twenty-one shillings, and the. reputation that they have enjoyed for large fires, my examination was very thorough. The portion of the stores facing on Queen’s row are of first-class construction—concrete, stone floors ; walls of great thickness ; double doors protecting openings in the wall, and brick arches in the basement. In short, everything seemed to have been done to prevent the spread of fire. Whiteley’s stores are considered the most extensive of their kind in London.

Dangerous as the buildings are considered in London (if the same buildings were in Boston they would be considered a cheap fire risk), the owner, I am informed, has been unable to get all the insurance he wanted. The height of the buildings is so low (in some cases they hardly average as high as an ordinary American dwelling house), and their construction is so good, that the fire department, either in Boston, New York or Chicago, would have no trouble in preventing much damage in case of fire.

The buildings of Hitchcock, Williams & Co., facing on Paternoster row, Paul’s alley and St. Paul’s churchyard are situated in a section where some disastrous fires have occurred. The total area of the buildings is 24,000 square feet. This area is divided into thirty buildings. The height runs from three and one-half stories to four, and in a few cases five. The same good construction and the use of thick partition wails is to be found here, in fact, you find it everywhere in London.

My reasons for referring to these buildings are ; First, to give an idea of their excellent construction; next, to show the common sente methods which characterize the business men of London in isolating the dangerous portions of their bust, ness, and in the use of bride partition walls which is the greatest safeguard for the prevention of fire.spread of fire,

Again, I desire to contrast the easy task which the Londr n building present to the Knzlish firemen with the problem which face* the American firemen from the poor!y constructed, large area buildings.

The construction of Chicago nearest approaches that of London, and ranks first after that city in excellence; New York comes next, and Boston, apparently, has the most dangerous individual risks.

One Chicago building which I examined was of seven stories and basement, with composition roof, iron shutters and mill construction. The fact that it is divided into four parts and is surrounded by broad thoroughfares and its general good construction makes it a very excellent fire risk. The excellent law in Chicago which compels buildings of a certain number of stories and over a certain floor area to have permanently fixed on the outside pipes of the requisite diameter, with connections at each story, and iron ladder* with balconies, is to be commended. It places the Chicago fire department in such a position that when they arrive at a fire they have, by means of this law, water towers all ready for use and ladders fixed in position, with which they can reach the top of any building. The good point of this permanent pipe, with its connection for hose attached to the buildings is the fact that it means no extra expense for water to the owners or occupants. The engines make connections at the bottom, and supply the water from the public mains.

Next let us consider a New York building. The width of the streets, loo. 75 and 60 feet, are to be commended. The building in question is large, is on a corner and is divided into three parts, with double iron doors, which helps wonderfully to protect from the extension of fire. The general construction of the building is good, the height seven stories in two of the parts and eight stories in the third division.

In Boston l have chosen a square of property which takes in the business of different firms, yet in single instances shows larger unbroken areas and a lack of division brick walls far more so than the Chicago construction, or even the New York. The narrowness of the streets with us, as compared with them, is extraordinary.

It does not require any expert knowledge to see the advantages of one city over the other. In four plans I have had under consideration the following facts appear :

New York has buildings of larger area than those of which a plan is submitted, but in most cases they are of fire-proof construction, and the same is true of Chicago.

Paris is divided into twenty-four districts. Each district has a central station equipped with the necessary fire apparatus and a number of men, some of whom are qualified to operate the electrical apparatus.

These central stations vary somewhat in the extent of their equipment, the more important of them being denominated “casernes” and the others “ post centrals,” the latter being located in the less important districts, and only having electrical connection with the fire alarm boxes in their district and the caserne most convenient to them.

There is one central station, which is the headquarters of the entire system. Each caserne is connected, not only with its degtcndenl post central station, and some fire boxes, but to the main central station. In this way communications may be received and transmitted to any caserne through the main central station.

The system is operated by two methods. By the use of a double wire cable connections are made between the several stations, and so arranged that when standing at rest, a ground circuit is formed through a set of electro-magnetic apparatus located In central stations, termed in this system the “ Morse Special.”

This apparatus is controlled by mechanical devices in the fire alarm boxes, which are set in motion by the person giving the alarm. An inscription on the outside of each box says that he is simply to break the glass inserted in the centre of the door to insure the desired results. The act of breaking the glass produces three results, vie.: The door is thrown open and a mechanical gong on the inside of it is set ringing in the same manner and for the same purpose as those of the keyless doors used in the Boston system. A bell in the central station is also set ringing, indicating to the men in charge that a call bad been made from some box in their district.

The mechanism of the box is also started automatically, a tion of this wheel transmits to the central station a series’of arbitrary signals, which are recorded on paper by a Morse register, and when translated by code, indicate the box from which they were sent.

By a further action of the signal wheel, the “ Special Morse ” circuit is opened, and a metallic circuit established through the telephones, which also forms a part of the equipment of each fire alarm box.

On the inside of each fire alarm box are displayed further instructions to the senders of alarms, to the effect that they shall immediately communicate to the central station by means of the telephone the location and character of the fire, or other cause for which the call was given. The boxes contain no receivers, consequently the person sending a message has no means of knowing whether he has been correctly understood. He is only informed by an inductive sound in his transmitter, made by the person at the central station, that a message has been received. In addition, the’central stations are equipped witn a telephonic system, and are able to talk with any other central, or with the grand central, as occasion requires.

On the receipt of an alarm the party receiving it at the central makes such a disposition of the apparatus as the size of the fire may require by calling upon the posts de villa or apparatus houses within his district. If in his judgment there should be additional apparatus sent, he calls on the main central for further instructions. The whole matter of moving the apparatus is performed with the telephones, no use being made of the special Morse service, except that of indicating the signal box from which the call was sent. If, however, the telephone service should tail, they then use their Morse apparatus to transmit their messages between the central stations.

Notwithstanding the fact that their wires are so placed beneath the streets as to secure almost absolute safety to them (chiefly on account of the subways for sewers through which they pass being so admirably constructed, and because no high tension currents from other service are being discharged into the earth, as in the city of Boston), they take every precaution to avert or correct any faults that might occasionally become manifest.

Their lines and stations are tested every day during the stormy periods of the winter season, and once a week at other times. This system as nere described appears to be ingeniously contrived, carefully constructed, and is, no doubt, successfully operated. While it is probably everything that a city like Paris requires with its practically incombustible buildings and broad avenues, it is evident that the tinder boxes of Boston would have little chance for safety should a fire in any of them be allowed to have its way while the apparatus was being instructed to proceed to the spot by any such elaborate process.

The system which we have inaugurated of having a telephone in connection with the fire alarm boxes in Boston on special circuits, independent of those now in use, should be extended, and the idea of using telephones for sending in alarms of fire after the box has been operated should be thoroughly investigated. To have telephones in all boxes would be at least a useful auxiliary to the present Morse key.and it seems to me as if it could be made as reliable, if not more so. It would serve one purpose, that of minimizing the danger of losing an alarm when more than one box is pulled at the same time for the same fire.

The idea which is embodied in the Paris service of automatically sending in an alarm by the mere breaking of the glass should be adopted in the American tire alarm box. Considerable time would be saved over the present system, which necessitates opening the box and then pulling down the hook before an alarm is sent.

The time has come for using a telephonic system as an auxiliary, or even more than an auxiliary to the present system in use in American fire alarm departments. It is true that we use it in our covering system between our various houses, but we should go one step further and see if there is not an advantage to be gained from embodying it in our public fire alarm system. JOHN R. MURPHY.

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