Division Wall Fails to Hold Hotel Fire
Faulty Construction Permits Fire to Pass from One Section of Building to Another Adjoining Floor Beams to Blame
FIRES in converted buildings are always troublesome, due principally to the disregard of safety measures in converting the buildings and the usual inflammable type of construction found in such structures.
The fire described in this article of the series on administration well emphasizes what a problem the fire department must face in handling a fire in such a building.
The city in which this fire occurred is located in the central west. It has a modern department consisting of 12 engine companies, 4 ladder companies and 3 combination chemical and hose companies.
In addition to the apparatus of these companies there is one steam fire engine held in reserve. All pumpers are of the triple combination type, consisting of pumps of from 500 to 900 gallons capacity and fitted with chemical tanks and hose bodies.
The response to alarms in the department is as follows: (Numbers assigned to various engine companies are fictitious but they serve to simplify the description of the operations.) First alarm: Engine Cos. Nos. 1. 2. 3. and Truck Co. No. 1.
Second alarm: Engine Cos. Nos. 4, 5 and 6 and Truck Co. No. 2.
Third alarm: Engine Cos. Nos. 7, 8, and 9 and Truck Co. No. 3.
The fourth alarm is known as the general alarm and brings, in addition to the apparatus above named, Engine Cos. Nos. 10, 11, and 12 and Truck Co. No. 4.
The steamer and combination chemical and hose companies are secured at this particular box by special call only.
The water supply is excellent, there being a pressure of around 30 to 40 pounds at all times in the mains and a liberal supply of hydrants in the neighborhood of this fire, which occurred near the center of the high value district.
Description of Building
The building in which the fire occurred was a four-story brick and joist constructed hotel.
Originally, when this building was constructed, it was divided into two separate buildings by a twelve-inch division wall of brick.
In section A. shown in the sketch herewith, was formerly a department store and in section B, a hotel.
Later on, as the business of the hotel increased, section A was taken over as part of the hotel building and the division wall between sections A and B opened up and fire doors were placed in the hall on each floor. These fire doors were held open by fusible links.
As in buildings of this type, the furnishings were extremely inflammable, even the stairway being of wooden construction.
The stairways were placed directly behind elevators as shown in the sketch, and both elevator shaft and stairwell were open the whole way up, the elevator shaft being enclosed only by open grill work.
The sketch shows the floor plan of the second floor and the floors above. On the ground floor in section A were a restaurant. kitchen and lounge room. The kitchen was located directly behind the stairwell and elevator shaft.
On the ground floor of section B were the lobby of the hotel and stores facing on Wells Avenue and Smith Street.
The combined building was 80 feet deep and 150 feet long, as shown In the figures in the sketch. The locations of fire hydrants are indicated in the diagram by the usual symbol.
The fire started around 5 a. m. in the kitchen, through a cauldron of fat overflowing and taking fire.
At the time this accident occurred there were a great number of grocery boxes, some filled and some partly filled, in the kitchen. Upon the grease taking fire, fire spread to the metal canopy over the range and the employees became panic stricken and rushed out leaving the door leading to the dining room and stair hallway open.
The employees of the kitchen (two in number at this time) hurried to the office and notified the night clerk of the fire. The night clerk made an investigation and discovered that flames were sweeping out into the stair hallway and also into the dining room.
The night clerk aided by porters and the kitchen employees attempted to put the fire out with the hand extinguishers which were available. No progress was made, but on the contrary the fire gained greater proportions in the kitchen and it was eventually decided to call the fire department.
While the hotel employees were trying to extinguish the fire, it had apparently gone up the stairwell, igniting the carpets and woodwork around the stairs. When this was discovered, the night clerk sounded the hotel fire alarm.
The porters had foresight enough to get the occupants of section A into B and close the fire doors after them. This probably did more than anything else to check the fire until the department arrived.
When the apparatus on the first alarm arrived (first response being sent in answer to the telephone call) the occupants of the hotel were streaming to the street bv wav of stairway in building B.
The porters had done good work in getting the people out of A so that subsequent investigation by members of the truck company revealed no one missing.
How the Fire Was Fought
Engine Cos. Nos. 1, 2 and 3 and Ladder Co. No. 1 responded on the first alarm.
Engine Co. No. 1 was placed at hydrant No. 1 and a single line stretched through the ground floor to the. kitchen. This line operated on the fire in the kitchen where’it was coming into the stair hallway and dining room.
Engine Co. No. 2 was placed at hydrant No. 6 and a single line stretched to the stairway to assist the line already in operation at that point.
Engine Co. No. 3 was placed at hydrant No. 4 and a single hne stretched in and up stairway while the line from Engine No. 2 covered this latter line.
Then a second line was stretched from Engine Co. No. 1 up ladder to second floor.
Engine to. No. 2 also stretched in a second line to the sec ond floor. Both of these lines met with considerable difficulty in getting to the fire for the rooms between the hall on thesecond floor and the street front of the building were charged with smoke and heat.
The lines had to pass through this before they could get to a point where they could direct the streams on the fire.
These lines apparently were able to get the fire pretty well in hand on the second floor, but in the meantime the fire had gone to the upper floors and was making fast work in spreading throughout the second floor of section A.
Members of the truck company were sent up to the various floors of section B to make sure that the fire doors were closed and also to see that fire was not spreading through these different floors.
Materials in contact with the division wall were moved back on each floor so that it was felt that there would be little liklihood of fire passing the wall.
(Continued on page 188)
Division Wall Fails to Hold Fire
(Continued from page 169)
Second Alarm Transmitted
When it was noticed that the apparatus from the first alarm assignment was not capable of handling the fire, a second alarm was transmitted which brought out the chief, 3 additional engine companies and one truck company.
The assignment on the second alarm was as follows:
Engine Co. No. 4 at hydrant No. 3, and a single line laid up ladder to the third floor of building A on the Paid Avenue side. This line made practically no progress due to the advanced stage of the fire on the third floor and the fact that the rooms intervened between the fire and the street front of the building. Men could not get through the rooms due to the heat and smoke but were compelled to direct their streams toward transoms leading to the hall inside of the building.
Engine Co. No. 5 was placed at hydrant No. 10 and a single line laid to the top floor by the way of ladders. No headway, likewise, was made by this line as fire had entered the various rooms from the hall and made it impossible for the men to get at close range to the base of the fire.
Engine Co. No. 6 was placed at hydrant No. 7 and a single line laid up stairway of building B to the fourth floor. Fire had not entered section B, and the heat was so intense beyond the fire door that the men hesitated to open the door for fear it might come through. As a result of this decision none of the fire doors were employed in the course of the fire for operating on the blaze. They were kept closed, in the hope that the wall itself would prevent the fire from extending from section A to section B. This line laid in by Engine Co. No. 6 was subsequently sent to the roof to operate down light well of section A and assist in whatever manner possible to hold the fire from spreading on the top floor.
General Alarm Sent In
The chief, realizing that the fire was gaining in headway, transmitted a general alarm, bringing out three additional engine companies and two truck companies.
The assignment of these companies upon their arrival was as follows: Engine Co. No. 7 at hydrant No. 5 and a single line laid by ladder to the second floor on the alley.
Engine Co. No. 8 at hydrant No. 9 and a single line stretched to the second floor from the Smith Street side.
Engine Co. No. 9 at hydrant No. 8 and a line stretched to the third floor on the Smith Street side.
Engine Co. No. 10 was placed at hydrant No. 11 (not shown on the diagram) and a line stretched up ladder to the third floor on the Paul Avenue side.
Engine Co. No. 11 was placed at hydrant No. 12 (not shown) and a line stretched to the fourth floor on the Paul Avenue side.
Engine Co. No. 12 was placed at hydrant No. 13 (not shown) and a line stretched to the fourth floor on the Smith Street side.
These lines continued to operate for a while until one of the captains on making an inspection of building B discovered fire beneath the floor on the third floor. He communicated this information to the chief and the line operating on the roof was withdrawn to take care of the fire burning beneath the floor.
Before any headway could be made in opening up the floor, plaster dropping from the ceiling above disclosed the fact that fire was also burning within the floor and the ceiling overhead.
From this point onward the progress of the fire was rapid, and is not clearly traced by the department. The sudden bursting out of fire in building B showed that it must have spread through the division wall at several points. Lines were quickly transferred from section A to section B but despite all efforts of the department the fire continued to gain in intensity.
Finally it was found that the fire in the building was beyond control and all efforts were then directed toward covering exposures.
This was done very well with a result that the fire was confined to the one block only. The building, including both sections A and B was completely destroyed, while none of the buildings, even across the alley, at the rear, suffered any appreciable damage.
A Subsequent investigation showed that the floor beams of sections A and B were set in the dividing wall adjacent to each other as shown in the panel in the sketch herewith. Fire burning along one beam carried the fire into the wall and it was carried by the other beam through, or else the fire went through adjoining beams which might have been a short distance apart and passed from section A to section B.
The Editor’s ideas on the handling of this fire will be given in the next issue of this journal.