ELECTRICAL HAZARDS AND FIRES.
PROBABLE and possible causes of fires are often ignored in the vain search for the improbable and impossible. The quarterly report of the National Board of Fire Underwriters’ electrical bureau more than proves this, and shows, further, that electricity is one of the most hidden and the most subtle foes that firemen and insurance officers have to contend against. Bosses from that source now aggregate several millions of dollars yearly, in spite of the fact that improved appliances are now in use, and that electrical plants are today much better equipped in many districts where a short time ago the supervision exercised (or supposed to be exercised) by the municipal authorities was so notoriously inadequate as virtually to amount to none at all. These risks, however, although lessened, are still excessive, and are tolerated In New York city, especially in Manhattan, to an extent that would not be endured in other places. Networks of wires penetrate hallways and airshafts at the various floors in many of the high buildings, and are so installed that, if an outside wire carrying a high potential current fell upon, or in any way connected with the interior circuit of a big office building, it might be set fire to in a dozen different places. The method of stringing wires from building to building is completely out of date, and in the congested sections of large cities should be absolutely forbidden. It is a grave menace to the public safety, and when to that and other self-evident risks are added those of bad workmanship, careless inspection, or none whatever on the part of municipal, fire department, building, and fire insurance inspectors, ignorance on the part of those who install the electrical wires, and the like, the force of the remarks on the electrical hazards of the day, as embodied in the report of William H. Merrill, jr., the electrician of the National Board of Fire Underwriters, is accentuated to a degree that should more than compel the mere attention of the authorities and others concerned in the preservation of life and property from fire. These should cause them to take immediate action to do away with such risks by a system of most rigid inspection and by the infliction of heavy penalties on those who violate whatever ordinances have been framed on the subject Where such ordinances do not exist, or where they do not sufficiently cover the ground, steps should be at once taken to remedy the defect, before the omissions obtain such a hold as to render it a difficult, possibly an impossible task to overcome the resultant evils. These evils, common enough all the year round, will, perhaps, be more in evidence than usual in a very few weeks when the Christmas holiday displays call for a greater show of lights in the stores and, most of all, in show windows. For this purpose the aid of electricity is invoked, and some disaster, certainly some fire loss, more or less grave, is bound to take place, unless the services of a thoroughly competent electrician are employed to fix the wiring, while those of the tire department should be called in to see that nothing of an inflammable or combustible nature, such as celluloid ornaments, paper flowers, draperies, or the like, has a place too near the wires or the lights; that everything that can be rendered fire-resisting is treated with some fireproofing preparation; and that there are close at hand fire buckets filled with water, or sand, or both, as the case may be, with a watchful and competent attendant or corps of attendants always on duty, ready to turn in an alarm to fire headquarters and also to deal with fire in its incipient stage till the fire department arrives. As to theatres, music halls, public ballrooms, assembly halls, churches, parish houses, and private residences, especially those in which many balls and fetes are likely to take place, the same rules should hold good. The inspection of theatres and similar buildings should be constant, and at irregular intervals, so as to avoid any possibility of its being anticipated by private tips from official sources, and no fete or large ball should be permitted even in a private house if extra electrical (or any) lighting or decorations in the way of drapery, flags, etc., are required, until the arrangements have been passed upon at least by the fire department, if not by both that department and the insurance offices, and the proper precautions taken to avoid even an incipient fire, or to extinguish one if it should once start In the case of every class of buildings, devoted to public or qnasi-public entertainments, such precautionary measures are at least equally necessary during the holiday season. What with Christmas decorations and extra lights in the churches, Santa Claus entertainments and Christmas trees in the Sunday school rooms and parish houses, and the additional festival attractions elsewhere—all involving an extensive use of lights, draperies, and such like decorations—the necessity for instituting more diligent inspection by experts is obvious. Only by such means can serious fires, often accompanied with loss of life, be avoided.