EQUIPMENT OF TALL BUILDINGS.
Chicago was recently confronted with the question of the advisability of permitting the erection of buildings of extraordinary height, exceeding that now permitted by city ordinance. The controversy stirred up the various real estate, mercantile, and building trades interests to the point of voicing decided opinions pro or con. While the writer cannot discuss the subject from a political or strictly commercial point of view, he would, nevertheless, invite attention to the fact that the question of fire protection and public safety requires a trifle more serious consideration than has been accorded the case by the various contending parties.
For the sake of illustration let us assume a seventy-five-story building on a substantial foundation of proportionate area; if we can build 225 feet, it is only a short step to 500 feet or 750 feet, and our ordinances should be framed accordingly, so as to save revision and rehashing every now and then. Let us get into it in a business way and for permanent good.
The underwriter’s first objection to such a height would probably be one of insufficient water pressure in case of fire on the seventy-fourth floor; and that would be true in the case of present antiquated fire equipment, prevention, and extinguishing methods; but we can dispose of this point easy later on. All the rest of his objections would probably be on a par with this first one To begin with: We must have a structure of strictly first class material, with all steel work thoroughly fireproofed, and with areas subdivided by none but fireproof partitions, reinforced at given intervals by brick or concrete walls. All exterior window openings within 100 feet of any exposure should be provided with modern fireproof windows. These can be made ornamental as well as useful. No exposed wood casings or sash should be permitted anywhere. Kach floor should be made a separate fire risk. This can be done. Halls should be of strictly fireproof material. No fancy doors or kindred lumber yards should be permitted on hall facing. Halls should be as free of turns and angles as possible for the purpose of facilitating the handling of fire appliances. A window at either extreme of a hall would furnish means of relieving a floor of smoke by horizontal instead of vertical draft, and, if necessary, we can use fans. Openings for stairs should be at each alternate extreme of a floor. They may be as small as possible, inasmuch as we count on elevator service at such an elevation All pipes or other conduits, electrical or ordinary, should be in separate fireproof inclosures; communications to floors should be safeguarded in each and every case, and should always be above the floor line of offices or rooms, and in such cases a light wood carpet would become least objectionable.
The elevator service of such a structnre would rise to the hitherto unknown dignity of 1ife-preserver. It would have to be considered one of the main safeguards of the modern sky~scraper. The occupant as well as the firc chief, would he serions~ ly handicapped with ut it We should have to maintain a passenger, freight, and tire department sha ft. the latter to be used in case of fire only, and then only by the department, which should have access to it by a key contained in a fiic alarm box or some similar safeguard. The entire elevator equipment would have to be located suitably in a fire and smokeproof shaft and be cut off from the remainder of the building by fire doors. The motive apparatus should be especially safeguarded, so as to be operative during a fire in the buildings—that’s the time we need it the most.
Electricity and an emergency outside circuit connection in case of interior breakdown would become mandatory, not optional. In no case whatever should boilers be permitted in or near such a structure. The possible havoc from a boiler explosion in such a structure is simply horrible to contemplate. Boilers should have no place in a modern skyscraper. even in the dwarfs we now consider high. Electricity will give us all the light, heat, and motive power we need, and it is far safer than steam or gas, and will serve to abate the smoke nuisance.
The private fire equipment of such a structure should be above reliable, reliable, and so Arranged and of such material as to enable the department to make use of it. In such a structure we cannot expect a Fire chief to couple up a hose to one of his (then antiquated) steamers and order his men to clamber up a fire escape dragging tons of brass and canvas behind them. The fire apparatus of such a structure must be in place on each floor, ready at all times for immediate use. A reliable equipment of stationary chemical engines and appurtenances, so arranged that two or more tanks or streams can be concentrated at a given point, are sufficient proteclion for any and all cases. Extinguishment thus becomes a question of quick agility and intelligent application. Megaphones and other shouting apparatus, as well as plate glass smashers, will be forgotten. Elevator men and janitors, properly disciplined and handled by a competent man, could and should be trained to assist, but not hamper the department. Let them learn to prepare and clear the way for the department, get the people out of the zone of danger, and open windows where necessary to relieve the building of smoke, and let each know and attend to his station in case of fire, and we need not uselessly sacrifice lives. Let the department do the extinguishing.
The maintenance of a reliable watch service to a central control or report is a necessary adjunct to preventing disaster or undue spread of fire. All nrstclass buildings should maintain such a service and should permit of nonhazardous occupancy only.
The foregoing suggestions may seem fanciful; but they are strictly practical. The question of expense is also considered. Such a structure must become a paying investment, and its maintenance and operating expenses should not be out of proportion compared with that of our ‘present dwarfs. If it pays to erect high buildings, it will pay doubly to heed the foregoing suggestions, it costs no more to do a thing right than to do it wrong, and it pays ultimately to get the best obtainable.