EVOLUTION OF FIRE-PROOFING
Fireproof construction of buildings has made rapid strides in recent years. What was, only ten years back, an innovation in fireproof construction, is now a back number—an old method. The usual process was to fireproof the walls and to use concrete or tile for doors. There the fireproofing stopped. What was the result? If a fire occurred, the building so treated was thus converted into an excellent stove for the destruction of the entire interior contents. The fireproofing of the walls and doors remained sometimes, if the heat of the burning of the interior fixtures and fittings did not make it crumble or crack. Examples of the destructibility of such buildings by fire have been numerous in the past few years. The Parker Building in New York City, claiming to be a fireprof structure, was totally destroyed by a fire starting from a small blaze. About a year ago, one of the most prominent buildings in Cincinnati, the Chamber of Commerce Building, which was looked upon as being fireproof and safe from every point of view, was practically totally destroyed, with a loss of many valuable lives. A more recent example is the Equitable Life Building in New York City, a so-called fireproof structure, which made a very spectacular fire, with a loss of several lives. The rapidity with which the fire spread in these supposedly fireproof buildings, and the short time in which they were destroyed, is evidence of the fallacy of claiming a building fireproof, in which the structural steel work has not been properly protected from heat, and in which the proper precautions had not been taken to minimize the combustible material and to prevent the fire from spreading from room to room and floor to floor, should it once start, as it always will, some time, somewhere. Public sentiment and building laws will doubtless soon demand that every new building to be constructed, shall be built in such a manner and of materials now available, that any incipient fire starting in any part of the building, may be confined to the room in which it starts, and prevented from spreading to other parts of the building. It has been suggested that the building departments of our largest cities where regular inspection service is maintained, be authorized to label all buildings inspected as “Safe” or “Dangerous,” as the case may be. Safe if all the requirements have been fulfilled, and dangerous if any one of them has been neglected. This labeling would work both ways—a building marked “safe” would be preferred by tenants, and would be found a paying investment, but the owner with a building labeled “dangerous” would certainly have a hard time of it with tenants and employes. They would shun the building, and it would soon be vacated, and would be torn down to make room for a modern “safe” building. A fire, like a fever, should be and can be starved out. If the fire has nothing to feed on, or if confined in such a way that only the contents of a room could be burned out, there would be no danger to the building itself or to the safety of its occupants. A wooden door will always feed a fire, and serve as a means of spreading it. A fireproof door will coniine the fire to the room where it originated, and thus starve it out. As a chain is only as strong as its weakest linek, so is a building only as fireproof as its least fireresisting part, which is usually the wooden doors, windows and trim commonly used. Would you use a fireproof door in a wooden partition? Certainly not. Then why use wooden doors and trim in fireproof partitions? The safeguarding of lives, public records and books, property and business of tenants, is a subject of such great importance to the owners of buildings, those who will be expected to occupy them, and the commonwealth, that those entrusted with the plainning and erection of future structures cannot afford to ignore the trust imposed upon them— especially when they have at their disposal the means of eliminating the evils of construction which are responsible each year for tremendous and unnecessary loss of life and property. From time immemorial, when any one made a door for a place or the humblest abode, we all just naturally used wood. We paneled it and constructed it to make it beautiful and to resist warping and twisting. If great beauty was desired we resorted to the most precious wood, but all this wood was always well varnished or oiled or painted, which insured it burning more rapidly if fire ever got to it. Some years ago, however, the people began to realize that a wooden door was not a proper fitting for a fireproof partition. Several attempts were made to make the wooden doors fire-resisting, first with fireproof paint, later with a treatment of the wood, by which the inflammable components of the same were extracted. This was called “fireproof wood.” When put to the test, however, it was “found wanting,” for the moment a good fire was started, that went too. The wod fiber, the non-resinous, desiccated wood burned, and the fire looked pretty much as just an ordinary wood fire. The next step in the evolution of the fireproof door, was the wooden door covered with a thin metal, called “Kalameined.” Such work is to a certain extent fire-resisting, and is used to some extent for the cheaper grades of work. The finish can only be a cheap air-drying paint, applied in the dust and dirt of a building under construction, and cannot even remotely be compared with the high-class finish required in modern buildings. Considering the quality of this work, the price at which it is sold makes it expensive at any cost. Modern ingenuity has developed methods by which structural steel, which is liable to give way under excessive heat, can be protected in such a manner that the heat will not affect it. Modern ingenuity has also developed the absolutely fireproof, all-metal doors and trim which can be depended upon to serve their purpose in emergencies of this kind. Such doors and trim have recently been used in many prominent buildings, and are made to meet every requirement for high class work, in fireproof qualities, in unexcelled construction, durability and artistic and sanitary finish. These qualities have been appreciated by architects, owners and tenants alike, so that this product has met with a hearty reception from the first, thus establishing an entirely new industry. Different manufacturers of this class of doors have obtained the approval of the Underwriters’ Laboratories, and will furnish their labels when required. They have also passed through actual fires and demonstrated that the claims made for them are founded on true principles and indisputable facts. The most notable of such fires were in the Childs Building in Philadelphia, on the 26th floor of the Singer Building, and about two months ago in the Vanderbilt Hotel in New York. In each case the metal doors and trim confined the fire to the room or floor where it started—it could not spread beyond the fireproof doors. The report of the New York Board of Fire Underwriters on the Vanderbilt Hotel fire states: “The fire, although intensely hot, was confined to the floor where it originated and largely to the north half of that floor. The absence of all woodwork in the interior construction and trim afforded the fire but little opportunity to spread. The steel corridor doors to room and floor openings withstood the fire well and held it in check wherever they were closed.
“The confinement of this intensely hot fire to a relatively small space on the floor where it originated was doubtless due to a great extent to the fact that all openings into stair and elevator shafts and also those in corridor and room partitions were provided with fire doors, and to the absence of all wood or other combustible material in the interior trim and finish of the building, thus illustrating the marked advantages of this character of construction. A fire of this nature in a building less thoroughly fireproofed would most likely have resulted in a far more serious loss, if not the practical destruction of the building.”
That is interior protection—the kind that safeguards life and contents. Everyone who values human life and property should draw the line of distinction between so-called “fireproof” buildings and those fireproof in fact. While the first cost of such a building is slightly higher than the regular kind, the saving in the lower cost of insurance and maintenance, together with the increased revenue from higher rents, will in a short time more than offset the difference in cost, and on account of the longer life of such a building, it will be found a profitable investment.
After the owner of a building has provided all available appliances to make it safe, it devolves upon the tenants to fit up their offices in a manner to preclude the possibility of danger from or loss by fire. Conservation Magazine says: “Exceptionally strange is it that people will make alaborate fire traps in fireproof buildings and think that the stuff used in doing so is secure— that getting into a fireproof building is all that is necessary. They put in wooden furniture, carpets and rugs, and leave piles of papers lying around, all without any thought but that the fact that the building being fireproof, their belongings are perfectly sate from tire. It seems not to occur to most of such people that they have ntted up exactly such tire traps as are going up in smoke in fireproof buildings about every day and frequently many in a day. Wooden furniture together with carpets and rugs not only increase the insurance tax upon people who have them—despite however perfect a fireproof building they are in yet no more than a moment’s thought is needed to show such things to be a serious menace to your business, a menace which, ending in fire, results in not only loss of valuable papers, letters and other important data, such as often are left out of the vault or safe, but in a disruption of your business for which no procurable amount of insurance can compensate you. Metal furnituie from star: to finish forms the only solution. Metal furniture should cost no more than wood; lasts very much longer and is more sanitary. The efficiency of the metal office furniture in preserving valuable business papers and records has been proven on several occasions beyond the shadow of a doubt. Only recently in Chicago, a very hot fire in an office consumed everything burnable, but the papers kept in the metal filing cases were found intact after the are and only 5 per cent, damaged. The advantages of metal furniture over wood are as follows : Steel will not burn. Steel is durable. Steel is sanitary. Steel will not swell. Steel permits of the finest finish and steel gives greater interior capacity. Everything considered it would seem that no well appointed business office could well afford to go without the protection that these appliances offer. The advantages of fireproofing in reality—and not in name only—are obvious. Every seriously thinking individual will appreciate these advantages and facts, and lend his influence to obtain better laws and regulations governing buildings and their equipment, to establish a system of instruction in our public schools on the subject of fire protection, and through publicity make the people at large realize that the fire waste is not really paid for by insurance companies, but that each one of us is forced to pay a certain fire tax in the price we pay for any manufactured goods bought. When the majority of the people become aroused and imbued with the importance of this subject and the necessity for remedying existing conditions, then we can expect results in the efforts to reduce the annual ash heap of our country.