FIRE IN DRUG STORES.
(Specially written for FIRE AND WATER).
A CERTAIN country druggist sold gunpowder at retail by lamplight for over twenty years and never found fault when customers or loungers leaned against the counter and smoked while he poured it out. One night in the twenty-first year, however, there came a whish! bang! boom! Three men killed; no more powder; no more drug store; no insurance! Many druggists carry on business for years without consideration for fire precautions, but they. likeourrural friend, are aptto be suddenly interrupted.
There are many causes from which fires can occur in drug stores, and in most cases the origin is difficult to determine, since it is the interest of those at fault to suppress all evidence. Few fires have occurred which might not have been prevented by the exerciseof common prudence, and many such calamities are attributed to “accident,” when they really result from the laziness or recklessness of an employe or laek of vigilance on the part of the proprietor.
Matches are, as everybody knows, specially designed to start combustion, and their use and storage must, therefore, be subject to careful restriction. Don’t allow them to lie round loosely or in paper boxes. They should be protected by closed metal safes, out of the reach of rats and investigative juveniles. Receptacles hhould be provided for burned matches. Throwing them on the floor is a phase of carelessness to be discouraged. Matches should not be kept in the pockets of shop coats or overalls, where they may be ignited by friction against each other or by ruts. When a match accidentally falls upon the door in a cellar or storeroom, never leave it there to be stepped upon and cause conflagration. Safety matches should be used exclusively, when feasible.
Gas jets present a constant menace. Wall brackets of guspipe should not be placed near to, or underneath sections of shelving, as paper parcels on shelves above them may be left protruding and become ignited by heat from the flame. When pressure is increased at the gas works or by turning off other burners in the same building, a “tip” is liable to fall out of place, and the flame from a gas jet will frequently leap one or t wo feet into the air, perhaps. reaching a wooden ceiling or overhanging timbers. Large metal shields placed above the burners, near, but not in direct contact with the woodwork, afford protection in such cases. Jointed swiuging gasbrackets are particularly dangerous, as they are almost invariably capable of swinging the flame in contact with some woodwork or other inflammable material. Fires have repeatedly spread from the upper portion of an inside blind or a curtain swinging over a lighted wall-bracket.
The cellar of a drugstore cau, as a rule, be regarded as a true indicator of the propensities and business habits of the proprietor. A slovenly cellar under a tidy drug store indicates superficial show, while a clean, carefully arranged cellar is usually found under the store of a throughly conscientious pharmacist, it is usually wise to place the cellar in charge of one competent person aud hold him responsible for its condition. A portion of the cellar should be devoted to a series of shelves divided into compartments of appropriate size for storing prescription bottles, mineral water, etc.—each bin being distinctly labeled. A rule should be established aud rigidly enforced by the person in charge of the cellar, providing that, when a case of prescription bottles, minerul water, or other material is opened, thecontentsbe promptly transferred tc the shelf asRigued for them and the empty boxes and litter of packing material immediately removed, in the interests of cleanliness and as a precaution against tire. Certainly every one has read of the man who carried a candle into the cellar to search for a leakage in the gaepipe—and was thoroughly surprised when he found it. The use of ordinary kerosene oil lamps in the cellar is almost certain to lead to disaster. Remember that kerosene oil lamps are more likely to explode when nearly empty than when full. It is a safe rule to prohibit the use of lights in the cellar altogether; necessary business can usually be transacted in this department during the day. When certain exigencies demand exploration of the cellar after dark, lanterns will usually answer all requirements, and are much safer, provided they are lighted in the store beforehand. Incandescent electric lights are, however,now available in many localities, and the reduction in danger from fire is a strong recommendation for their adoption. Placing a switch at the entrance to the cellar so that the electric current can be shut off from that underground section when not in actual service will remove the danger almost entirely. The writer recalls a destructive fire which was started by a candle which, instead of being placed in a metal candlestick, had been impaled upon a nail driven through a block of wood. This was left burning in the cellar by an errand boy in the evening, and during the night the cundle burned down and set fire to the wooden base and boxes upon which it was standing. Many drug stores have been injured or destroyed by conflagrations resulting from accidental breakage or carboys of nitric acid in the cellar. When sufficient quantities of this powerful oxidizing liquid are brought in contact with vegetable substances, such as hay, tow. excelsior, paper, sawdust, etc., tire is apt to occur. When practicable, such dangerous materials should be stored in a shed in an adjoining yard. It is important to remember that fire in a cellar is generally difficult to extinguish, because a dense volume of hotair and smoke comes upthrough the entrances from below and renders it extremely hazardous for firemen to attempt to enter the place. When the hot air and smoke arising from the fire are mixed with fumes of ammonia, acids, sulphur, etc., in a drug store cellar, the difficulties are correspondingly increased.
Don’t encourage incendiarism by leaving heaps of straw, papers, aud boxes about the premises. Straw, papers, and other combustible material should not be allowed to accumulate in the space underneath grates opening through the sidewalk. Many fires have been started by a burning match or lighted cigar carelessly dropped by a pedestrian. Metal boxes or pails should be provided for the reception of waste paper, rags, and other refuse. It is considered unsafe to use wooden vessels for this purpose. Refuse boxes should not be pushed under tables, shelves, or other woodwork, to which flame would be communicated in case of fire from spontaneous combustion, but should occupy a conspicuous place in the open room, where they are more apt to be kept clean and receive proper attention. It is a safe rule to have them set out of doors during the night. Sawdust or rags used in cleaning greasy mortars, graduates, and other utensils, should be thrown into the dirt bucket, but rather burned or placed outside the pharmacy at once. Ointments, plasters, and similar combustible material should not be fused over an open gas flame or fire without the intervention of a sand or waterbath. Drippings running down the side of the vessel may conduct the flame to the entire contents, causing a serious conflagration, which may result in injuring the operator and destroying the premises. Alcohol, ether, and benzine, or preparations containing their, should never be evaporated over, or near open flame, owing to the inflammable nature of their vapors. It is an established and well-known fact that sawdust or rags saturated with vegetable oils are dangerously liable to spontaneous combustion; these, therefore, should not be left carelessly about. For the same reason overalls should be hung up loosely to permit free circulation of air, and sawdust should not be used to catch drippings from oiltanks or barrels. Mops should be suspended by the handle, so that the rags shall hang clear from the walls and floor and allow free circulation of air round the rags —thus avoiding conditions favorable to spontaneous combustion. Do not stand them in the corners of dressing rooms, closets, etc. Spontaneous combustion is not a fanciful theory. It is a stern reality. The writer encountered an interesting case a few weeks ago, when two mops, used by painters to oil a large floor, were hung on an outside wall of a large brick building. Although the weather was quite cool, both mops started to burn about 10 o’clock next morning. They were quickly thrown into an open yard, and soon consumed by fierce flames. If they had been allowed to remain in a warm room a serious fire would undoubtedly have occurred during the night a few hours after the mops were used.
Some time ago a drug store was destroyed by fire which originated in a natural, but unusual manner. A can containing water and several large sticks of phosphorus had rusted until a hole was opened, and the water gradually leaked out and evaporated. The phosphorus, thus exposed to the warm atmosphere, ignited during the night, and, as no person was present to prevent it, the flames spread over the shelves and other inflammable material, and gained good head way before being discovered. Owing to its spontaneous inflammability when exposed to atmospheric oxygen, phosphorus must be handled with appropriate circumspection, lest it cause a serious conflagration, or, what is incomparably graver, personal injury. Storage of phosphorus in the pharmacy or laboratory is always attended with considerable danger from fire, and the customary method of keeping it in a bottle of water will not permit its being placed out of doors during the winter season. In view of this fact, the following arrangement was adopted by the writer some time ago, and has been employed for several years with gratifying results: (1) Place the phosphorus in a wide-mouth bottle or jar containing a sufficient quantity of a twenty-fiveper-cent solution of common salt. (2) Place this bottle of solution in a crock with earthen cover, containing enough salt solution (1 in 4) to immerse the body of the bottle, leaving only the neck exposed. (3) Protect the crock by surrounding it with asbestos fibre packed in a suitable box with close-fitting cover. A twenty-five-per-cent, solution of common salt will preserve phosphorus quite as well as pure water, and will retain its fluidity at a very low temperature—considerably below zero. In case the bottle should by accident be broken, the phosphorus is deposited in the second vessel of salt solution, which will shield it from the air and prevent ignition. If the box affords due protection, the liquids will rarely reach zero in the most extreme weather.
Benzine is one of the lightest and most dangerously inflammable liquids commonly handled by pharmacists. Its storage in barrels is both hazardous and wasteful. In most cases it will be found quite as profitable and much safer to keep a stock of only five or ten gallons in a tin can, which should be stored remote from combustible material, fires, and lights. In case of leakage, the cellar or premises may become filled with its vapor, which is extremely inflammable and explosive when mixed with air, and, if ignited, is likely to cause serious damage. The same comments will apply to ether, which is particularly dangerous, because, when any considerable quantity is exposed to the action of the atmosphere, it gives off a dense volume of inflammable vapor, which flows to. and along the surface of the floor or ground like a stream of water. At this moment I recall a serious fire which was caused by this dangerous material. A quantity of ether was being poured from one con tainer to another, when a stream of heavy vapor was carried along by a current of air until it reached a flame atleast fifty feet away. Like a flash of lightning, fire was carried back to the inflammable liquid, and a destructive conflagration occurred in consequence. On another occasion I happened to be on the ground when a flash of fire was quickly carried about fifteen feet by a current of vapor from a gas jet to a large volume of hot alcohol in a still. It is certainly a safe rule to allow no open flame in a room where such inflammable liquids are manipulated.
Smoking on premises by employes should be strict, ly prohibited. Bulk stock of benzine, ether, bisulphide of carbon, kerosene, turpentine, and other inflammable substances, can often be advantageously stored in a small building, which, while accessible, is sufficiently remote from the pharmacy to prevent communication of flames to it in case of accidental ignition. It is also a good plan to store guncotton and similar explosives with the combustibles, where their explosion during a conflagration will do the least possible damage.
Turpentine, although not as easily ignited, is to be regarded as dangerously inflammable. It burns with a strong, persistent flame. Lycopodium, although not particular inflammable in substance, explodes with a vivid flash,whenignitedinthe form of floating powder. It is, therefore, imprudent openly to transfer or handle large quantities of it in too close proximity to aflame. It is a common mistake among pharmacists to believe that the vapor of chloroform is as dangerously inflammable as are the vapors of benzine, ether, and benzol—probably because chloroform is extremely volatile, like the others. As a matter of fact, chloroform and its vapor tend to extinguish flame rather than feed it.
It is appropriate here to recall a fire which originated some time ago in a jewelry store from rays of sunlight, which, being focused through some large reading-glasses displayed on a rack in the window, set fire to a velvet curtain Pharmacists, of course, are subject to similar consequences from large show globes in windows. Several fires have occurred in drug stores from this cause.
When a brick wall separates different departments of a pharmacy, it is a good plan to have the opening fitted with a pair of tinclad fireproof doors. Where fire shutters arecapable of preventingcommunication of fire to the premises from adjoining buildings, in the rear or at the side of the pharmacy, they should certainly be applied, and invariably closed at night. Heavy shutters and doors of wood covered with block tin are considered more serviceable than iron shutters. A coat of whitewash covering rough timbers, ceilings, and lofts will often materially retard the spread of flames. All openings leading into staircases or elevator shafts should be inclosed, to prevent them from serving as flues to carry fire. All windows leading into elevator shafts, staircases, or other dangerous places should be protected by strong bars of iron or wood, which will serve as a warning to prevent firemen from jumping into them while the room is filled with smoke. For the same reason strong railings should be placed round all open staircases and hatchways.
The following are ten good rules governing electric lights:
- Lamp cords should not be allowed to hang on wood, nails, screw-hooks, gas fixtures, speaking tubes, or metal pipes of any description.
- Lights should not be tied with a string to swing more than three feet from their natural position. When a change of over three feet is necessary, the hanger from which the light is suspended should be moved on the ceiling.
- When lights hang too low, the cord should not be tied up; use regular cord-adjusters.
- Two or more lights should not be tied together.
- When the covering on a flexible cord becomes worn by frequent raising and lowering of the lamp through a cord-adjuster or otherwise, an electrician should be notified at once and proper repairs made.
- Dust should not be allowed to accumulate on sockets or on to the lamp cord where the cord enters the socket.
- Portable lights attached to extension cords should not be allowed to lie on paper or other combustible material, or in contact with any metal or other object that is a conductor of electricity.
- All extension lamps should have handles and wire lamp guards.
- Paper should not be used for shades to cover electric light globes.
- Do not hang anything on electric light wires.
Remember that by prompt application a bucket of water will often extinguish a fire which would soon be beyond control if action is delayed. Suitable apparatus for extinguishing fire in its incipient stages should be kept at hand, and employes should be thoroughly familiar with its location and use. Fire apparatus should always be placed near the entrance to a room, where smoke or fire will not cut off access to it A dozen buckets, covered with a loose plate of tin, painted red, and labeled. “To be used in case of fire only,” should be distributed through the cellar and manufacturing rooms within easy reach. A small force-pump, such as is frequently used for washing windows, kept in a bucket of water, serves as a cheap and efficient fire extinguisher and is less likely to get out of order than more complicated apparatus. A small alcohol blaze can easily be blown out with ‘ the breath; but a flame of dangerous size is most readily extinguished by dashing water across the surface of the liquid or floor. If in an open vessel, prompt closure with a loose cover will subdue the flame by cutting off the supply of air. Remember that fire cannot burn without a supply of air. Smother it, if you can. Remember that soda-fountains can be made to serve as excellent fire extinguishers. Two men can easily carry a small fountain to a point whence its carbonated contents can be emptied on to a fire. Hand grenades have fallen into a richly merited state of “innocuous desuetude,” and little’reliance should be placed upon them for extinguishing fires in drug stores.
Fire precautions not only confer a degree of safety, but materially reduce the rate at which insurance can be secured. Permanent paper labels on stockcontainers should, so far as practicable, be kept varnished. In case of fire, great damage often results from the loss of identity of pharmaceuticals through washing-off of labels by water used in extinguishing flame. Ordinary shipping tags, bearing the name of the contents, are well protected by sizing with glue and varnishing on both sides. Ordinary ink or pencil marks on unprotected labels are soon obliterated by the action of damp air in a cellar.
During the excitement incidental to a fire, don’t forget that the prescription records rank among your most valuable possessions. Some neighboring druggist will be willing to repeat prescriptions for you until your plant can be re-established. While one person is engaged in an attempt to extinguish the fire, another should promptly proceed to turn in an alarm. Escape from a burning building can often be effected by creeping on hands and knees to a window, door, or staircase. The atmosphere of a room so hill of smoke as to cause the suffocation of a person standing upright can generally be safely breathed near the floor. Don’t neglect to keep your stock insured.