FIRE IN THE HOLTZER-CABOT ELECTRIC COMPANY.
Fire destroyed the main building of the Brookline plant the night of Oct. 6. The total loss will be about $100,000. Newspapers have reported that the fire protection was defective, that the sprinklers had to he “let on,” that “a great water tank on a staging high above the roof to supply water for the automatic sprinklers crashed down through the burning building with a roar and amid an impressive pyrotechnical display.” None of these statements represented the facts. The sprinkler system was effective. It was an important factor in saving the two wing buildings. This was the only portion of the plant that was protected with sprinklers, and the only portion that was saved. The sprinkler tank did not fall; it caught on fire, but was not seriously damaged. It is still full of water and properly connected to the automatic sprinklers. There are a few lessons front the fire that may be worth stating:
First, as to protecting eyen a portion of a plant. —This was. a plant that had been built up from beginnings in an old church. A few brick walls had been added, one in front, and two brick wings had been built, but the old church still formed the central part of the works; and it was of wood, joisted construction, hollow walls and floors, and with an attic space—all the elements of combustible construction; and furthermore, this building was used in part for woodworking, dipping and finishing. It was a serious fire risk and one difficult to reconstruct. In 1907, plans were made by the undersigned and considered by the company for (1) reconstructing the church building, (2) dividing the plant into three groups by fire cut-offs and (3) installing fire protection in the wing buildings. The last of these recom mendations was adopted; the risk was divided into two groups; plans revised accordingly; and the improvements were installed under supervision of the writer. (See accompanying plan of buildings, and fire protection system.) As a result of this protection an important part of the plant has been saved and the managers of the company, as well as those of the insurance companies, attest the value of this protection. It would be agreed at this time that when it is difficult and expensive to protect all of a plant it is wise to protect even a part.
Secondly, how can a reasonable fire cut-off be secured amid bad surroundings?—In this case to separate the old church front the wing buildings a brick wall, 16 inches thick at base and 12 inches at top was completed from basement to roof. This wall was 107 feet long and averaged 50 feet high. (A concrete wall could not have been built in the limited space as conveniently or as cheaply.) To afford facilities for manufacturing, this wall contained twelve doors and seven windows. Seven of the doors opened to stair towers and an elevator which had doors leading into the manufacturing rooms; all were protected by automatic closing fire doors or shutters. Half of them were new and of standard construction, including doors and fittings, and half were older and not quite as good—1 ¾ inches thick, grooved tracks, and small bolts for hangers. The seven windows were large size (4×5 ft. 6 in.) and were made of wire glass with metal frames. All of the doors and windows withstood the severe heat of the fire for four hours. Only one of the doors showed signs of failure and that was an older one at an elevator opening. The track of this door was apparently held by studs and not bolted through the wall. After the adjoining building fell, this door was found to be loosened from its position.
The seven, wire-glass windows were protected by automatic clossing doors or shutters, which apparently operated satisfactorily. No fire passed through any of them, and the only cracks or injuries were made by the firemen. This cut-off wall then held the fire and afforded, above the roofs where it had been especially extended six feet high, a valuable barrier for the fireman. Behind this parapet and on the roof of No. 5, they were able to remain all through the fire and direct streams from the tower standpipe on to the center of the flames. The experience showed that a 12 to 16-in. brick wall may contain many openings, but if the windows have wire glass and both windows and doors have standard selfclosing fire doors or shutters, a reliable cut-off will be maintained.
Thirdly, with an effective fire wall is there need of automatic sprinklers to protect a building from a nearby fire?—This particular tire affords a good example of the supplementary effect of sprinklers. At the central portion the fire wall extended 31 feet above the eaves of the old church, but it was about level with the ridge pole that was 28 feet away. (See section.) This height did not prevent sparks and burning pieces of wood from passing over the top of the wall and igniting window frames of Nos. 4 and 5 buildings. Six windows thus caught on fire in the fourth stories. (See sketch.)
These fires on the outside were finally put out by firemen on the roof of No. 5, but the men did not know that the blaze had quietly made its way through the window frames and into the top story of the No. 4 building. It found art easy passageway between two parallel joists and it continued eighteen feet, nearly to the middle of the room. Here evidently, the first sprinkler attacked it, working disadvantageously by being obstructed by a 4-inch strip that supported electric wires, by one of the joists, and by cross-bracing beetween the joists. Soon after another sprinkler nearer the windows, but which was farther from the fire, must have opened and these two, the only ones opening in the room, were sufficient to check the fire, and since the firemen did not know of its progress and could not have reached it from their location, it is fair to say that an important factor in saving the two wing buildings was the automatic sprinkler equipment. In all, nine sprinklers opened, two in the fourth story just referred to, one in the third story of the No. 4 tower, two in the fifth story of the same tower, two in the elevator tower, one in the third story of No. 5, near the door into the old church group, and likewise one on the fourth floor. All of these apparently did effective service. (A part ol. them opened before the firemen arrived.) A moderate westerly wind was blowing during the fire and the two water tanks above the roofs were exposed to the flames. The one on No. 4 tower, used for manufacturing, was supported by jointed flooring. Fire attacked the outside of the tank and underneath by entering a small unprotected window of the brick tower. The flooring under the tank gave way and the tank settled out of position, but it did not fall. This small window under the tank should have been bricked up or protected by a self-closing shutter. The sprinkler tank of 20,000 gallons capacity and twenty-five feet above the roof was located forty feet back from the fire wall, as far away as space would permit. The tank withstood the fire, but the roof was burned off, the tops of the staves were burned to the water’s edge, and the balcony or landing caught on fire. A permanent iron ladder Sloping away from the sides of the tank made a convenient means of access for firemen who put out this blaze with chemical extinguishers. Another favorable feature was the protection of the large wooden boxing that extended down from the tank. This was tinned, and did not catch on fire.
Fhe origin and cause of the fire is not known, but it is supposed to have started on the third floor of the main building about 11 p. m. This building was equipped with thermostats and that alarm gave the first warning. The room had been visited about forty minutes previously by the watchman. The total insurance was carried by stock companies, was in the form of a blanket policy with co-insurance clause, and amounted to $230,000. The town water pressure held up well during the fire; there was a drop of about ten pounds at the Town Hall that is nearby; the firemen say that they had effective streams all through the fire, especially from the 2 1/2-inch hose taken from standpipes in towers.