FIRE PANICS IN THEATRES.
PANICS in theatres may be allayed with very little difficulty,if only someone has presence of mind enough to speak the words necessary for the encouragement and quieting of the audience. In this connection may be quoted the report of Commander Wells, superintendent of the Metropolitan fire brigade of London, who remarks:
We have this year again had evidence of the fact that, whether it be the actors, the conductor of the orchestra, or somebody behind the scenes, w’hen an accident resulting in fire occurs at a theatre, there is some man ready to say the right w’ord, and thus minimize the punic. If it were not for this fact, my work would be much more difficult. Not only abroad, but in many provincial towns, men from the fire brigade attend in theatres during the performances, and in case of an outbreak of fire a message of the proper character can be relied on. In London, our practice is, as far as possible, to bring pressure to bear upon the managements with a view to skilled firemen being employed, and I am glad to say that many managements have adopted my suggestion. It is important that these men should be retained for fire duty only. The importance I attach to properly qualified firemen being employed in theatres is, that they are men who have often seen panic and have been accustomed to work in a crowd, and, besides knowing how to extinguish fire, appreciate the importance of promptly calling the brigade. I have seized opportunities of sending my start to view and make reports upon fires that have occurred at provincial theatres, and the knowledge thus gained has been very useful.
In American cities of the first class and in most others of any considerable size, the presence of uniformed members of the fire department is of obligation in every theatre. But that is hardly enough to insure complete safety; it should also be of obligation that, in all concert halls and other places of amusement w here large crowds are accustomed to assemble there should be enrolled from among the employes a trained tire service corps, properly equipped with hose, extinguishers, and the like, to hold a fire in check till the arrival of the department, as well as to assist iu quieting the audience and guidiug people safely out of the building. And here it may be noted that such guidance will generally be found necessary, since the diagrams on the programs as commonly printed are too often grossly inadequate, and altogether fail to mark distinctly the fire exits—a point to which the attention of the tire department should be called either by private persons or the press, since the law’ on the subject expressly ordaius,not only that the number of every exit shall be distinctly visible to the audience, but also that each program shall have clearly printed upon it a “plan or diagram, showing each of said exits, and referring to the numbers aforesaid,” under penalty of a fine of $50. An examination of many of the programs will show only three rude cuts, marked respectively, “orchestra,” “dress circle,” and “balcony;” but the inscription below, referring to the numbered passages to the street, bears no visible relation to the considerably smaller number of figures arranged at equal distances along the top of the cuts. Some of the diagrams are not only ill made, but are positively deceptive and misleading. This is a serious matter, and one which demands reform. It is for the proper authorities to bring the reform about. And while they take action in that direction, it would not be out of place for them to investigate the church buildings, many of which are mere firetraps, with their narrow aisles, their galleries, tortuous stairways, doors opening inwards, and awkward steps leading out from them—the whole lack of proper system in the arrangement of the buildings and their exits being eminently favorable in its conditions for the slaughter of the audience in case of a panic arising from fire or any other cause.