Fire Prevention in New York City
Final installment of the lecture by Chief Spence, concluded from the May issue of FIRE ENGINEERING.
PYRALIN, celluloid, fiberoid, viscoloid are products of nitro-cellulose, a composition with camphor in a lower class than guncotton. Toilet articles, umbrella handles, etc., are made from these materials. This class of substance is plastic when subjected to heat and takes in a high finish. It softens about 125 degrees F. and decomposes at 275 degrees F. Combustion is rapid, even after the flame is extinguished and attended by the evolution of explosive gases. Steampipes, electric heaters, rays of sun focussed through a window glass, electric lamp bulbs and similar sources of heat have caused fires. Water will extinguish and cool the material below the burning point if applied in sufficient quantity.
Its manufacture is prohibited
- in any building within 50 feet of a school or theatre
- which is occupied as a tenement house, dwelling, hotel or lodging house;
- which is artificially lighted, other than by electricity;
- which is not of fireproof construction;
- which is not equipped with sprinklers;
- where paints, varnishes, or lacquers are manufactured or kept for sale;
- where matches, rosin, turpentine, oils, hemp, cotton or any explosives are stored or kept for sale;
- Where dry goods, garments, or other material of highly inflammable nature are manufactured in a portion of the building above the nitro-cellulose occupancy;
- unless all vertical openings are enclosed.
Vaults for the storage of this material must be fireproof and protected with sprinklers and vented. Cabinets must be similarly protected.
Protective Laws for Film
Inflammable motion picture and sound recording film is generally of a nitro-cellulose base, has hazardous characteristics and its storage must be protected in a theatre, in the exchange, in the film laboratory, in the studio and in the screening and projecting room.
Its handling, use, storage or recovery is prohibited in any building (a) within 50 feet of a school or place of assembly, (b) which is occupied as a dwelling or hotel, (c) which is lighted other than by electricity, (d) which is of frame construction, (e) which is not equipped with automatic sprinklers, (f) which does not contain vaults or cabinets for the storage of film.
Sand, water buckets and fire extinguishers are required to be on hand. Heating is restricted to steam.
Vaults must be fireproof constructed, sprinkler protected and vented to the outer air.
Smoking is prohibited in booths, rewinding rooms and in special storage rooms.
Motion picture studios must be separated from other businesses, from laboratories and exchanges, must have adequate exit facilities with two means from every studio floor and all doors shall open out. Trained men must be employed to act as fire guardians. Fire drills must be conducted once a month. An interior fire alarm must be installed with direct connection through a central office to fire Department Headquarters. Wall and ceiling finish must be treated so as to be slow burning, and hangings and drapes made flameproof.
The Cleveland Clinic Disaster
The fire in the Cleveland Clinic in 1929 killed 121 persons through the burning of nitro-cellulose diagnostic X-ray film. The building was four stories high, fireproof and contained 250 patients and employees.
In a room used formerly as a coal vault film was stored. There was direct connection between this room and the pipe tunnel from which pipe ducts extended to the roof. Located near the ceiling were steam lines carrying 65 pounds pressure, with no means of ventilation and no automatic sprinklers in the building.
A steamfitter, in order to repair a steam leak, removed some magnesia covering and a jet of steam escaped. He went to the power house to shut the steam off and drain the line. Two hours later he returned and found a cloud of yellow smoke which soon exploded and shot him into the next room through a door. The superintendent pulled the alarm. Gases of decomposition of the film went throughout the building and suffocated numbers of patients.
Protection of Public Buildings, Etc.
Section 20 of Chapter 12 requires all factories, hotels, lodging houses, theatres, hospitals, asylums, schools and public buildings where large numbers congregate shall have means of communicating an alarm of fire, accident or danger to the Police or Fire Department and shall have such fire hose, fire extinguishers, water buckets, axes, etc., as the Commissioner directs.
In buildings exceeding 150 feet in height an elevator and an operator to run it shall be on duty at all times. In above occupancies there-should be an interior fire alarm and in schools fire drills shall be held periodically.
It is not uncommon for 3,000 pupils to evacuate a public school in three minutes.
The Automatic Sprinkler
The automatic sprinkler is a device for automatically distributing water upon a fire in sufficient quantity either to quench it entirely or hold it in check in case the fire is located where it is impossible for the water spray to reach.
Water is fed through a system of piping attached to the ceiling, with sprinkler heads placed at intervals along the pipe. The head consists of an orifice one-half inch in diameter normally closed by a disc, held in place by levelers, with a fusible solder that melts at 160 degree F. A distributor against which the water is thrown converts the flow into a spray which covers an area from 80 to 100 square feet. When the solder fuses due to the heat from the fire it is to extinguish, the levers are released and water is discharged against the deflector. The amount of water depends upon the pressure and five pounds of flowing pressure is considered a minimum for proper sprinkler action. At this pressure the discharge is 12 gallons of water per minute.
A static water pressure of 25 pounds at top line of sprinklers or a flowing pressure of 15 pounds is the minimum for effective service. There is required a pressure tank and gravity tank. When this water supply is exhausted the firemen can connect their pumper up to the Siamese and distribute water from all open heads.
Sprinklers work in the dark, and never sleep. They are useless if the valves are closed and there is no water supply, which sometimes happens.
Teaching Fire Prevention in the Schools
To curb the yearly increase in fires, it was thought teaching fire prevention in the schools would bring the lessons to the fireside, and the elders, as well as the youngsters, would give them practical application. The underwriters have yearly donated funds for medals for the best compositions written on “Safeguarding the Home Against Fire.’’ Yearly on October 9, the anniversary of the Chicago fire of 1871, these medals are awarded on the steps of the City Hall by the Mayor to the successful student competitors.
The application of these laws and ordinances deserve our best efforts. To accomplish their purpose and object we devote ourselves.