Fire Prevention in New York City

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

  1. in any building within 50 feet of a school or theatre
  2. which is occupied as a tenement house, dwelling, hotel or lodging house;
  3. which is artificially lighted, other than by electricity;
  4. which is not of fireproof construction;
  5. which is not equipped with sprinklers;
  6. where paints, varnishes, or lacquers are manufactured or kept for sale;
  7. where matches, rosin, turpentine, oils, hemp, cotton or any explosives are stored or kept for sale;
  8. Where dry goods, garments, or other material of highly inflammable nature are manufactured in a portion of the building above the nitro-cellulose occupancy;
  9. 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.

Fire Prevention in New York City

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Fire Prevention in New York City

Second installment of the lecture by Chief Spence, continued from the April issue of FIRE ENGINEERING.

PERFUMES, hair tonics, medicinal and toilet preparations, shoe polishes shall not be considered inflammable or combustible mixtures.

There is a distinction between a garage and a storage garage. A non-storage garage is a building, shed or enclosure in which a motor vehicle, other than the one where the fuel storage tank is empty, is stored or kept. A storage garage is a building, shed or enclosure where volatile inflammable oil, other than that contained in the fuel tanks, is stored.

A storage garage is not permitted in a tenement house, hotel or lodging house, nor where paints, varnishes or lacquers are manufactured or kept for sale; nor where dry goods or other highly inflammable materials are manufactured or kept for sale; nor where rosin, hemp, turpentine, cotton or any explosives are stored or kept for sale; nor situated within 20 feet of a school or place of assembly.

There has never been an instance in this city where a gasoline storage tank buried with the top two feet or more below the surface and covered with concrete, as required, burned or exploded. Gasoline, as you know, is delivered throughout the city either in 55-gallon steel drums or in 1,500-gallon tank trucks, especially designed and constructed after having passed a rigid test. You will understand that, with people traveling in subways ventilated by means of open sidewalk gratings, it is highly important that every safety precaution should be taken.

Restrictions for Dry Cleaning Establishments

Similar restrictions to those that apply to garages and manufacture of inflammable liquids control the location of dry cleaning establishments. From time to time you read of sewer manholes blowing up. This may be caused by a spark or flame setting fire to illuminating or other gases seeping through the ground, or gasoline or other volatile inflammable liquids going into the sewers. Garages are required to have oil separators to prevent such happenings.

Water is not the most serviceable agent in extinguishing fires in these occupancies, although it may act to reduce the temperature below the burning point, therefore in dry cleaning establishments, garages and in kitchens where oil and grease accumulate buckets of sand should be on hand for ready use in emergencies.

Storage and Transportation of Chlorine

The demand for bleaching mixtures has become so heavy that chlorine is required in large quantities. Clorino must be liquefied for transportation. Its value is due to the readiness with which it surrenders its oxygen. It is 2 1/2 times heavier than air. It decomposes water freeing oxygen which exerts a bleaching and disinfecting action. It contracts the respiratory organs by action on the tissue moisture. It is feared on account of its suffocating effect and the possibility of its escape causing panic. In fires the upward draft carries the gas away from the destroyed cylinders. Inside buildings this confined gas would disable firemen.

Liquefied chlorine may be stored only in fireproof buildings in sparsely settled sections of the city. Cylinders of chlorine must be so placed as to be automatically flooded with water in case of fire and there must also be automatic sprinkler protection.

It cannot be stored in any building used as a lodging house, tenement house, or dwelling; or near a hospital, school or theatre.

Regulation of Paint Shops, Etc.

The potential hazards in paints, varnishes and lacquers require restrictions as to the manufacture, storage and use very similar to those relating to the manufacture and use of inflammable mixtures, garages and dry cleaning establishments.

The storage and sale of gasoline or other volatile oils is not permitted in any paint shop in a tenement house, nor in any building occupied by two families.

Hazards of Refrigerating Systems

The fire fighting force has often been called to put on gas masks and rescue persons overcome by ammonia fumes and other gases. Regulations were found to be necessary for refrigerating systems in commercial establishments.

They are classified according to the amount of refrigerant used. Some are flammable, some are noninflammable, and some are irritant. Ammonia, sulphur dioxide and dichloroethane, propane, iso-butane, butane and dichloroethylene are inflammable. Carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and dichloromithane are non-inflammable. The irritants are ammonia, sulphur dioxide and dichloroethylene. The code requires segregation for all irritant refrigerants and ventilation for all refrigerants. Certainly safeguards should surround the installtion of irritant and flammable refrigerants in schools, hospitals and theatres to protect the adolescent, helpless and large assemblies where panic should be avoided. Naturally no fire, flame nor arc light should be permitted where there is a large poundage of flammable refrigerant.

(To be continued)