The recent transfer of the New York Building Department to the care of the Fire Commissioners is an important step towards securing better methods of construcbon to prevent the spread of fires. Practical Firemen know better than any one else the causes which tend to spread fire from story to story and from building to building, making a conflagration out of what should have been but a small fire, and, knowing these causes, are more competent than any others to provide against them when empowered to do so. Chiefs Sexton, of St. Louis ; Benner, of Chicago; Stockell, of Nashville ; Green, of Boston, and other prominent Firemen have heretofore given much attention to securing proper building laws for the cities they represent. The New York Department will be expected in the future to take an active part in reforming modern atchi’ecture and securing for the city a class of buildings which, if not actually fire-pro 3f, will contribute less towards spreading the flames.
In this connection much can be learned from the older nations of Eure pe. London has more fires than New York, but the fire losses are small in comparason. Paris has a weak Fire Department, numerous fires, and but small fire losses. Carelessness and recklessness that characterize American architectures are responsible for a large proportion of our fires, and especially for those periodic conflagrations that destroy cities and villages. In a recent address before the Society of Arts, Mr. H. A. Hill gave a description of the building methods that are enforced in Vienna, and much valuable information is contained in his description, we make the following extract from his address :
It has been said that it is impossible to make a building absolutely fire-proof, but I think the Viennese come as near making buildings fireproof as possible. I will cite some instances to show this: While living in Vienna I and my family went out of town to spend Sunday, and on our return we found that a fire had destroyed completely the first story of the building in which we lived, but our own apartments were in no wise injured. In another instance the inhabitants of the lower story of a building were not at all disturbed at a fire that occurred on the roof. The roof was entirely destroyed, but they kept about their usual occupation during the fire, inasmuch as the burning of their roof was of no very special interest to them. In Vienna the roof is not a part of the building at all ; it is simply an appendage. The building ends in the ceiling below, and there is as much space as six inches left open between the top of the wall and the bottom of the roof, the latter being set on stones resting at intervals on the walls. The upper ceiling is a flat plank roof covered with ashes or sand, so that if the outer roof burns off, the coals and ashes fall on top of this sand and do no harm. There are no dwelling-rooms in the attic, and it communicates with the house by an iron door with iron casing, which is always kept locked. Next, as to floors : In the smaller buildings where timber floors are used the spaces between the timbers arc filled with ashes or sand, and then the plaster is attached underneath to a wire gauze, thus making a solid floor, which it is almost impossible to burn. There are no air-spaces left through which the fire can travel.
In the more important buildings, however, iron I-beams are used and brick arches are constructed between them, the upper side of the arch being covered with small beams, which, however, rest only on I-beams ; and on these small beams the parquetry floor is laid, and underneath the arch is the frescoing; thus making a very handsome appearance. As to the walls : These are, for small buildings, never less than eighteen inches thick, and in large buildings the thickness varies from three to ten feet, the walls of the first story being thickest, and the thickness diminishing as we ascend. I read from the building laws of the city of Vienna as follows •
- When the position of a building is such as to make it desirable, as a precaution against fire, the ground floor must be vaulted. In the attic and in the first story, when the ground floor is not vaulted, the floors must be massive (as described), and a layer of dry mortar, sand, or other incombustible matter must separate the beams from the planking.
- Stables and haylofts must have a fire-proof ceiling.
- Rooms for storing fuel must be, in general, located in the cellar, and built of masonry. When they ate in sheds of but one story they must, in addition, have a fire-proof roof.
- In every building fire-proof stairways must communicate from the attic to the cellar, and with every dwelling, by means of fire-proof passages. (This implies that the vestibule should also be fire-proof ; and it is, in fact, invariably vaulted, and has a flooring of stone or b6ton.) In buildings of great extent there must be several such stairways, sufficient to enable all persons dwelling in them to pass readily out of doors.
- When a stairway is lighted by means of a skylight, the frame of the latter must be constructed entirely of iron, and rest, on all sides, on masonry rising above the roof.
- All stairways and passages connected with them must have a fireproof railing.
- Wood-work must be removed from the interior surface of all flues by a thickness of at least six inches of masonry. The masonry of the chimneys must be plastered on the exterior, from the pavement of the attic to the highest point of the roof.
- Each story shall be provided with at least one separate flue, passing without communication with any other to its exit at the roof. Where the beams of the floor rest upon the walls containing flues, an earthen pipe shall be inserted into the latter, having for its length at least the thickness of the whole floor, and for its thickness at least one inch. Every flue must have, at its commencement in the lower story, and also in the attic, a side opening, closed by two iron doors, closely shutting, and provided with a lock. Where several flues lie side by side, they shall be closed still further by an iron bar and padlock, extending over the openings of of all. All wood-work in the vicinity of these doors must be covered with sheet-iron.
- All roofs must be covered with tiles, slate, metal, or some other fire-proof material. The wood-work of the roof must at no point be nearer than six inches to the pavement of the attic. Iron roof frames must rest upon masonry alone ; wooden cornices are forbidden.
- The attic roof must be covered with tiles, cement, or other fireproof material. An iron door, hung in an iron frame, must communicate alone from the main stairway with the attic. At least once in every ninety feet of its length the attic must he subdivided by a brick wall running across its width and rising nine inches above the roof, (This is generally covered above with zinc.) The compartments ensuing shall communicate with each other only by means of iron doors hung in iron frames. No dwelling-rooms are permitted in the attics of buildings.
- Every house shall be provided with a wall at least six inches thick, separating it from its neighbor—for the two houses thus ensues a wall of twelve inches.
The thickness of walls must be regulated by the weight they have to support and the material of which they are composed ; also by the height of the stories and the construction of the floors and ceilings.
The following rules are to be observed :
- The principal outer walls, as well as all interior walls, at the point where they contain flues, must be at least eighteen inches thick. The principal walls of the upper story must be at least two feet thick if the depth of the rooms is more than twenty feet. The main walls may have the same thickness in two successive stories. In buildings of three stories the main walls must, at the ground, be at least two feet thick ; in buildings of four stories at least two and one-half feet thick. Those portions of the main wall which do not support floors can be made eighteen inches thick for all stories.
- Where the ceilings are vaulted and rest on iron girders, in case the latter are not more than twenty feet long, the walls supporting them need only be eighteen inches thick for all stories ; where they are of greater length the walls must be two feet thick.
- The foundation walls must, in all cases, be six inches thicker than those of the lower story.
- In light walls, the walls must be in all cases eighteen inches thick where they support ceilings, or bound rooms used for dwelling purposes. In other cases they need only be twelve inches thick.
- Walls supporting massive floorings of half or whole trees (as described) must be two feet thick, and the trees must rest for six inches at their ends upon the same.
In Vienna these laws are fully carried out, and the Viennese hardly suffer from fire.