FIRE PROTECTION AND THE BUILDING LAW.
AT the public hearing on the subject of the condition of thetenement houses in Greater New York, held last Monday before the tenementhouse commission, the subject of the observance and the non-observance of the law governing the erection of new tenementhouses in this city was brought up, and Commissioner Brady, of the building department, Deputy Commissioner Guilfoyle, of Brooklyn, Mr. Campbell, of Queens and Richmond, and Mr, Dooner were examined. It was shown during the examination of these gentlemen that of the 333 strictly tenementhouses inspected in the borough of Manhattan, only fifteen, or four per cent., were found, in which there were no violations of the law; in one house there were nine different violations; in seven, eight in each house; in two, seven distinct violations; in twenty-one houses, six; in fifty-six, three; in forty-six, five; in fifty-seven, four;in seventyfour, two; and in fifty-three, one—in every case in each house.
As to the airshafts, which are so often a fruitful source of spreading fires: The commissioner’s report says:
The law prescribes that the commissioner of buildings shall have power to make regulations as to the size of airshafts. Acting under this power, the commissioner of buildings has made the regulation, that above the fifth story airshafts shall increase in width four inches at each story. Out of 172 new tenementhouses, in sixty-two cases, or thirty-six per cent., these airshafts were not increased above the fifth story, as required.
Commissioner Brady accounted for this by saying that his inspectors could not have done their duty in complaining of the violations. He said that in the last three years he had been compelled to discharge at least one hundred inspectors for faults of that kind. His whole force was only 160 inspectors, and he needed many more, he claimed, in order to do the work properly.
The law also prescribes that in all new tenementhouses over three stories and cellar in height, the floors of the public halls and the stairways shall be constructed of slow-burning or fireproof material— the stairways to be inclosed with walls of the same construction. The report, however, shows that out of 144 new tenementhouses of this kind, in ninety-six cases, or sixty-seven per cent., the floors of the public halls were constructed entirely of wood (the floor beams,and not merely the flooring). * * * Out of 116 new tenementhouses, in 113 new cases, or ninety-seven per cent., the stairs were constructed of wood, instead of slow-burning or fireproof construction. * * * Out of 140 new tenementhouses, in eighty-six, or fifty-eight per cent., the stairs were inclosed simply by wooden stud partitions, and in only sixteen cases, or four per cent., were the stairs inclosed by brick walls.
Passing on to the matter of the construction of dumbwaiters: The law prescribes that all openings to dumbwaiter shafts in new tenementhouses over three stories high shall be fireproof and selfclosing, so as to prevent the spread of fire through the building—the object of their being selfclosing being, of course, to prevent their being left open in any case. Yet, out of 207 new tenementhouses reported on by the commissioners, in 201, or ninety-seven per cent., these dumbwaiter doors were not selfclosing. Mr. Brady claims that iron doors were good enough, and that, whatever the law might hold to the contrary, he did not think it necessary for them to be selfclosing!
Mr. Dooner said that he did not know of a single tenementhouse covering more than seventy-five per cent, of the lot. The report showed this to be the case in many instances, on which Mr. Dooner said he would report the matter to Mr. Brady, after doing which his responsibility would end. On being asked further if he could mention any instances where buildings, fully completed in violation of the building laws had ever been pulled down by order of the courts, he was able to remember only one. On crossexamination,however, he admitted that this one had been built by mistake partly upon the lot of another owner. Only that mistake, not any violation of the building law in its construction, caused it to be pulled down.
Deputy Commissioner Guilfoyle insisted that the law was carefully enforced in Brooklyn, till he was confronted by the commissioners’ report, which showed that in that borough eighty-three new tenementhouses had been inspected. Of these, in fifty-two cases, or sixty-two per cent, of all, the rooms had no windows to the outer air, but secured their sole light and ventilation from small inclosed airshafts, about two feet by four feet, or eight feet in area, covered over at the top with a roof or skylight —all of which is contrary to law. The tenementhouse laws also require that in new tenementhouses the halls and stairs shall have windows opening to the outer air. Out of eighty-three new tenementhouses, in fifty-eight cases, or seventy per cent, of all, the halls and stairs had no windows to the outer air. Out of fourteen new tenements, in twenty-nine or sixty-six per cent, of all, the floors of the public halls were constructed of wood. Out of forty-four new ten ements, forty-four, or 100 per cent, of all, had the stairs constructed of wood instead of slow burningor fireproof material. Out of seventy-nine new tenementhouses, where the cellar stairs were, inside of the building, in twenty-seven cases, or thirty-four per cent, of all, the cellar stairs were not inclosed with brick walls. In twenty-five cases, or thirty-one per cent, of all, there were no fireproof doors at the top and bottom of the cellar stairs; and in sixtyseven cases, or eighty-five per cent, of all, these doors were not selfclosing.
Mr.Campbell, of Queens, appeared to be more than surprised when confronted with the following passage from the commissioner’s report:
In the borough of Queens, out of thirty-four new tenementhouses, in thirty-two cases, or ninety-four per cent, of all, the rooms had no windows to the outer air, but opened solely on small interior, inclosed vent shafts about two feet by four feet, covered over by a roof or skylight at the top, contrary to law. Out of thirty-four new tenementhouses, in thirty cases, or eighty-eight per cent., the halls or stairs had no windows to the outer air, contrary to law. Out of twenty-three new tenementhouses where the cellar stairs were inside of the building in twenty cases, or eighty-seven per cent., these stairs were not inclosed with brick walls as required by law; and in twenty-two cases,or ninety-six per cent., there were no fireproof selfclosing doors at the top and bottom of such stairs. Out of thirty-four new tenements in nineteen cases, or fifty-six per cent, of all, the floors of the watercloset compartments were not waterproof, but merely wood.