Fires in Factory Buildings
Report of the
Committee on Fire Manual
International Association of Fire Engineers
THE Committee is of the opinion that it would be impossible to formulate a standard or set method that could be followed at any or all fire extinguishing operations, and it has decided to cover the matter in a general way, by presenting for the consideration of all officers interested those points in connection therewith that are of special importance, and which at all times govern any action that may be taken at an operation.
Factory buildings (non-fireproof) may be anywhere from one to seven stories in height, varying in area from 20 feet by 60 feet to 200 feet by 150 feet, and at times even a larger area .will be found.
The building may be of frame or brick construction in its entirety, or it may be a brick or frame combination. Its location may be in a congested center, in a town, village or city, or in an isolated position, and its condition may be old, weak and dilapidated and does not retain a single element in its construction that offers the slightest resistance against the rapid spread of fire. And again, it may be of that type of good construction, such as “Mill,” or approaching it in character somewhat similar, that will offer considerable resistance to a fire’s extension.
Another condition frequently met with is referred to, that relates to adjoining structures, which may or may not be of similar external appearance, but are connected through pierced walls, and in buildings covering large areas division walls are provided at times, in which doorway openings are located and an automatic or other fire door installed to act as a cut-off or retardant against the spread of fire, but in many instances stock or other obstructions have been so placed that the operation of the doors is prevented; in other cases neglect on the part of employees to close doors at the termination of the day’s business has on many occasions permitted the spread of fire.
Occupancies and the nature and character of the material used in the business or businesses carried on in a factory building is the next important factor that presents itself for the consideration of a fire officer responsible for the direction of a fire extinguishing operation.
Knowledge of the nature of the business is important, wherein it requires that floors are pierced for the passage of belts, shafting, chutes, dumb waiters, trap doors, etc., such openings providing a ready means for the rapid spread of fire.
*Report prepared by Deputy Chief T. F. Dougherty, officer in charge of the New York Fire College, and approved by Chief John Kenlon, President International Association of Fire Engineers 1919-1920.
Character of the material used in the business and quantity on the premises:
Is it combustible, highly inflammable or explosive?
Will it retain and absorb a considerable weight of water ?
Will it expand by absorbing water, and to what degree?
Will it create a greater hazard by contact with water?
Will the use of water, although an extinguishing agent, be the means of spreading the fire?
Will the combustion produce dangerous or explosive gases or vapors?
What effect will the expansion of the stock or the added weight of water it absorbs have on the stability of the structure?
The points referred to are of special importance, and a fire officer should possess all the knowledge it is possible for him to obtain on the subjects.
Of course in the larger cities it is realized and understood that it is beyond the capacity of any one individual who may command a fire department to retain a mental picture of the layout of all buildings in his city or a complete knowledge of the character of the material used in the businesses carried on, but this condition is overcome by the information received from a subordinate chief or company officer, in addition to that already acquired by the chief during his service in the department.
Knowledge of construction is an important factor to obtain high class results in a fire extinguishing operation, and it is absolutely essential that a rule should be in existence in all fire departments, large or small, and strictly enforced, making it incumbent upon the subordinate chiefs and company officers to make frequent inspections of all buildings in their company districts, with a view to obtaining information as to its condition, location of stairways, fire escapes, elevator or other shafts and a general outline on the fire hazard, and such information so obtained will, when a fire occurs jn the structure, be of inestimable value.
It has been often said that “No two fires are alike. ’ but it does not apply to fire extinguishing operations in factories, for the reason that many have been carried on in an almost similar manner, except for slight variations, that might be caused by differences in construction or the fire conditions existing in the building.
An important rule should be in existence in all fire departments, compulsory in its requirements, placing the responsibility for the direction of the forces arriving at a fire upon the first officer to arrive, regardless of rank, until such time as an officer of superior rank arrives, who will automatically assume the same responsibility.
Where a rule of this character is in existence, and its requirements are strictly adhered to, making it obligatory on the part of the first officer to assume full responsibility for the proper and efficient direction of the force present, and in the further exercise of his power to call such additional force as, in his judgment, may be necessary to control and extinguish the fire, the important preliminary details for a successful operation are fully covered, pending the arrival of the chief officer.
The failure to establish Such a rule in a department develops methods of operations that are lacking in systematic and concerted efforts, for the very simple reason that the responsibility not being placed, haphazard methods are in many instances carried on and the results obtained can be classed as poor and inefficient.
A fire is discovered in a factory building, an alarm is transmitted, which brings the regular assigned companies on the scene. The first officer arriving, whether a chief or officer of minor rank, must size up the situation instantly, covering all its numerous phases, and take such action relative to its extinguishment or bringing it under control as his experience and judgment may dictate.
The fundamental and most important rule in the preliminary part of the operation is, in the event of being unable to extinguish the fire quickly, to be on the alert to take prompt action in preventing its extension by the placing of a line or lines at the danger points—to be brief, confine the fire to as small an area as possible.
Secondly—The prompt venting of the structure to liberate heat, smoke and gases of combustion.
1 hirdly—To call such additional force to cope with the fire as his judgment may dictate.
There are many other phases to he considered which have special importance on the final result of the operation:
Height and area of the building.
Material constructed of—its stability—does it front on more than one street.
Location of the fire and its extent.
Intensity of the fire and possibilities of its extension.
Proximity of adjoining structures on front or rear and character of construction and nature of business therein.
Proximity of side exposures, character of construction and openings in walls.
Nature of protection at such openings.
Direction of the wind.
Is the building equipped with an automatic fire extinguishing apparatus, and would its use be beneficial.
Placing of protecting lines at all openings in division walls, and the exercise of caution when opening same.
Prompt consideration to be given to danger caused by radiated heat on wire or plain glass or iron shutters on adjoining structures.
Ignition of material at or near such windows should be anticipated and proper action taken.
To be on the alert to examine floor or floors above the fire floor as to possible extension of fire by way of pipe recesses or openings in floors for steam or other piping, belt holes, etc.
Is there a refrigerating system on the premises?
Use of water tower, turret pipes on hose wagon or private equipment in adjoining building to best advantage.
Use of streams, directed from windows, fire escapes or roofs of adjoining structures.
General experience is the real tutor in fire extinguishing operations, and it is experience, coupled with continuous thought, study and observation of all the details of various operations that an officer has been connected with, and in anticipating in advance what he might do on some noteworthy structure in the district when called upon to operate therein.
What the practicing physician is to the human body, may, in a sense, be drawn upon to make a comparison, and say that a fire officer is the same to a building involved with fire. The physician’s knowledge of the construction of the human body is essential for the success of his treatment, and so is the knowledge of the construction of a building and its occupancies necessary to the fire officer for his successful treatment of it when it is involved with fire.
The physician observes various classes of symptoms in his patients, and they are treated in accordance with what the physician’s experience and judgment dictates.
The officer observes various conditions (or symptoms) in a building involved with fire, and his treatment of the structure to extinguish and control the fire hazard is also in accordance with what his experience and judgment dictates.
The statement has been made “confine a fire to as small an area as possible,’ and in this respect let us assume a fire in a sub-cellar and cellar of a factory building. It ought to be clear to any officer that every effort should be made to keep it from extending even to the first floor, let alone the floors above.
Area of building and intensity of fire should receive first consideration on arrival, as to whether an additional force should be called, line or lines to operate through elevator lift, dead-lights rear or side courts where found, venting of structure over elevator shafts and stairway without delay, line or lines, either with controlling nozzles or cellar pipes to be operated from interior on first floor and the opening up of windows on first floor front and rear, which may permit of firemen holding their positions throughout the oeration; consideration to be given at all times to the fire’s extension by shafts or stairwell and the flooding of floor on first floor to prevent fire’s extension through same.
Of course it is understood that sub-cellar or cellar fires have on many occasions been extinguished by lines taken direct to seat of fire by interior stairway, or by way of ladder through exterior opening, and every effort should be made to extinguish the fire in this manner where it is possible to do so.
Why is the recommendation made to open up over an elevator shaft or stairwell for a fire located in a cellar or sub-cellar? There is more than one good reason, as experience has proved. Employees leave the premises at night and tail to close elevator shaft doors; if the fire extends into shaft, opening over the shaft will provide a vent for it, and will have accomplished a great deal in preventing a mushroom extension. An outlet through a large vertical artery will promptly assist in permitting lines on front or rear to advance to the seat of the fire.
Why recommend the opening up of all the windows on first floor, front or rear, when operating at a cellar or sub-cellar fire? To make it possible to have command of this floor at all times during the operation to prevent the fire’s extension. If the opening up is not promptly accomplished, the accumulating heat and smoke, in large volumes, will in a few seconds charge the door so heavily that it will be impossible to enter the door or maintain a position therein, and the loss of this vantage point to operate from is a serious handicap.
Those two points require rapidity of action to obtain good results.
Reference will also be made to the proper direction of streams from cellar pipes, regardless of what the pattern may be. It is important that all officers in charge of companies direct the streams in such manner that they will be effective in covering the fire area. Chief officers should be on the alert to see that the best judgment is used in this respect.
Notwithstanding a strong fight, it is apparent that the fire will extend to drst door, or possibly to higher levels. Where it is anticipated that the fire will reach first door, the dooding of the door will retard it. It is good practice to have a sudicient number of good neavy streams from hose lines, or one or two from deck pipes, distribute water indiscriminately over first door, tde necessity for this action to depend upon the judgment of the officer in charge of the operation, Prompt action of this kind will probably prevent the fire’s further extension. There should be no hesitancy in wetting down the door over a heavy dre to prevent its extension.
Let us assume a dre on or above the drst door, where conditions indicate that it will extend to one or more doors above. All of the points heretofore referred to in this paper, and in addition others will be offered for consideration.
Lines are stretched and first door covered in front or rear, as conditions warrant, more lines are stretched by way of interior stairs or dre escape on front or rear of building, where present; in the absence of dre escapes, various sizes of ladders may be placed in front of building and operated advantageously. Powerful streams from deck pipe or water tower, where available, are very effective when the streams are properly directed.
In departments where no deck pipes or towers are available, street pipes will be used in throwing water from ground level to fifth and sixth floors, and this method is lacking in effectiveness for the reason that the stream is too vertical.
Where it is possible to direct a stream of water in on a floor or floors from the windows, a roof or tire escape of a structure, in close proximity to the fire building, the vantage point should be made use of promptly, in lieu of ground level positions, as the efficiency of the water delivered is greatly increased.
A deck pipe in hose wagons is used and found effective in many cases in preventing outside extensions. through windows, from floor to floor, but the exercise of caution in this respect is necessary in a case of this kind, as what might appear to be a dangerous condition is quickly controlled, and a possible extension prevented by a company on the interior, as only a small portion of the floor area was involved at the windows.
In many cases the use of more than one deck pipe is necessary, but they have a limited range for effectiveness, and commence to lose in effectiveness above the third floor, which increases at each succeeding floor level.
Use of water tower is effective in an operation, up to a height of 80 or 85 feet, but it also commences to lose in effectiveness as the height to which the stream is delivered is increased.
In many instances streams of water are delivered from opposite directions on a floor and lines are unable to advance, on account of the air currents developed by the force of the streams, in a measure retarding the escape of heat and smoke. The shutting off of streams on either end will be the means of permitting those still in operation to advance more quickly, as a clearing of the floor of heat and smoke is more rapid through the forced circulation brought about by the one sided water delivery.
Proximity of adjoining structures has been re ferred to, and where extent and intensity of the fire warrants it, the officer should always be on the alert to estimate the possibilities of further extension of the fire. In this respect he should give careful consideration to the direction of the wind, the distance the exposures are located from the fire building, particularly the character of the construction and material kept therein, also the window protection provided on the exposures.
Heat very readily radiates through plain or wire glass, and will ignite material located many feet distant. In cases of this kind an officer should be on the alert to protect the danger points.
Iron shutters will radiate heat quickly, in sufficient degree to ignite material in an exposure, even though there is no external appearance to the shutters that would indicate the degree of heat to which they have been subjected.
It is good policy to anticipate the possibilities of a fire’s extension to one or more exposures and take such action by wetting down with streams, or the placing of lines actually within the structures.
In many cases fires occur in buildings during work ing hours; the iron shutters or other window protection on exposures are open. The officer commanding should be on the alert to see that windows or shutters are closed without delay.
Frequently lines have been sent in to exposed buildings as a point of vantage, to direct streams on the lire building, and its windows and protecting shutters have been opened indiscriminately; this policy is not in line with good judgment, as windows and shutters should only be opened at the particular window from which the stream is to be directed.
The officer in charge of the fire should be on the alert as to the safety of his subordinates, and a careful estimate should be made on the stability of the structure.
Is the structure stocked with light or heavy material ? To what extent have the wooden supporting members or floor beams been weakened by the ravages of fire? Is it of old or modern construction, or a converted structure that, at the time of its original construction, was never intended for factory uses?
Regarding materials that absorb water, such as hay, rags, jute, hemp, paper, etc., it is necessary to bear in mind the vast difference in weight between the dry and water soaked material in making an estimate of the stability of the structure.
An enormous weight of water is thrown into a structure, a little more than one ton for every minute that one line is operated, and it would be well to calculate what five streams would throw into a structure in ten minutes, approximately fifty tons.
It is not intended to imply that each and every pound of that fifty tons of water has been absorbed by the material in the structure, but it is safe to feel that a considerable weight of water has been added. Therefore caution should be used if operating on the inside or in close proximity to exterior walls.
Occasionally absorbent material is packed very closely in buildings, without leaving any room for expansion that may be caused by the water absorbed. This condition should also receive consideration as sufficient pressure can be developed to materially interfere with the stability of the structure, and where it is known that an absorptive stock is carried, an officer should at all times be on the alert to observe any bulging of the walls or cracks therein, or trivial indication that they are getting out of plumb, and prompt thought to overweighted floor beams.
Water tanks on roofs, where supported on roof beams, are an extremely dangerous hazard to the safety of the operating force, and a careful estimate should be promptly had as to what extent the strength of the supports have been weakened by the effects of the fire.
In other cases tanks are partially supported on the bearing walls of the structure, usually at a corner, and in addition to the support that the walls provide, wood beams or iron girders are also used.
This construction is not as hazardous as that previously described, but it is also necessary that an officer be watchful, even where iron beams are used exclusively to support tanks, as, where sufficient heat is in contact with iron beams, they may bend and permit tank to fall through the roof. When tanks on or over a roof present a hazard, means should be promptly taken to empty them of their contents, where it is possible to do so.
At times refrigerating systems may be found in
buildings used for commercial or factory purposes, and when such buildings are involved with fire an extreme hazard is also developed.
Generally the articles or compounds used in developing low temperatures are of such a character that they are extremely susceptible to heat, and application to the containers causes rapid expansion, producing unusually high pressure, reaching 900 pounds in systems using carbon dioxide.
Safety valves are provided on the various systems, both on the high and low pressure sides, which limits the amount of pressure that may be developed on a system during its actual operation.
When a system is shut down for the night, valves on each end of the receiver are shut off, and the absence of any safety valve on the receiver develops an extremely serious hazard, as in the event of the building being involved with fire, its heat coming in contact with receiver will quickly develop an unusually high pressure, and the certain rupture of the receiver will result in the instantaneous liberation of the pent-up force, the dangerous results of which cannot be foretold.
In some cities means are provided on the exterior of the buildings which permit, when conditions warrant it, of liberating the gas to the outer air or mixing it with water and allowing it to run into a street sewer, but this method would only be of value while the system is in actual operation, and would not minimize the danger that is at any moment imminent where the valves on a receiver are closed.
All officers should obtain full knowledge as to the construction of refrigerating systems, and the character of the articles or compounds used, therein to produce low temperatures, as under certain circumstances they are dangerous to life by means of explosion, or by inhalation into the human system.
Breeching of side walls at fires has on many occasions been of material assistance in placing hose lines in positions where the water delivered reached the seat of the fire through the opening so provided, which could not be accomplished in any other way, as streams from front or rear met with congested stock storage or interior construction that interrupted their travel.
In other cases where the stability of a building was affected by fire, and it was deemed too hazardous for officers or men to operate on the interior, side walls have been breeched through which streams were delivered with effective results.
At fire extinguishing operations of prolonged duration, particularly at cellar and sub-cellar levels, where large volumes of smoke and gases are produced by incomplete combustion, large numbers of officers and men are overcome and physically incapacitated from further activities in the operation.
The officers in charge should be on the alert as to the extent to which the force present is being depleted, and call such additional force as may be necessary to supply the deficiency created in the ranks by those who have been incapacitated.