FIRES IN OUR THEATRES.
Mr. James Harrison contributes the following to The Sanitary Engineer: “We are once more reminded by the fire at the Union Square Theatre, the evening of the 2nd inst., of the possible dangers that menace the crowded audiences in the several churches, halls and theatres of our city. While we admire the coolness and judgment displayed by the employes of the building during the time of the fire above mentioned, and are thankful that no lives were lost, we cannot but recall the many and fearful lessons of the past Experience teaches us, that, notwithstanding the possible loss of life, crowds will gather in our public buildings. A favorite preacher or lecturer, or a Sarah Bernhardt will pack a building with an audience at any time. Curiosity will be gratified at all hazards ; a power, therefore, shoul I rest somewhere that would insist upon ample provision being made for the safety of the crowds who so expose themselves to the danger of a rush, or panic, or fire. What these provisions shall be, mus depend greatly upon the general construction of the building itself. The greatest danger to be apprehended during a panic in a large audience, is the crush at the exit. Inalmost every instance the audience from the first floors as well as the galleries use the same exit. In the erection of most of our public buildings, the rule seems to have been to secure sitting room f,r the audience at the expense of ready entrance and exit. The entrance to the first floor is generally by a flight of steps, more or less in number, and the access to the galleries or upper part of the house, often by tortuous stairs and cramped passage ways—these objec ionable features are scarcely noticed by the crowd as it enters, but they are fearful causes of accident to an excited audience during an hasty exit. An observer will notice how slowly a crowded building Is emptied, the pressure gradually increasing as the outer doors and steps are reached. This is always the case even when a crowd is passing from one floor only, but when this crowd is augmented by that from the galleries, the slightest check is sure to be productive of a suffocating pressure even without any attendant excitement.
“This difficulty can only be remedied by securing separate modes of egress from each floor and gallery of the building, to be used in cases of panic or danger. Buildings fronting on two streets, or on a corner, could, I apprehend, be so altered as to permit the remedy as proposed.
“In the case of theatres, a rear exit is always provided for the actors and employees, but, as a rule, it is of no service to an audience as the point of danger is the stage itself. If the building is in the centre of the block, side exits should be made from each floor through, and on the adjoining buildings. This, in my judgment, should be enforced. The alteration of the fronts or sturways in every case is almost impossible, although many of such entrances might be greatly improved. A plan was proposed some time ago, to shut off the stage from the main building by an iron curtain to be dropped in case of fire; this is very well so far as it goes, but the dangers of a crush, is, after all, that which is most to be feared. One person falling, either in a fit or accidentally is almost sure to dam the stream of humanity and produce fearlul results, lad us have separate modes of exit for every floor of our public buildings at any cost. The d inger that remains after this one reform is effected is s ill appalling enough of itself.”