Hazards of Such Structures Emphasized by FireߞNew York Fire Department Has Little Jurisdiction in Such Cases


A FIRE in Midwood Sanitarium at No. 19 Winthrop street, in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn on the afternoon of June 12 which necessitated the quick removal of thirty patients, mostly maternity cases, has again brought to light in official circles in New York City, three glaring tacts:

  1. The hazard of hospitals in frame structures.
  2. The lack of jurisdiction by the Fire Department.
  3. Flouting of the Fire Department’s recommendations for additional safety.

The Midwood Sanitarium is a privately owned hospital, licensed to conduct its business by the City board of Health, authorized to be so occupied by the City Department of Buildings, and, so far as the Fire Department’s authority goes, not in conflict with any fire department regulation.

The building is a frame shingled and clapboard structure. 50 x 75 (irregular) four stories with a cockloft and situated about 25 feet back from the curbline, with an iron fence around it.

It has a gabled roof, part of which is wood shingle and part composition tar. asbestos and grit—the lattter the result of two previous fires in 1921 and 1923. The building had three fires previous to June 12, the third one having been in the cellar, due to sparks from the furnace. The other two were due to sparks from the chimney and a defective chimney flue, respectively.

The Midwood Sanitarium, Brooklyn. N. Y., After Fire Had Damaged the Structure. Note Frame Construction and Wooden Shingle Roof

The fire on June 12 originated in the roof beams and shingles, around the chimney, due evidently, to a defect iti the brick chimney. The fire was discovered by a woman residing on an upper floor of a nearby apartment bouse at 80 Winthrop street. She telephoned to hire Headquarters. A still alarm was sounded, bringing one engine and one ladder company.

The first fire officer to arrive instantly pulled the street box and telephoned information brought several ambulances and the Police Emergency Squad. Deputy Chief John Davin in charge of the fire fighting forces in Brooklyn arrived and as a precautionary measure only, sounded a second alarm.

Nurses, firemen and policemen removed all of the patients, some of them stretcher cases and others in chairs and convalescing. The fire dropped down to the fourth floor from the cockloft. Two lines were stretched up the front on ladders, two lines up the rear fire escape and one dry line up the onlv interior stairway, which is a wide open staircase of the private dwelling type. The house was once a homestead, but for the past fifteen years has been a so-called private sanitarium.

The duration of the fire was about a half hour. It burned an area in the roof ot about 20 x 25 feet square. The patients were allocated to other hospitals, via ambulance. Assistant Eire Marshal Richard Walsh, Fire Commissioner Dorman and Assistant Chief of Department Patrick Walsh in charge of Fire Prevention ndcd.

The first intimation the hospital attaches had of the fire was when the firemen rushed into the building. Eire Marshal Walsh ascertained that the liandy-man of the institution had been devoting much of his days work to burning refuse anil debris in the incinerator. The handy-man said he had been at that task since 6 o’clock in the morning, feeding the incinerator with the refuse of the place. It is thought, therefore, that the excessive heat, plus the high temperature due to a very hot sun that day, caused the fire to originate in the roof next to the chimney.

The rear fire escape did not have to be used as the stairway was available at all times. Two years ago the Eire Department, on the report of the Eire Company district inspector, recommended to the Building Department of Brooklyn that an additional fire escape be placed on the front of the building. That recommendation has apparently not been respected and there is nothing in the city ordinances that requires the Superintendent of Buildings to enforce such a recommendation on the owners or occupants of the building. The hands of the Fire Commissioner are figuratively tied hv lack of jurisdiction.

It is now reported that the doctors in charge of the institution intend to demolish the building and replace it with a modern structure.

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