There is no class of building wherein knowledge of building construction is quite so important as in the frame sweatshop, as well as frame tenement. The number of concealed spaces forming channels for a fire to travel unobserved from floor to floor and from building to building makes this knowledge of vast importance: First, Locating a fire; Second, Confining it to the smallest possible area, and lastly, extinguishing it with a minimum amount of water and overhauling.

It will be necessary to describe some of the most important features of frame construction in order to make my points more clear.

Frame tenements possess all the bad features of the brick tenement, such as vent shafts, dumbwaiter shaft, light shafts, and stairways; consequently all the precautions usually taken to prevent the spread of a fire in a brick tenement must be employed at a fire in those buildings.

Locating the Fire

The first stage in fire fighting is locating the fire, and in this you have to make use of the sense of seeing, smelling, or the sense, of feeling. When you find a building filling up with smoke, and the fire is not visible, you may hear the familiar cracking noise that will enable you to locate it, or the odor from the smoke will indicate it is coming from a defective flue (a sort of sooty smell), or a musty odor mixed with burning wood indicating rubbish, etc.; possibly of a rat’s nest hidden under the floor. You will depend on your sense of touch, and feel the walls and flooring until you locate the hot point, when you will open up.

Your next step will be to prevent the fire from spreading to other parts of the building through concealed spaces. With a proper knowledge of the construction you will know the course taken by those channels and open a small section in advance of the fire, thereby confining it to a small area. Without this knowledge, a fireman might pull down ceiling and side wall, doing a lot of unnecessary damage and at the same time the fire may be traveling along a natural channel without interference.

Checking the Fire

Two cases are given below where a smouldering fire was located and extinguished with little or no damage as a result of a proper knowledge of construction. A citizen called at the quarters of a truck company, and reported that his house was filling with smoke, but he could not locate the cause of it. Two fire men accompanied him with a fire extinguisher and an axe. They made a hasty examination, found no trace of smoke in cellar, but a little smoke on the first floor and other floors throughout building. Naturally, they examined around stoves. It was summer time and there was not a fire in any stove in the building. They went to first floor and opened a portion of side wall. Some smoke came out, but there was no fire and very little heat. They were then at a loss to know where to open up next. One of them went back to the company and reported the condition to his officer. When the officer got there, the first thing he noticed was a musty odor in the smoke, and suspected a rat’s nest. He noticed the point in the wall from which the smoke was coming, and making use of his knowledge of construction, he began feeling the floor in a direction parallel with the floor beams until he found the hottest point, and by cutting a small portion of the floor, he found the fire in a rat’s nest.

On another occasion a box was pulled for a similar condition. When the chief arrived with the companies he made an examination of the building and found considerable smoke and very little heat. The cock loft, or space between hanging ceiling and roof, was filled with smoke. By removing the scuttle and skylight, most of the smoke passed off, and it was then a simple matter to note the point from which most of the smoke was coming and by feeling along the side wall down to the floor and across the floor, the fire was easily located, and extinguished with the use of very little water and with practically no damage to the building.

The vertical channels formed by the studding are in line with the horizontal channels formed by the floor beams. The reason for this is that the floor beams and studding are spaced 16 inches to centers for the purpose of receiving the wooden lath which always comes in 4-foot lengths. One lath will cover three spaces without cutting the lath, thereby eliminating waste. These channels seldom connect fore and aft, except when the gas pipe crosses and the beams are notched to accommodate the pipe. When any considerable amount of fire occurs in those spaces it is the part of prudence to open a section on either side for examination.

Types of Construction

There are two general classes for frame construction. The balloon frame, and the mortise and tennon, or braced frame, the difference being that in the balloon frame the space between the studding of outer walls extend from cellar to roof, while in the other type this space is stopped at each story by the plates which support the floor beams. When frame houses are built in a row a common method of construction is to place a sill on top of foundation walls, and then put on the floor beams from wall to wall, overlapping them where they meet or butting them together. Then a 2×4 plate is laid on top on floor beams, and the studding for a party wall rests on that plate. The spaces between studding are usually filled in with brick, but the space below the 2×4 plate is forgotten. This leaves an open space between the floor beams that connect with all the cellars in the row. and if the cellar ceiling is plastered it is difficult to detect it. Each one of those spaces forms a horizontal flue to carry a fire over the foundation wall to the adjoining building, where it will feed on the wooden flooring and beams until it reaches a vertical opening, sometimes a waste pipe leading to a kitchen sink, or a gas riser running up through hall partition. The fire will thus take an upward turn and the second building is involved, and so on along the entire row. This will show you the need of making an examination of the cellar and first floor of the building adjoining on each side of the fire.

As an example of the above, a fire occurred in a wood bin in the cellar of a frame tenement. It was discovered by the occupant before it had gained much headway and extinguished with a couple of pails of hot water, hut some one had pulled the box, and when the officer arrived with companies he was met by some of the occupants and told the fire was out. He went into the cellar and found the fire was thoroughly out, well soaked with water and scattered around so that not a spark remained. The ceiling above the fire was broken and as the floor beams slightly blackened, he ordered a truck company to make an examination of the cellar and first floor of the adjoining building. They found a fire burning merrily under the kitchen sink on the first floor. The flame had followed the waste pipe and ignited some rags under a box in the sink and the wainscoting was ignited from the rags.

On another occasion the officer found a fire that followed the space between the floor beams to the next building and then took an upward course through a hall partition by way of a hole made for the speaking tubes.

Another feature of frame construction is the brick filled side wall. In a great many cases the bricks are set on edge (the 2-inch way). They are kept flush with the inside face of the studding. The studding being 4-inch and the brick 2-inch leaves a hollow space two inches deep between the brick filling and the weather boards. Should this filling he damaged or holes left in it by careless workmen, fire will get behind the brick work, igniting the sheathing paper and weather boards in the case of a detached house, or if the building is in a row the fire will break out again after you have left. This condition is not easily detected, because when you remove the lath and plaster you see the brick filling and no evidence of fire and you may conclude that the fire had not reached that point. Whenever brick filling has been exposed to a fire it is well to make a careful examination and remove a portion of the brick work to make sure the fire has not worked in behind it.

(To be continued)

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