How London Investigates a Fire Tragedy
London recently experienced a fire in which eight young women were burned to death. The premises which were located in Moor Lane were used for manufacturing celluloid. The tragedy does not differ materially from many similar ones that have occurred in this country, but the method of investigation as to the cause is so radically different that the account, taken from a Britisn publication, is here given: The story of the lire was told at the inquest which was held by the city coroner. Dr. James Kearney, divisional police-surgeon. who saw the bodies of the girls after the fire, said he came to the conclusion that all the girls died from suffocation by carbon monoxide. Richard Oliver, a fireman, said that they were only two minutes getting to the fire. While he was at work he was told that there were some people on the roof at the back. He went through 2 Butler street, and in a top warehouse saw a number of people at the windowtrying to throwa rope across to the burning building, where four or five girls were lying huddled on the roof. One girl was a little distance from the rest, sitting on the edge of the parapet with her legs hanging over. It was to this girl that the men were throwing the rope, but she did not respond to their efforts. The witness tried with the rope but failed, and he then obtained a plank and placed it. across the gulf of about eight feet. He endeavored to crawl across, but the flames were too great to permit of this, and as he retreated he saw the girl who was sitting on the edge fall back into the flames. There was not the slightest movement among the girls on the roof, and he formed the opinion that they were then dead. The lire was very high and fierce, like a roaring furnace.
Frederick Plume, aged seventeen, employed as a celluloid cutter, described the outbreak. He said he took some pieces of celluloid from a small parcel for the last witness, and was doing it up again with sealing-wax when he noticed smoke coming from the side of the parcel, and found that a piece of hot wax had fallen on it. He turned the parcel over, and as he did so it burst into flames.
Major Cooper-Key, Chief Inspector of Explosives to the Home Office, said celluloid was highly inflammable, but was not an explosive. There was no record of any explosion of celluloid, except in the form of dust. Many forms of dust were explosives. There were many substances which also were not absolutely safe to use, but which must be used and which must be present in the city.
Asked by the coroner whether he thought statutory regulations should be made with regard to the use of celluloid, witness said there, again, it was difficult to imagine what statutory regulations could be made other than the provision of adequate means of escape. The matter had been considered, and it had been decided that there was no urgency about the matter, owing to the enormous amount of celluloid used and the comparative infrequency of accidents. Further evidence showed that a fire escape had been provided, but that in the panic which followed the outbreak the girls, who had not been drilled in any way, took the wrong direction on the roof. The verdict was accidental death in all cases. The jury answered the coroner’s questions as follow :
Was the fire accidental?—Yes.
Was such a fire preventive by the adoption of any and what precautions against fire in a factorydealing with large quantities of celluloid?—Yes. by the use of other means of fastening parcels and protection of naked lights.
If the fire were preventive, does any serious or criminal culpability attach to any party?—No.
Were the fire exits resonably safe?—Yes; but there should have been better access.
Is the special window exit of any real value?— Yes;-but a door would have been better.
Has any serious negligence been shown by the firm in not fully instructing the employes in fire drill and use of exits?—No.
Should the employes in celluloid factories be instructed in fire drill and means of escape?— Yes.
Should handrails be provided and indicate safe routes of escape?—Yes. most emphatically.
Have the owners failed in their duty to acquaint the district surveyor of any material structural alteration they made on the premises?—No; no such alterations have been made.
Legislation or not, should not Angus Thomas & Co., and all other celluloid firms, be advised to adopt Dr. Whitelegge’s regulations?—5 es, with modifications.
Should the Home Office consider seriously the best means of securing enforcement of the stringent control m places where celluloid is handled in any considerable quantity?—Yes.
Is it desirable that any trade involving the storing or use of large quantities ol celluloid should be carried on in towns?—es. with proper registration and supervision.
The jury also suggested that a Royal Commission should be held into the question of saving lives at fires; that some kind oi fire extinguishers should have been provided at the premises; that 1,000 lb. weight ot celluloid was too much to be in one factory; that the exhaust fan should be always switched off in case of fire; that Spilier and Bond should be recommended for reward for their bravery, and that the fire brigade, especially Fireman Oliver, should be commended. Finally the jury expressed condolence with the relatives.