“LESSON OF THE $75,000,000 ASHHEAP.”
William J. Boies, an insurance expert has an article in the July Forum under the above caption,in which he insists that, whereas in 1899 the firewaste exceeded the sum of $150,000,000, this year, unless there is a great improvement, the amount will be $175,000,000.
Within the limits of Greater New York (he says) the fire losses in 1899 were greatly in excess of those reported the preceding year—the losses in Manhattan alone reaching $7,458,840 in 1899, as against $4,155,191 in 1898. In Philadelphia the situation has been even worse. Pittsburgh has lately reported a $1,000,000 fire in a building erected about two years ago upon plans furnished by experts interested in avoiding the firetrap features of a structure which was burned on the same site a few months earlier, and the former demonstrated, beyond dispute, that fireproof buildings are oftentimes not what they are reputed to be. Chicago has also had heavy losses, and, unless conditions improve in that city, the insurance companies will pay out more than they take in. In many other places also heavy losses have occurred—the greatest disasters, curiously enough, befalling the very risks which underwriters had insured at low rates, in the belief that the hazard was small, and the property on the whole well protected.
Mr. Boies asks if the lesson to be learned from all this disproves
our theories of fireproof construction and shows that the fire-hazard of our modern “ skyscraping” office buildings and hotels is greater than we had been led to suppose. Or does it signify that “ four-story fire departments” are antiquated devices in these days of thirty-storybuildings, and that, to save life and property at the great centres of population, means must be found for raising the standard of our municipal fireextinguishing equipment above what is now considered essential? An insurance expert is authority for the statement that there is not a fireproof building in New York city to-dav. While that may be an exaggeration, it is probably true that we have trusted too much in the protection afforded by massive beams and steel framework Large area buildings of great height, no matter how perfect the construction, may not, in the long run, prove safer than the four-story structures of fifty years ago, whose upper floors could be easily reached by an ordinary fire-ladder. With escaping gases confined beneath asphalt pavements threatening explosions in the cellare of abutting property, with heavily charged wires penetrating modern buildings at every floor, and running criss-cross from structure to structure, with powerful engines and independent lighting plans installed in most modern buildings, it is a question whether many of the improvements of nineteenth-century civilization have not more than counterbalanced the advantages of improved constructions as regards the flrehazards of large cities.
The standpipe system of forcing water to the top of tall structures from the roof of a building 300 feet away is what Mr. Boies would make of obligation throughout the congested districts of all large cities. This would place the extinguishing forces in “instant command of anything on fire for blocks around.” In Manhattan’s drygoods district, where $900,000,000 of insurable values are concentrated, it would cost probably $1,000,000 to install such a system; but (as Mr. Boies points out)
this expense would be trifling in comparison with the premiums derived from that business section. With streams of water pouring on a burning building from above and below, what chance would there be for flames to gain much headway? Picture to yourself a dozen firemen struggling with heavy hose up twenty flights of stairs and along strange, dark hallways, and you will get an idea of the difficulties the elevated service would entirely avoid. At best, the present system offers nothing but a zigzag connection with the street engine, there being constant danger of the hose giving way at a sharp corner somewhre. Think, too, of the time consumed in effecting this imperfect connection, and that seconds saved are dollars gained.
The standpipe service is very simple, consisting of little more than two fair sized iron pipes connected with the water system and extending from the cellar to the roof of a tall building. The pipes are pene trated at the curb by two openings affording nozzle connection with a fire engine in the street; so that, when the firemen arrive, they have merely to run the hose a distance of fifteen or twenty feet from the engine to the standpipe, send a few men to the roof to hand’e the equipment there, turn on the pressure, and begin the work of extinguishing. This service might be supplemented, In the case of very large buildings, by stationary engines and independent pumping plants, which could be utilized in emergencies.
It will be noticed that Mr. Boies advocates the same system that has been urged over and over again in the columns of FIRE AND WATER.
The Exempt Firemen’s association of Sacramento, Cal , organized in 1872 with 342 members,has disincorporated and sold its valuable property—the proceeds of the sale being divided among its sixty-seveu members.