Lessons of the New Haven Fire

Lessons of the New Haven Fire

The fire which destroyed the Rialto Theatre in New Haven, Conn., and which occurred on November 28, again emphasizes the hazard of improperly built playhouses and the necessity for the housing of amusements in fireproof structures. This particularly applies to the moving picture playhouse, as in most cities the modern theatre building is required to be constructed in a fire resistant manner and with ample facilities for exit in case of panic.

This is not true in equal degree of the average moving picture house. The cheap theatres of this class are often housed in reconstructed buildings that have been used for other purposes and are not only not fireproof, or fire resistive, but also are constructed with comparatively little consideration for the safety of its patrons. On the other hand, the fire hazard in the average moving picture house is much greater than that of the speaking theatre, owing to the use of inflammable films and improperly protected moving picture machines. This of course applies only to cities and states where the laws do not compel the use of either fireproof machines or non-inflammable films, or where these laws are not properly enforced. Naturally as the admission fees are very much smaller in comparison to the speaking theatre and as profits are consequently not as great, the proprietors of the moving picture houses try to get along with as little expense as possible, sometimes even at the risk of the audiences. More stringent rules and regulations should be adopted in cities looking to the safety of the patrons of such houses, even though this entails some hardship to the proprietors and even the possible necessity of charging a higher admission fee.

The one redeeming feature of the catastrophe in New Haven was the splendid behavior of the audience and especially that of the Yale students, both those in the audience and those outside who assisted the fire department in the rescue of persons trapped in the fire. The coolness displayed by these representative American young men speaks well for the bravery and discipline under extreme conditions of peril of our youth. There is very little doubt but that most of these students did much to avoid mad panic in the theatre and were instrumental in saving hundreds of lives, which otherwise would have been sacrificed through being caught in the flaming interior, the exits being jammed with struggling humanity attempting to escape without any semblance of order. All honor to these young men!

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