MODERN BUILDING CONSTRUCTION CHANGES PROBLEMS FOR CHIEF
Chances Are That Modern Fireproof Structure Is Poorly Constructed or That Cheap Materials Were Used New Field Opened for Chief
ONE of the most practical fields for study on your part in modem construction, including methods and materials, in order to reduce fire hazards, assist in fighting fires and in a still more important sense, to prevent them. Let me say first of all that I believe most people today, not directly connected with the construction industry, fail to realize what a marvelous and rapid advance there has been in the past ten or fifteen years in the field of building construction. To most of us a building is just so much stone, brick, mortar, steel and wood put together in varying quantities by some contractor according to some architect’s plan. As a matter of fact, there has been a wonderful revolution during the past two decades in the type of modern building construction and this has a very direct effect upon the work of the fire chief.
A generation ago, in order to secure what was then termed a fire proof structure, heavy brick and stone fire walls were employed, and there were iron girders and wooden floors resting on the bearing walls of the building which, as a rule, only reached a modern height of a six, seven or eight stories. Today we often sec what was thought to be an impossibility, namely, the brick work on the walls of a building being started on some of the upper stories before the bottom part is completed. As we have come to know more about concrete and its use, the engineers have brought out new designs which have still further reduced the weight in floors and walls. New methods of reinforcing have been devised and various substitutes for older materials introduced.
This style of architecture, which we may call for convenience the “tower type of building, is a development of the older plain “skyscraper.” It is designed so that there may be more light and fresh air, by recessing the upper floors in a series of stephacks, until the higher ones are in the form of a tall center tower. By the use of this system, permission has been secured in some of our principal cities for office buildings, hotels, stores, and other structures, of much greater height than formerly allowed. Into the construction of these buildings arc entering many new materials, in various combinations, many of which have been specially designed to resist fire. Gypsum, cork, steel bars, cement and hollow tile, all play their part in combination with the better known brick, stone, marble and structural steel. Their use permits many new and striking effects, as well as greater height and space economy than was previously considered possible.
In the newer factories and warehouses, while they have been designed not so much for height as accommodation to suit the requirements of the special business needs, the construction engineer has been busy endeavoring to give adequate protection against fire, while providing the maximum of light and space for the worker. The old “slow burning” or “mill” construction is giving way to the reinforced concrete or steel beam and concrete. Meanwhile, in addition, the sprinkler systems continue to minimize the fire hazard from the contents.
So far as our homes are concerned, there is possibly the least change structurally, but already there is a considerable increase in the use of light steel beams, and materials which are more or less fire resistant.
There is no really “fire proof” building, no matter how well it may be built, nor what materials are used in its construction. The modern building may, however, be accurately described as “fire safe,” when, by the use of modern design and materials, advantage has been taken of everything humanly possible to prevent the ravages of fire.
It is claimed that the great conflagrations of the past will be an impossibility in cities having their principal buildings con structed on modern plans. The trouble is, of course, that, side by side with some of the newer and carefully designed buildings are old structures, composed of inflammable materials. There is also the ever-present danger that unscrupulous persons may skimp materials or strength in design, so that a building, alleged to be “fire-proof” may be a real menace to the safety of life and property.
There are also hazards which occur during the period when these buildings are being erected, before the special water tanks and other fire-fighting appliances are installed. As you know, there are millions of feet of lumber used for concrete forms, and these present a danger which is seldom appreciated. Recently, in New York City. during the construction of one of these “tower” buildings, the forest of wood used in the concrete forms took fire, away up in the tower, and the best efforts of the splendid department were unavailing. Burning brands were spread over a wide area.
As a further field for your study, there is also the possible effect of streams of cold water, projected at high pressure against steel and concrete, hollow tile, gypsum block, and other materials which have been brought to red or white heat by the fire. Our experience is no doubt fairly accurate as to what happened in some of the older types of buildings, when the water hit the stone, brick-work, and iron girders. You can all tell many interesting stories of such occasions. It will be most interesting for the architect and the builder to get your information as to what occurs in the newer type of building, under such conditions of heat and cold water, and see what effects are produced by the newer combinations of materials, where the weight of the building has been considerably reduced, and the height is so much greater.
The best way, therefore, according to my viewpoint, in which the fire chief can prevent fires, is to have a working knowledge of the modern construction methods, and the various materials used, and to be actively interested in every new structure in his city during its planning, while it is being constructed, and of course, when it is occupied. I believe there ought to be a very close relationship between the chief of the fire department and the city building inspector. As a practical man. the fire chief ought to be able to give valuable advice when new buildings are securing their permits, especially in regard to the installation of fire detection devices and fire fighting appliances.
I go even further, and say that it is the dutv of the fire chief to protect against and discourage the erection of buildings which he believes to be “fire traps,” whether public or private structures. In this respect, he will have to be on his guard against the speculator or promoter, whose thoughts are on the rental value per square foot instead of safety measures, and whose mind is filled with the promotion of mortgage bond issues instead of the production of a building of sound design and good workmanship. All hospitals, jails, orphanages, churches, schools and theatres, erected from now on in our cities, should not be permitted to go up unless of the best firesafe construction, and equipped with the most up-to-date firefighting and life saving apparatus.
Modern construction, modern construction methods, and the use of the newer materials should not only furnish a fascinating study to the Canadian Fire Chief, but their use will reduce fire hazards, and make the burden of fire-fighting less. They are, after all, your greatest allies in the prevention of fires in your communities. The men who design and erect these modern structures should stand in very close relationship to the Fire Chief and his work. As a result of this co-operation, the fire risk and fire peril in our Canadian cities should be very materially reduced, and fire waste of life and property prevented.