Commissioner John J. Dorman Urges New York Hostelries to Take Stock of Their Fire Hazards—Offers Cooperation


A LESSON in fire prevention, applicable to almost any establishment, is contained in the recent letter addressed to the manager of all the hotels in New York City by Fire Commissioner John J. Dorman. In it, Mr. Dorman points out that the summer season should be taken advantage of to “clean up” and he emphasizes the hazards of hotels from a fire protection standpoint. The letter:

“Dear Sir:—Summer is probably your slack season, and gives you time to take stock of your building and fire equipment. Make a personal inspection of every nook and corner. Don’t delegate the job. If you have a good dependable man, take him with you.

“Begin at the roof and list the defects of your fire fighting equipment, and the causes of fire, thus:

“On the roof and pent houses look for combustible rubbish. Remove it. Check the water in the standpipe tank and the high and low alarm. Look at the carpenter shop for shavings, badly constructed glue pots, oily rags, etc. Look at the paint shop for paint, paint soaked rags, paint cans scattered around on the floor or on wood benches or shelves. All paint should be in strong metal cabinets. See if unnecessarily large quantities of turpentine, oils, and paints are carried. Your hotel is no place for large stocks of that sort.

“Find out where insecticides and cleaning fluids are kept. Try the housekeepers’ rooms, the stewards’ quarters and the paint or carpenter shops, and when you find them take the trouble to ascertain if they are the safest or the most dangerous fluids in the market for that purpose. Watch out for benzine, gasoline, naptha and other highly inflammable liquids. You can find safe substitutes for all.

“You should look at the tailor shop, and see what kind of cleaning fluids are used, and if the electric or gas pressing irons are properly protected. Visit the hangout of the housemen and others—probably the furniture storeroom. See if there is any smoking going on there. Look into every clothes closet used by employees, and have them cleaned out. Broom and mop closets will bear inspection, too.

“Have you the proper wall signs indicating the direction of exits? And have you a small floor plan showing the exits on the back of each bedroom door? The law requires that. See that the stairs are well lighted and that there are good lamps in the sockets. Don’t be surprised if you find some of them missing or burnt out.

“On every floor get somebody to take down the fire hose and examine it for holes. Check its condition near the valve where it rots from brass polish. See that the valve wheel, spanner and nozzle are in place and that the rack permits the rapid release of hose, and that the hose is not tied on the rack to hold it in place.

“Get the electrician to test the alarm. Try to understand it yourself. While testing the alarm see how the fire brigade operates. If you have not already trained your employees in this work, begin now.

“Get the electrician to give you a detailed report on the conditions of switches, curling iron heaters, radio wiring, portable lamps and temporary connections, fuses, motors and dynamos, overloading of circuits, worn or inferior material and wiring, batteries and bells. Don’t take a blanket O.K.— get the facts, even if you have to call in an expert. A handy man on electrical work may be a dangerous man. He should know and follow the code. Question him.

“Have the engineer go over the entire fire line system with you. Check his monthly reports. See if he holds a certificate as a standpipe operator. He should. If he does, he is responsible for the maintenance of virtually all fire appliances, such as standpipes, fire alarms, chemical extinguishers and the training of an emergency fire brigade.

“Now look at the basement or cellar. Have you a permit for the ice machine? Or have you still a list of violations? If you have the latter, consider your responsibility as to the safe working of this machine. Look at the boiler room, the pump room and the engine room. Clean them up. Sometimes they need it. When were the chimneys and flues cleaned? You should know. Get all wooden closets out of the basement. Have oily and greasy rags kept in metal cans with covers. Be very sure to look at the room where waste paper is baled. Look at the incinerator. A few sprinkler heads connected with the water system would be invaluable here. Your own mechanic can install them. A sprinkler head is always on the job.

“See that your watchman service extends to the basement. And further, be sure he is instructed in the rudiments of fire prevention. A good watchman can very easily be developed into a good inspector. Go over the stoves and ranges in the kitchen. Order all grease removed. It can be done. Look under the hood over the fire places for grease. Clean it. A perforated steam line is one of the best means of putting out a grease fire here.

“In other words, do general inspection work. Make a list of the defects you find. Have them re-inspected again and again, until they are finally removed. If you need any information on fire prevention and protection, ‘phone ‘Worth 4100,’ and explain what you want. Or write or call at Room 1100, Municipal Building. In this way you will get all the information necessary, and the Bureau of Fire Prevention will be very glad to co-operate with you.


“Fire Commissioner.”

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