All Fire-Resistant Buildings in Which Manufacturing Is Carried On Must Have Such Partitions— Vigorous Enforcement Campaign

THE Fire Department of New York City, and more particularly the Bureau of Fire Prevention is now engaged in waging a vigorous campaign of enforcement of one of the provisions of the State Labor Law which requires that all partitions in the interior of fireproof buildings erected subsequent to October 1, 1913, shall be of incombustible material.

The campaign is predicated on the unanimous decision of the New York State Court of Appeals upholding the provisions of the law. The decision has resulted in thousands of prosecutions through the medium of the service of court summons to the Municipal Term of the Magistrates’ or Police Court.

it auects principally the garment trades, such as cloaks, suits, and wearing apparel in general. The peculiarly interesting. if not extraordinary feature of the law and its interpretation by the court is that it does not apply to nor effect buildings erected prior to October 1, 1913, which in most instances are not as fire resisting as those erected since that date. It means that thousands of firms with show rooms in New York City will now have to dismantle all of their partitions and erect incombustible partitions, if only one occupancy in the building is engaged in manufacturing.

In other words, if a skyscraper tenanted principally by firms that sell and show, but do not manufacture, has but one tenant that does some manufacturing, no matter how little, all the other show rooms and sales rooms in that structure will have to be partitioned or subdivided with incombustible material.

The fire department is enforcing the regulation. The law is plain and the decision is quite understandable. The determination to enforce it grew out of the following state of facts:

A corporation owning a building at 242 West 36th Street, was convicted in the Court of Special Sessions and fined $20 for having violated the provisions of Section No. 270 of the Labor Law which reads as follows:

“No factory shall be conducted in a building erected after October I. 1913, which is more than one story in height unless such building shall conform to the following requirements:

“6. Partitions. All partitions in the interior of fireproof buildings shall be of incombustible material.”

The Appellate Division reversed the conviction and the city’s Law Department appealed to the Court of Appeals at Albany. The latter tribunal wrote the following decision :

“The defendant owned a tenant factory building, a thirteen-story structure. The building was of fireproof construction. It was leased to different tenants. On the floors occupied by more than one tenant fireproof walls separated the leased parts. The defendant never erected any wooden structures in the building. Tenants, however, after occupancy erected frame divisions or partitions so as to separate their holdings into offices or rooms.

“The tenant had built partitions of wood and glass running to the ceilings, also of wood and wire work which divided the floor space leased by him into a factory, stock and shipping room and different offices. The rooms were eleven feet high and some of these partitions extended to the ceiling securely fastened. Others did not go above six feet.

“The reason for the requirements of the Labor Law is quite apparent. Factory buildings are no longer, in large cities, low structures. Manufacturing is carried on in buildings of great height. These buildings must be fireproof and their partition walls fireproof. Floors must be of certain non-inflammable material. The Labor Law provides that elevators and stairs shall be so constructed as to afford easy exits and prevent fires. Many operators are employed in these high factory buildings in manufacturing, as in this case, dresses and coats. Women and girls are employed. Wood that can easily be burned is to be eliminated from such structures and the interior of such structures as far as possible and convenient. To what extent this shall be done is fixed by the Labor Law.

“Interior wood work of a substantial nature dividing off floor space into offices may be readily burned causing panic and injuryon the particular floor or in a particular factory even though other parts of the building are not affected by reason of their fireproof construction. The Labor Law, therefore, says that the interior partitions shall be of incombustible material. It is agreed that the interior partitions in this building, dividing these floor spaces as constructed by the tenants, were not of incombustible material.

“Upon the owner is placed the obligation of keeping his building free from these wooden partitions erected by his tenants. The law affords him an opportunity for inspection and for removal.

“As these provisions of law were adopted to minimize as far as possible the risks of fire and prevent disaster to workers and operators, we can see no reason for construing subdivision 6 of section 270 as applying only to partitions which separate the portions leased by the various tenants of a building. If the entire building were leased to one tenant there would then under such construction be no requirement for non-combustible partitions and the risks from fire would IK the same as they were before this law so far as partitions and room divisions were concerned.”

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