Old-Law Type Tenement House Set Ablaze by City Tenement Department to Demonstrate the Effectiveness of Some Type of Sprinklers

THE Tenement House Department of the City of New York staged a fire in an unoccupied tenement of the oldlaw type on October 16 for the purpose of demonstrating the effectiveness of sprinkler protection in such structures.

The New York Fire Department was requested to be on hand for emergency purposes only. Commissioner John J. McElligott took personal charge of the fire-fighting forces consisting of three engines and one ladder company. The tenement, one of many in West 38th Street soon to be razed to make way for the construction of a vehicular tunnel to New Jersey, was placarded on its fire escape with a sign announcing that the test was arranged by the Tenement House Department.

Purpose of the Demonstration

The purpose of the show was to demonstrate that sprinklers will “kill” a fire in a tenement house—something that has been well known for many years in other types of buildings.

The presence of the fire apparatus, half a dozen white helmeted Chiefs and fifty firemen “stole the show” of course, with the result that New York newspapers in publishing reports of the test, tacked the matter on the door of the Fire Department. Subtle and facetious reports appeared in the newspapers and some of them ridiculed the whole thing under the mistaken notion that it was the Fire Departments stunt. In all fairness to Chief McElligott, it should he stated that he and his men and their apparatus were there only to co-operate in preventing any extension of fires. To add to the Fire Department’s embarrassment, it seems that it became necessary at one stage of the test to send out for additional excelsior and wood in order to make a substantial fire under one of the sprinklers. Newspapers reported that “the firemen ran out of matches” and one of the journals in an editorial said “When firemen set fires— they run out of matches.” Another published—“Tenement fired by McElligott” and still another declared “New York firemen turn firebugs.”

The sprinkler system in the tenement was not connected to the city water main but was supplied by a fire engine with thirty-five pounds pressure. Connected to the system was a loud siren in the hallway of the tenement and a huge gong on the outside of the building. There were four fires, in different parts of the building at different times over a twohour period. Newspaper photographers, news reel cameramen, reporters, policemen, a throng of the curious, principally of the army of unemployed and a handful of buffs made up the audience. The Superintendent of Buildings, under whom fire prevention responsibilities in New York now come and the Chief of the Fire Prevention Bureau which is now part of the Building Department, were not present.

Test Fire in a Bedroom

Plaster hoard made up the walls of a test bedroom which was set afire. No sprinklers were used in that particular test, and when the cold water at 35 pounds pressure struck the hot plaster boards, the latter collapsed. The test proved that sprinklers will put out a fire, sound an automatic alarm and prevent loss of life. One fire burned five minutes and 17.5 seconds before the sprinkler head fused. The sprinkler “killed” the blaze in two minutes and 15 seconds.

It is expected that as a result of the success of the test, local legislation will now he sought to require automatic sprinklers in old-law tenement houses, of which there are approximately 67,000 in New York. Last winter forty-eight lives were lost by fire in old-law tenement houses. It is the ambition of Langdon Post. Tenement House Commissioner, to bring about the elimination of as many old-law tenement houses as possible. Mayor La Guardia of New York is committed to such a plan, on the principle of slum clearance in the congested sections of the city—particularly in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The plan of the Mayor and his Tenement House Commissioner has the approbation of all the welfare and social service agencies of the city.

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