Our Very Great Fire Loss.
During the financial depression in this country that has marked this year, and created distress in many quarters from the suspension of important enterprises, including numerous manufactories, all sorts of reasons have been given for this unfortunate state of affairs. The silver bill received its full share of anathemas as its repeal was delayed from month to month, and the settlement of that question was regarded as the source of inspiration which should shake off the lethargy that seemed to have possessed the business interests of the country. The repeal was effected, but the happy results so confidently expected have not been realized, A new difficulty stands.in the way. The everlasting tariff question now arises to interest statesmen, to amuse loquacious politicians, and to plague the people.
There is reason enough to lament the existence of these causes of stagnation in business, and that the best minds in the country should arouse to a deep study of the laws of political economy and of the whole question, “ What shall be done to bring our great country, with all its magnificent possibilities, to a permanent condition of prosperity?”
In the midst of all the discussions of this question by the press and public speakers, almost no suggestion has been made that the fearful fire waste of the past few years has had anything to do with the financial depression. When we consider what this fire loss has amounted to in the last decade, we may well raise the question whether the public attention should not be emphatically called to the destructions of millions of property during each year, as a drain upon the resources which, of itself, would in a series of years create a financial panic.
Gradually the annual fire loss of the country has increased from $1,900,000 to an estimate $160,000,000 for this year. No other people on the face of this earth, it would seem, would regard this fact with indifference. No other people could bear the drain on their resources.
It is not to be assumed that the people of the United States are careless in their habits beyond those of any other countries. It is true that they are open to severe criticism in that matter, but the construction of buildings that have been erected during the past twenty-five years has been of so inflammable a character, that the loss to which we have referred has followed as a natural consequence.
This fearful waste of property will continue until, under building laws passed by our cities and towns, the further erection of fire traps (so called) is prevented. Cheapness of construction has entered into the calculation of contractors and of those who have furnished the means for constructing buildings, until, considering the prosperity of our country, a shameful state of affairs exists in this particular.
The principles of fireproof construction are well understood, and nothing but false ideas of economy have prevented their being adopted in the past.
The particularly weak point in buildings has consisted in the concealed spaces existing between floors and in partitions, not only in manufacturing establishments, but in commercial buildings. and, worst of all, dwelling-houses. The production of any material that can be used for partitions and walls, giving proper ventilating spaces, and at moderate cost as compared with that of sheathing or lath and plaster will be of immense importance in lessening the spread of fires.
The advantages of mill construction (so called) in manufacturing ami in mercantile buildings are already appreciated, and, in many of our leading cities buildings are being erected containing that feature. This does away with spaces between floors, and also, by leaving the side walls bare, relieves buildings of dangers by fire formerly existing in them.
In other structures where partitions are necessary, fireproof materials can be used, and so covered as to afford ornamental surface. Facilities can be afforded the architect for ornamenting the interior of rooms fully equal to those in the old forms of building. Even in dwelling houses it is believed that the dangers of concealed spaces can be readily avoided by the adoption of mill construction—the heavy timbers, which necessarily would show in rooms, being treated as cornices—and by introducing partitions made of fireproof material. Dangers hitherto experienced from hot-air pipes may be entirely avoided, there being no space for fire, should it take from an overheated pipe, to extend unseen, endangering the entire premises. Already advantages have been derived from the use of wire lathing in place of wood, hitherto universally in use, and a plan for using iron sheets cut in such a manner as to afford clinchers for plastering, has been brought into notice as a substitute for other partitions. The fragile nature of this invention strikes QM at first thought, and however it may come into notice, it would seem that some form of brick-work, like that of terracotta, which is now in use, would be preferable.
From the fire insurance point of view’, too much importance cannot be laid upon this revolution in methods of building. It is believed that with the doing away of the chance for fire to extend from one floor to another—from one part of a building to another—more than half the loss by fire would be saved. That being the case, w hoever shall aid in bringing about so important an achievement should deserve the heartiest suppoit of the public.