When the plan to afford protection to valuable business blocks in cities by a system of roof pipes and hydrants was first suggested it was generally looked upon as extremely visionary, if not impracticable. It deserves, however, serious consideration. Its principal advocate, Edward Atkinson, of Boston, President of the Manufacturers Mutual Fire Insurance Company, neglects no opportunity to strenuously urge its claims for adoption. He recently expressed himself as being more than ever impressed with its practicability and absolute necessity. There are acres of land upon which the insurable value of the property ranges from five to thirty-five million dollars, and a sum ranging from twentyfive to two hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year is paid out in premiums of insurance upon each of such acres. If from one to ten such acres should be burned, then, says Mr. Atkinson, from ten to fifty per cent of the indemnity promised under the policies of insurance would not be collected. As evidence of this, he cites the value of similar policies after the great fires in Boston and Chicago. Doubtless the condition of fire insurance companies, as a whole, is better now than ever before, so far as concerns their ability to pay losses, but for the mere purpose of insuring the insurance companies, it is asked whether it. would not be worth the comparatively small amount necessary for a service of roof pipes and hydrants. Few cities have the energy of Chicago, and should an extensive conflagration occasion losses which the insurance companies could not meet, the result would be fearful to contemplate. Take away the insurance companies, and all property would be as though risked in a great lottery. Such being the case, every effort should be made to reduce the hazard of loss.

The only drawback to the pleasure of conducting a system of insurance, the objective point of which is not merely to pay an indemnity for loss, but much more to save property from destruction by fire is, says Mr. Atkinson, that it becomes a habit to look at every building in process of construction with a critical eye, and one is apt to lose patience in witnessing the waste of pnoney in unsafe methods, where the simplest rules of safety would save large sums even in the cost of building. The handsome and well-composed fronts of warehouses and ho’els, and the apparent solidity of churches and school-houses, cease to give any pleasure or satisfaction, even as works of artistic design, when we know that every part of the interior is so constructed as to assure heavy damage or complete destruction if a fire happens in any part of the premises ; while the surveys which are occasionally made with a view to preventing the destruction of insane asylums and hospitals, leave an unpleasant impression of almost criminal stupidity and ignorance in their mode of construction, and in the arrangements of the fire apparatus. Not only does the danger to property demand attention, but the danger to life compels it; and any true man would lose all self-respect who did not use what little influence he might possess, and urgently present the lessons learned from his experience, in an endeavor to prevent disasters which may occur at any moment— such disasters as have lately occurred at the destruction of the theatre in Vienna, at the recent fire in New York, and in other recent instances which need not be mentioned. Destructive fires in theatres almost invariably begin amidst the combustible materials upon and over the stage ; the scenery is not only of necessity combustible, but the materials which are in constant use, such as paints, oils, light wood, canvas, and also the processes of use, of renewal, and of repair, are all of a nature which the mutual underwriters would regard with the utmost distrust, and would only insure at all when every available means of precaution had been taken for extinguishing the fires which experience has absolutely proved will occur at comparatively short intervals in such stock, either from accident from without or spontaneous combustion within the mass. This danger may be guarded against by placing automatic sprinklers over and around the stage of a theatre, and in any case the safety of an audience in theatres yet to be built may be assured by adopting improved methods of construction.

A computation has recently been made, that in one small section of New York, comprising an area little, if any, over two acres, there is seventy million dollars’ worth of property at risk; this may be an exaggerated estimate, but there are many acres upon each of which five to ten million dollars’ worth of property is at risk. During the daytime there is no head of water immediately available in this district, and the multiplication of wires is daily rendering it more difficult to raise ladders at the right places ; this again causes great delay in carrying up lines of hose and in getting the water upon the fire in such a way as to do any good. In view of these facts, attention may again be called to the entire feasibility of attaching permanent 4-inch iron pipes to the corners of blocks, and carrying a 4-inch iron pipe service with hydrants at every party-wall over the whole area of the roofs constituting a square or block of buildings. Such apparatus should form a part of the public Fire Service, and be used by the public Fire Department only, couplings being attached to the base of the vertical pipes by which a connection may be made with the steam fire engines. A quick supply of water upon the roofs of our high buildings is becoming more and more necessary. Such a roof hydrant service, with the necessary vertical pipes, could be put up, ready for use, at a cost of about two thousand dollars per acre. It may also be a matter of interest to observe the fact that if there are acres in the crowded part of the dry goods district of New York upon which a sum even approximating $250,000 is annually paid for insurance, a single year’s premium might suffice to pay the cost of a pumping station on one of the docks, and of a special main pipe leading to that specific acre only.

The first answer to these suggestions always is, that no concessions can be had in the rates of insurance now charged if these precautions are adopted; to which it may be answered that no concessions ought to be made upon rates which are already so low as to preclude the accumulation of any adequate reserve. But the more complete reply is this : that the man who accepts or rejects provisions for the safety of the premises in which he has a money interest, merely on the single issue of the rate of premium charged, is not a safe man to be insured at any price. The difficulty, which really lies in the way of adequate measures for protecting the concentrated hazards of cities, is in the difficulty of promoting co-operation among owners. In the meantime it is a satisfaction to note that more attention is being given to safer methods of construction in many of the more recent buildings, while the old stock of combustible churches, hotels, school-houses, hospitals and asylums is being consumed at an accelerated rate ; the normal rate of destruction of previous years of one church per week, and one almshouse, insane asylum or school-house per month, having been considerably exceeded during the year 1881 in the United States. Let us hope that the period of combustible architecture is near its end, and in another generation the masters of that art may yield place to the better instructed graduates of the present day.

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