RESPONSIBILITY FOR FIRES.
E. S. Hand holds, with the late Edward Atkinson, that the only persons who can prevent loss by fire are the owners or occupants of buildings. Upon them rests the responsibility for heavy loss, if any occurs, in nearly every fire. It is the duty of the owner to build of such materials as will discourage the start of fire and to provide such devices as will prevent the spread of fire, and it is the duty of the occupant to acquaint himself and those under his control with the functions of such materials and devices, to the end that they may be employed promptly and efficiently in the moment of emergency. By following these principles, Mr. Hand claims that the “fire-hazard may be reduced materially in nearly every building in the land. It may be reduced to a point, in fact, where the probability, not that a fire will not start, but that the resultant loss will be insignificant, is made almost a certainty.” As to fire-resistive design : “Roughly speaking, two objects arc sought in fire-resistive building design: First, to prevent the spread of fire within its own walls as well as the accession of fire from neighboring buildings, and, second, to withstand extremes of temperature without damage to its structural elements.” Of these two principles that of isolation is of “vastly greater importance.” “In the reduction of loss by fire two elements are considered: First, the prevention of the start of fire; second, the limiting of the spread of fire. Attempt to eliminate the cause is usually unsatisfactory and is frequently predetermined to failure by reason of inherent and essential conditions. In limiting the spread of fire, however, an immense vista of possihilitics is opened, in which are embraced all of the elemental features of building design, the field of fire-extinguishing apparatus and the topographical lay-out of communities.” Building conditions in the United States are not to be compared with those obtaining anywhere else in the world. Wood has been cheap and the price of ground in congested communities expensive. The result is apparent in buildings that tend to several stories in height, with inflammable structural elements. “In order to conserve the confining of fire to its narrowest limits, certain fundamental features of design asserted their efficiency in the course of experience. These are: Segregating of the floors of a building in such manner that fire may be conlined upon such level in other words, the cutting off of all vertical communication from floor to floor-and the protecting of the outside openings, window and skylight, of all buildings to guard against the contribution of fire from neighboring buildings. Roughly speaking, the modern cotton mill, from a structural point of view, is guarded against the spread of fire in two ways. The isolation of each floor is secured by constructing the floor members solidly and by inclosing each vertical opening from floor-level to floor-level in a brick tower without the wall line of the building, entrances to each floor being protected by suitable fire-doors. The buildings are protected, one against the other, by guarding each wall and roof opening. In the design of a modern skyscraper none of these thoroughly proved requisites seems to have found general expression. The construction of the building as a whole has been of a much more resistant type; but free communication has been allowed from floor to floor-level, and, until within comparative few years, no account has been taken of the danger of contribution of fire from neighboring structures. The almost necessarily inflammable equipment and furnishing of the modern office building has provided an abundance of fuel to wreck great damage under suitable conditions, and the results are attested by the gaunt shells which mark the paths of our recent great conflagrations. The lesson of these disasters has become obvious to all, illustrating the fundamental danger of fire being contributed from one building to another under unfavorable conditions, unless buildings in general be provided with an armor of protection against the attack of outside fire. This, in brief, is the definition of exposure-hazard : The danger of one building becoming ignited by reason of a fire existing in a neighboring building. The likelihood of the rapid soread of fire is the one phase of the problem o! fire protection of which it is impossible to prophesy. All conflagrations have comparatively insignificant beginnings, and only by reason of the weakness represented by the exposure-hazard do such small starts develop so rapidly that thev get beyond the control of the local firefighting force. Structural conditions which make for the rapid spread of fire from building to building are peculiar, and they concern almost wholly the exterior shells of the buildings. A building, for instance, may be highly incombustible in, and of itself; yet, if the window and other openings in the outside shell offer but small resistance to outside attack, the contents of such structures will take fire with the greatest readiness. Nothin^ could have shown this more clearly than the experience of the ‘fireproof’ skyscrapers in Baltimore, Rochester and San Francisco. These buildings were constructed and equipped so as to make very unlikely their destruction from a blaze starting within; yet they took fire in a number of stories at the same time, and in every instance through their window-openings. Once alight in that manner, everything inflammable within was destroyed, and, instead of proving barriers to the spread of the conflagration, they acted rather as funnels, assisting immensely to the spread of the flame. It is hardly necessary to say that only buildings having brick, stone or concrete walls can be considered as open to treatment for fire protection. Given such a shell, however, the problem of guarding against the exposure-hazard resolves itself purely into a question of proper protection for window and skylight openings. For skylights but one method is practical—glazing with wire-glass set in metal frames. For window-openings two methods find general use—shutters and wire-glass windows.”