School Buildings Plenty of Them Still Burning Down
TODAY school buildings are being erected in such a manner as to minimize the danger of fire. Fireresisting materials are employed throughout, and every possible means of safety to occupants are being incorporated.
But cities are very loath to tear down and replace with modern structures old buildings which are still serviceable. The result is obvious; the majority of school structures at present in use in this country are not built along modern lines, but possess features which make them dangerous both from the standpoints of fire and safety to occupants
Each month shows its quota of school buildings leveled by fire, and such may be expected to continue until all of the buildings of earlier design are replaced by modern structures. Fortunately, sufficient attention has been given to city school buildings to make them fairly safe for the children. Fire exits are usually found in sufficient number to insure escape of all persons therein should fire occur. As much cannot be said of the small town and rural school. However, this article deals chiefly with schools located in cities maintaining modern fire departments, and hence excludes the dengerous fire-trap type of school encountered in rural communities. Incidentally, disastrous experiences such as the Collingswood fire awakened school architects to eliminate many of the hazardous features formerly found in school buildings.
School buildings of the present time may range froffi the frame structure of two stories in height to the modern establishment of four or more stories height, erected entirely of iire-resistent materials. It is the former classification which is responsible for what life loss has been experienced in recent years in school fires. Provision is made in the modern types of school structures for exits from two or more points of the building at the same time so that if one exit, such as stairwell, is involved by fire, the others at more remote points may be used.
In the earlier types of structure in which we are more particularly interested just now, a main stairway is usually found leading from the ground floor to the top floor with entrance at the front of the building. Rear stairway is also provided, as are exterior fire escapes.
Frequently a stairway leading to basement may be found beneath the main stairway on the ground floor
In general, the frame type of school, as well as the old type brick school, is so designed as to permit rapid spread of fire once it starts. Fire sweeping up the main stairway strikes the top floor, where it quickly banks up and spreads through hallways cutting off the escape of those in rooms on the top floor, unless fire alarm has been sounded and the children in these rooms have been directed to fire escapes or to other stairways than the one involved.
Rarely is vent provided over main stairwell to permit heat and smoke to pass through the roof to the atmosphere. Were such a vent installed, and equipped with fusible links, the possibility of loss of life is reduced very much.
Basements of such buildings are invariably finished in wood, many having no ceilings. Stored in the basement may be found old desks and other furniture as well as coal and other combustible materials.
Usually consisting of one large room, fire originating in basement will quickly involve the entire basement and thereafter find its way up through vertical shafts to upper floors.
Handling the Fire
The majority of school fires start in the basement, although some occasionally originate in the attic due to defective chimneys or lightning. A fire starting in the attic is not as serious a matter, for it permits all in the building to reach a point of safety.
Fire starting in the basement, on the other hand, constitutes a very serious situation for once the basement is involved, fire may be expected to reach stairwells and other vertical shafts through which it will travel with extreme rapidity to the upper parts of the building.
Assuming a fire starts in the basement and that the department is promptly called, also that the main stairway has become involved and the hall on the top floor is filled with smoke, the operations of the department would be about as follows:
Commanding officer arriving with first alarm assignment will immediately assume command, transmit a call for additional apparatus, and then proceed in holding the fire from spreading and in rescuing those trapped on the upper floors. If fire has not yet reached the
ground floor or floors above, a single line stretched in through window or through main doorway, if it will not obstruct the passage, may well hold the fire from rising until those in the building have reached safety. On the other hand, if the fire has risen from the basement and reached the main stairwell, then the department will have to get lines in operation in a hurry to prevent flames from spreading over the top floor and causing severe loss of life.
In this latter case, immediately send one man to the roof to open up over main stairwell and permit the heat and smoke rising to pass out through the roof to the atmosphere above. Have first engine company stretch in two lines, one to cover the door leading from the basement and the other to work up the main stairway.
Send men at once to the upper floors to take the situation in hand and direct children to the proper stairway.
If the top hall is so involved as to prevent its being used by the children, all efforts will have to be directed toward taking the children down by way of ladders placed at the outside of the building, and by life nets, in an emergency.
Such operation will require considerable additional personnel and equipment over what would be required for fighting the fire itself, and this point should be borne in mind when transmitting the call for help.
After taking care of ventilation, and having lines stretched in to cover the fire, get ladders in position and get the children from the various floors to the street. It will be appreciated that the operations of life saving and stretching of lines should be done simultaneously. It is not necessary to wait until the lines have actually been put in operation and ventilating performed before raising ladders for rescue work. In other words, the entire force on hand should be utilized at one time for performing the different operations so that no time will be lost.
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Where the halls on the upper floors are not involved by fire, and where they can be used with safety by the firemen and the children in the building, men should be sent by ladders or otherwise to the upper floors to direct the children to safety. In doing this, they will be able to function in two manners, in calming the children and in expediting their movement.
In view of the time required to bring a large number of children down ladders, it is far better policy to make every effort to employ the usual means of escape, the stairways, if fire can be held in check.
Should halls be heavily charged with smoke, but otherwise safe for use, opening up windows and doors or various rooms bordering on the hall will provide ventilation and clear the atmosphere so that the work of the department can be carried on rapidly and efficiently.
Upon additional help arriving, members of fire company arriving should be dispatched to survey ground floor of building and make sure that fire is not rising through other shafts which might further delay the
exit of children. If other stairways are exposed to fire coming from basement, lines should be put into service promptly to cover these channels.
Hose, as a general rule, should not be stretched up stairways which are to be used by children in their escape. Such obstructions on stairways seriously interfere with the quick egress of the pupils. On the other hand, if lines are needed on the upper floors and if stairways are to be used, such lines should be sent up ladders rather than by stairways.
After all children have apparently been gotten to street, careful survey should be made of all rooms to make sure that everyone is out of the building. Subsequently, full efforts of the department can be directed to extinguishing the fire.