THE DRY-GOODS DISTRICT.
THE danger of destruction by fire to which property located in the dry-goods district of this city is exposed has long constituted a favorite topic for discussion among underwriters. How to lessen the peril therein has puzzled the brain of many a thoughtful company manager who would like to secure more premiums from that district but is afraid to increase the amount he has at risk there under present conditions. Lately The New York Herald has published a series of articles, in its editorial and news columns, all tending to show that the dry-goods district is improperly supplied with the means of fire extinguishment, and that the city is in danger of being devastated by a sweeping conflagration, exceeding that of Chicago, because of the special perils to which the drygoods district is exposed. These articles are of the sensational order decidedly, and are evidently written in the interests of those persons who are specially desirous of having the city adopt the Ramapo water supply project, that is calculated to bring an additional supply of water to the city at an early period. While we are heartily in favor of any reasonable and practical project that will speedily add to the fire extinguishing facilities now possessed by the city, we do not believe that it is necessary to excite unwarranted apprehension regarding the safety of the city, or to misrepresent the facts in the case to accomplish that object, as The Herald most certainly has done. As a matter of fact, the dry-goods district does not imperil the safety of the city to one-quarter the extent that the wooden sheds and ricketty storehouses along either river fronts do. These are exposed hourly to dangers that never threaten the dry-goods district, and, under favorable conditions, are liable to start a conflagration that will destroy half the city. The difficulty of combatting a fire in these lew wooden sheds on the piers was exemplified in Brooklyn when the Harbeck stores were destroyed. On that occasion a slight fire was observed in the center of the shed, which spread, like a flash of lightning almost throughout its entire length, communicating with the brick store houses, where great damage was done. The firemen were unable to reach the starting point of the fire because of the intense heat and the fact that their apparatus will not run on the water; they were forced to work from behind the flames entirely, being unable to approach them in front or on either side. Similar conditions exist at many of the piers in New York, where frame buildings instead of brick ones adjoin these dangerous wooden sheds. A fire well started in these buildings would be fraught with greater peril to the city at large than any that might occur in the dry-goods district.
What causes so much apprehension regarding the drygoods district is the fact that immense values are stored in a limited area. A small fire there might inflict a greater loss to propertyowners and underwriters than one devastating a much greater area in another section of the city, and still not imperil adjoining property to any great extent. For the reason that this district contains so much wealth, extraordinary measures have been taken to surround it with all possible safeguards, special diligence is exercised to prevent fires, and has caused the adoption of better means for extinguishing such as may occur. It would be almost an impossibility for a fire to spread beyond the block in which it originated, as has been demonstrated on more than one occasion. The Fire Department shares the apprehensions that exist among underwriters, and feels a special degree of responsibility regarding the dry-goods district, so that when an alarm indicates the presence of fire therein, the entire resources of the Department are forthwith available, as they would not be immediately in other sections of the city. The articles in The Herald are misleading and mischievous, evidently prepared and printed to serve a special selfish interest. We do not desire to underrate the importance of providing better fire protection for the immense values at risk in this city, but there are other sections less adequately protected than the dry-goods district, and where the danger of a great conflagration originating is far more imminent.
We have repeatedly called attention to the value of automatic sprinklers for the protection of the great commercial buildings in this city, including those of the dry-goods district. This automatic system has been adopted with great success by the New England Mill Mutual insurance companies, and there is no good reason why it should not be equally successful in putting out fires in stores and warehouses as in mills and factories. There is, of course, a greater liability to water damage in commercial houses, where valuable stocks must be loosely exposed, but this can be largely provided against by a proper arrangement of floors and ceilings to make them water tight. Regard, ing this we find some comments in that well known journal, Cotton, Wool atid, Iron, published in Boston. In an article on automatic sprinklers, it recites how a fire was extinguished in the fifth story of the Pepperell Mill at Biddeford, Me., recently by the sprinklers, and says:
The question for the New Yorkers to digest may as well be brought up in this connection. This Pepperell mill building was high, and while not out of the reach of hose, the breaking in of the windows to feed water from the outside would necessarily have heightened the combustion by feeding precisely what in this case was shut away from the fire, as by the time the heat became high enough to set off the sprinklers in use it was not high enough to smash the glass or blow out the sash, and was therefore confined to the room, and the moment the sprinklers began to work it was subdued. In the other case, supposing this had been in the upper loft of a dry-goods warehouse in the Worth street district in New York, and more especially with a hollow, plastered roof,—it would not have been so easy to control it, for the moment the free atmosphere was admitted by breaking the windows by the fire protection, that moment the most dangerous element of the whole would have been admitted and the fire fed freshly by precisely what had been burned out while the room was closed, and in the case of the automatics would be entirely under control, while with the ordinary steam fire engine apparatus and smashing in of the windows, the fire would be fed almost to the extent of throwing oil into and upon it.
The trials of the sensitive with the water-joint automatics have proved the superiority of the sensitive in point of time, and it may perhaps be said with propriety that while the water-joint sprinklers were a vast advance over the sprinkler pipe or perforated pipes, so the automatics, with the sensitive or metal joint, which is not in contact with water, have proved simply that they are another step ahead, so far as time goes ; and time, in this case, with a moderate degree of heat, prevents so great damage, either from water or fire, for if the fire is extinguished the section can be shut oil as soon as the room can be entered. But whatever the particulars may be, it is only another argument of the sound, hard-headed sense which the Mutuals have shown in.their compulsion almost of the in. troductionof the automatic heads, as over any and all other means for extinguishing fires, and it is perhaps’a curious train of argument that where millions of dollars worth of the best property in the world in manufacturing lines is protected bv this system of sprinklers entirely, that after the goods are made in these mills and are sent into New York to be stored and sold, or pass from the agent to the dealer, and in turn to the retailer, the same method of protection will not apply to the goods there that does to the mills and machinery that makes and finishes the goods and gets them ready to be taken into New York.
While it is undoubtedly true that the dry-goods district is better provided with the means of fire protection than any other section of the city of equal area, it is also a fact that it contains a greater aggregate of wealth than any other section of equal extent, and hence no effort should be spared by underwriters, propertyowners or city authorities to secure additional protection for it. The danger is not so much from an extended conflagration resulting from a fire in that locality as that a comparatively small fire may result in great losses to propertyowners and underwriters. What is required is the most approved means of extinguishing fires in their incipiency, and we agree with the writer above quoted that automatic sprinklers provide this protection to a greater degree than any other system yet tried.
—The recent fire at Aix La Chapclle, although it almost destroyed twenty-five houses, was a small affair to the great fire of 1656. It broke out at nine A. M., May 1, in a baker’s house in Jacob strasse, there was a heavy wind at the time, and the sparks were carried in all directions. A “report being spread that the powder magazine was in danger, the citizens left the city. All the churches and public buildings, and one account says 2600 houses, another 5612 houses, were burned down. At any rate, in the next few years, 1600 new houses were built, but the population continued to decline, and the prosperity of the old imperial city never returned.