The Incendiary Hatchway
Almost every important fire that occurs nowadays affords another illustration of the Incendiary character of the ordinary hatch way and elevator. The disastrous conflagration that occurred last Sunday night, in West Twenty-third street, whereby $600,000 worth of property was destroyed, received its impetus from the elevator shaft, open on every floor. The tire originated in the base nw~t, and, reaching the hase oh this shaft, was sucked up as by a chimney, to the top of’ the building, bursting forth trom each floor muItaneously in masses of’ tlanw that were wholly uncontrollable. This shaft, acting as a chimney, not only afforded a means by which the thunt’s were distributed al most inst .i n taneously throughout the build ing, hut supplied a draft which fanned them to such dimensions that the building was at once doomed to dest~uction. At the Bat’clay Street tire the flames were distributed throughout the building in asiinilar manner, and hundreds of other instances might be cited to show the dangerous character of open ha~chwavs and elevator sh~fts. At the fire first mentioned, had th~~ elevator shaft been closed on the rround floor, the fire would have been conrined to the base ment without a doubt. But this being open, the iIn~; naturally ascended, and, feeding upon the light material of which the shaft was constructed, speeddy passed beyond the control of the Firemen. Indeed, when the fire was first discovered by the janitor, it had obtained such headway that there was no hope of saving the building.
It seems singular that, in spite of the many warnings they have had, propertyowners will still expose their buildings to the extraordinary risks imposed by uncov ere(1 hatchways between the several floors I of their buildings. As they will not adopt the ordinary precaution of keeping them closed, the law should step in and compel them to at least have some regard for the safety of their neighbors’ property, if they have none for their own. In the great cities no man can imperil his own property without jeopardizing that adjacent to it. This he has no right to do, and the interests of the community demand that he shall be prohibited from incurring such risks. Our building laws should require that all elevators l)ujlt hereafter should be enclosed in brick shafts extending from the basement above the roof, and that these should be supplied with automatic hatchways for every floor, which shall close tightly each time the elevator passes them. lloistways should be similarly closed, au tomatically. It is not to be expected that elevator shafts now in use can be encased with brickwork, but t}it~y can he supplied with hatchways which will close of their! own accord, thus confining a fire as closely to the place where it originates as a tight ceiling or floor would do. This should be made compulsory upon the owners of all places where elevators or hoistways exist. If the insurance companies were not so bus ily engaged in cutting each other’s throats, in order to get business, they would recog nize the peril to which they are exposed from this cause. and impose additional rates upon all property this imperilled. Open hatch~vays and unprotected elevator shafts have already cost them millions of dollars, and milli ns more are exposed constantly to this same! peril. As to preventing such exposure by legal enactments, it seems absurd to expect that it can be done when we have a Build ing Department so notoriously inefficient as the one New York suffers un&Ivr at present. Such restrictions as are now imposed by law upon l~roperty owners are studiously ignored by the Building Department, and no amount1 of complai~~ng on the part of the suffering public can arouse the derelict officials to even a spasmodic attention to their duty. if the present building laws were properly en forced the numoer of fires would be materi ally reduced. But the inefficiency of their administration should not prevent the enact ment of necessary laws, and one to regulate elevators and hatchways is a crying neces ..;,.. eL..