The Moving Picture Seating Hazard
With the incease in the popularity of the moving picture as a means of education and entertainment there has arisen, as was quite natural, the hazard of fire and fire panic in moving picture houses and other public assemblages where the film affords the principal form of amusement or instruction. The inflammable nature of the standard film renders this class of exhibition particularly hazardous not only from the actual danger of fire, which of course exists, but also from the added peril of panic in an audience excited by the sudden flare of the ignited film. As a rule, the picture theatres are built with narrow seats in closely packed rows and even under ordinary circumstances it is no easy matter to move from one end of a row to another, necessitating as it does the crowding past the knees of the persons seated. It is not hard, to imagine under the stress of fear and panic produced by the flash and smoke of the burning film that an audience with these difficulties and hindrances of exit could easily become unmanageable and that many of the weaker persons no doubt would be killed or injured in the ensuing crush before the exits were reached.
It was suggested in last week’s issue that audiences in public places were becoming educated to avoid panic in case of a fire alarm and it is to be hoped that this is true. But nevertheless there is always the danger of this contagion of fear spreading through the cries or acts of unbalanced persons, and the results are bound to be disastrous.
The remedy aside from the use of non-inflammable film or fireproof booths, it would seem, would be the construction of the auditoriums of these places of amusement so that the seats are spaced a little wider apart in order to give ample clearance for persons passing to and fro and allow, in case of a quick exit being necessary, a free passage even if the folding seats are left down in many instances. Naturally the proprietors of these places arrange their seats as close together as is possible and often too close for either the comfort or safety of their patrons. The laws of the state or city should see to it that these defects are remedied at least to the extent of providing free exit in case of an alarm of fire.
An appropriation recently passed by the town meeting in Winchester, Mass., amounted to $29,670 for the use of the fire department and included provisions for two additional permanent firemen. The item of salaries for the fire department is $24,375; for equipment and maintenance, $2,450; for the fire alarm system, $900; for fuel and light, $800; for repairs, $625; for telephones, $120, and other expenses, $400. The finance committee cut the total estimate of the department from $30,307.50 to the amount passed toy the town meeting, $29,670.