THE NEW YORK BOARD OF FIRE UNDERWRITERS
Bureau of Surveys
123 William Street, New York, N. Y.
Reports on Recent Fires
New York, May 1, 1920.
PYROXYLIN PLASTIC NOVELTY FACTORIES.
Bijou Button Co., 43-47 West 16th St., Manhattan.
This concern occupies the 4th floor of a 12 story and basement fireproof building and are pyroxylin plastic button makers. An explosion occurred on the premises April 1, 1920, apparently due to delay in applying flame after gas was turned on in a gas heated boiler. No fire occurred and the pyroxylin plastic material was fortunately not involved, as considerable of this material was handled in close proximity to the boiler which our records have shown for some time to have been unsafe. The business is apparently being conducted without any permit from the Fire Department. The New York Hospital adjoins it and a church and college are located across the street.
About 18 months ago there was a fire in this building originating on the premises of Goldberg & Miller, 10th floor, manufacturing pyroxylin buttons, which did considerable damage.
Levy-Stern Button Co., Inc., 17 East 12th St., Manhattan.
This concern occupies the first floor of a four story and basement ordinary brick building and are jobbers and wholesalers of buttons and buckles composed of pyroxylin plastic. They carry a large stock in paper boxes on wooden shelves. On March 20, 1920, a fire originated from unexplained cause on the first floor in the premises of Levy-Stern Button Co., among their stock of pyroxylin plastic buttons and buckles. No one was in the building at the time. The fire occurred at 3:19 P. M. Saturday afternoon. The fire was first evidenced by a tongue of flame shooting fully across the 60 ft. street due to the pressure of gas generated by the rapidly burning pyroxylin plastic. The entire front portion of the first floor was blown into the street. The flames extended up the front of this and the adjoining building on the east. After some delay, owing to the large torch of flame extending across the street, the fire was promptly extinguished after the stock of pyroxylin where it started had been plactically burned out. Considerable damage was done on the floor immediately above and some damage on the third floor. The building was not equipped with automatic sprinklers and the pyroxylin burned rapidly, developing considerable pressure and consuming all material of that nature on the premises.
Superior Ivory Novelty Co., 186-86 West Houston St. and 1-9 Bedford St., Manhattan.
This concern occupies the second floor of 3-5 Bedford St., a four story and basement ordinary brick building, as a pyroxylin plastic novelty factory. There were about 600 pounds of pyroxylin plastic and scrap carelessly handled. A fire occurred April 12, 1920, due to friction of a tool while threading ferrules made of pyroxylin plastic. Futile efforts were made to extinguish the fire which spread rapidly, extending throughout the building. The heat was so intense that the firemen were unable to enter the building and were obliged to work from the outside until the pyroxylin on the second floor had practically burned itself out. Building was not equipped with automatic sprinklers.
FAILURE OF AUTOMATIC HOSE REEL. American Exchange Bank, 126-130 Broadway, Manhattan.
A fire occurred January 19, 1920, in the building employees’ locker room in the attic space of this sixteen story fireproof office building. This space communicated to the room containing gravity tank for standpipe system. The fire is supposed to have been caused by a careless smoker. Wooden lockers furnished considerable fuel for the fire which was confined to the locker room.
Employees in the building stretched lines of hose from the 14th and 15th floors to fight the fire but found there was no pressure of water due to the fact that the gravity tank supplying the standpipe system was on the same floor level as the fire. When the chief engineer of the building was informed that there was no water pressure at the hose nozzles, he went to the sub-basement and started the fire pumps connected to the base of the standpipe riser. He was later notified that the Cliff Safety Automatic Hose Reel valve on the 15th floor could not be closed. In the operation of running off the hose from the reel, the valve opens automatically. For a predetermined number of turns, depending upon the length of the hose, when the hose is first unreeled, a traveler nut turns on the valve stem until it engages with a fixed nut on the end of the stem. The revolving reel then turns the valve stem which opens the valve. The bonnet or cap on the valve has a left hand thread and is supposed to be held in place by two small top bolts. To properly close the valve it is necessary to pull the wheel out to the fixed nut at the end of the valve stem and turn the valve wheel. Someone in attempting to close the valve apparently pushed the wheel in, which is the natural thing to do, thus engaging the traveler nut on the valve stem. The valve wheel was turned until the traveler nut was turned up hard against the stuffing box of the valve and enough force was used to cause the bonnet or cap of the valve to separate from the balance of the device at the left hand thread connection. The two small machine bolts were not tapped into the body of the valve and thus the valve came apart which allowed the water in the system including the contents of the gravity tank and water from the pumps to flow unobstructed through the 2 1/2 inch opening. The chief engineer of the building shut down the pumps but the gate valve at the gravity tank could not be closed due to the smoke and fire on this floor. An attempt was made to close the valve on the 14th floor but as no one understood the operation of the valve, it was left open. The firemen pulled a hose line up the outside of the building to the 14th floor and up the stairway to the fire.
One hose line was also used from the standpipe system on the 18th floor of the Equitable Building, 108-124 Broadway, across the street. Water flowed from the street Siamese connection of the standpipe system in the Equitable Building after the firemen had disconnected the hose. The gate valve under the gravity tank was closed and an examination was made of the check valve between the base of the standpipe riser and the street Siamese connection which revealed the fact that a piece of wood had lodged in the valve and prevented the clapper from closing.
BUILDING COLLAPSE DUE TO DRY ROT
Building 297-303 Cherry St. and 542-548 Water St., Manhattan.
This seven story and basement ordinary brick building is occupied by various tenants including rags, burlap bag stock, doll and clothing manufacturing, blacksmith and restaurant. The collapse occurred on January 20, 1920, at 6:44 P. M. on the fourth floor in the northeast section which was occupied by M. Adrivin for storage and sorting of rags. The floors above were used for clothing factories.
The engineer of the building was on the second floor on the evening of the accident. He heard a peculiar noise on the floor above and investigated. He found one of the two 12″xl2″ wooden posts supporting the floors above the third had crumbled on the floor. The fourth floor was hanging down about 5′ 8″ and the piping of the automatic sprinkler system had broken in several places. The wooden posts used in this building were loblolly wood. The strength of this wood is classed lower than the poorest grade of pine. The condition of the wood of this post was affected all the way through with dry rot. Any portion of the area of the post could be broken by hand. Most of the wooden posts in the collapsed portion had been covered with metal for more than ten years to the present owner’s knowledge. The advanced stage of dry rot in the post which collapsed was probably assisted by the tight covering excluding the air.
One post each on the fourth and sixth floors, on a line with the one which collapsed, were found in a similar condition, and new posts are being installed. The remaining wooden posts in the building are apparently in good condition. The brick wall which supported one end of the girders in the collapsed section seems to be in good condition. The loads on the fourth floor, also on floors above, were not excessive. The stock belonging to tenants on the lower floors in the collapsed section was damaged by water from the broken piping of the automatic sprinkler system.