THEATRE FIRES AND HOW TO DEAL WITH THEM.
THE recent burning of one or two theatres, and especially that at Cincinnati, and the equally destructive blaze in the Coates Opera house at Kansas City, Mo., where each one of the fires broke out during the performance, seems to suggest some improvements in the methods of extinguishing fires under such conditions, and of providing facilities for the quickest and easiest possible means of escape from sach buildings, from concert halls, and all other public places of assembly—not least churches, which are the greatest sinners in every respect. In many of the theatres,as well to New York as elsewhere,no precautions seem to be taken to render it possible to put out a fire immediately at Its start. Iu the case of that at Cincinnati, for instance, the.re is a consensus of opinion that, if there had been some one stationed permanently behind the scenes, whose duty it was to pour water oil the flames at the first alarm, the blaze might have been extinguished with the minimum of loss. But the water was not there, and the fire apparatus, even If it had been workable and in proper condition, which appears to have been more than doubtful, was Useless. This is not uncommon in the case of theatre fires, and, judging from the fact that the firemen detailed for duty m such buildings and in the majority of other places of amusement are more often seen in the auditorium than behind the scenes, it must be inferred that they were neglectful of their proper work. Or, if (as is sometimes claimed) they must be in front so as to see that the aisles and passageways are kept clear, and to avert a panic if an alarm of fire should be given, then either more firemen should be detailed for duty, or else every theatre should keep a corps of employes trained as firemen, with water facilities and apparatus always in working orderand constantly inspected by the fire department. They manage these things better in Europe. In London and Paris there is always at least one fireman behind the scenes, fully equipped for any emergency; in Berlin a fireman is not unfrequently in evidence on the stage, in full view of at least part of the audience. Where smoking is permitted (as never should be the case) in a theatre, it should be restricted to one part of the house, and a special fireman or trained employe should be told off to watch for any sparks or burning ashes from the tobacco, or to see that the cigar butts or half-smoked cigarettes are not thrown down on the floor, but into some receiver full of water specially provided for such a purpose. Buckets of water should likewise always be kept handy in the smokers’ den, ready for use at a moment’s notice. As to the apparatus; In cities where there is a good fire department within easy call that need not be elaborate. A few chemical extinguishers, hose, sound and constantly inspected for leaks, attached to the mains and nozzles, with the water up to each, easily handled by one man (whose post should always be by the apparatus), will be enough, as a rule, to hold a fire in check till such time as the regular department arrives, before which, if the fire is behind the scenes, the asbestos or fireproof curtain should be dropped at once so that there shall be no delay. And; to summon the department auxiliary fire alarms should be distributed throughout the theatre, while to render effective the efforts of the department, private and public, a good pressure of water should always be maintained. These remarks, of course, refer only to the requirements for extinguishing a fire while the performance is going on, or while the theatre is open. At other times, especially at night, the building should be carefully and continuously patroled by watchmen, checked by telltale indicators, and should also be equipped with fire alarms of the most sensitive kind procurable, which, when they give the alarm, should show precisely in what part of the theatre the fire has broken out. These precautions, even in a non-fireproof theatre (and every theatre which lays claim to being up-to-date should be fireproof), if duly observed, will go far towards safeguarding such buildings against, serious loss by fire.