TOPICS OF THE DAY
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THE Boston Board of Aldermen has confirmed Mayor O’Brien’s nomination of Captain Richard F. Tobin, to be fire commissioner in place of Wm. H. Green, for three years from the first Monday in May. Mr. Tobin is a practical and progressive man, was for years an active fireman, and served on the board of engineers of the Cambridge department with credit. He is a Republican in politics, enjoys the respect and confidence of the public to a high degree, and in his new position will doubtless maintain the enviable reputation which he has so well earned.
THERE was an unusual number of large destructive fires in March. The Commercial Bulletin gives a list of 214 fires during that month, where the loss by each exceeded $10,000, and places the total losses for the month at $10,450,000, which is about $3,500,000 in excess of the average losses in March for many years past. The same authority estimates the losses for the first three months of 1887 at $29,500,000, a gain in amount of about $500,000 over the corresponding period of 1886. At this rate the losses for the year will exceed those of 1886, which aggregated about $105,000,000.
ANOTHER example, says the Commercial Bulletin, is furnished by the hotel fire at Monterey, Cal., of the showy and costly fire extinguishing appliances which never work, or else are without water when the supreme moment arrives. Dependence upon the hotel water-works, which were a sham, caused the loss of $1,000,000, and came near costing scores of lives. It was just so at the Richmond Hotel, at Buffalo. Everything looked lovely up to the time the apparatus was needed, and then there was no water. “ I laid the hose and turned the valve,” said one of the house employees who escaped, “ but no water would come.” What a commentary on the too common practice of getting fire appliances but never testing their efficiency.
I OS ANGELES, CAL., is considerably exercised over the sewer1—’ age question. During a few days of each year the water rushes down from the mountain in a torrent; at other times the bed of the river is dry’, except for a few little rills, which eventually disappear in the sands of the desert, and do not suffice to carry off the sewage of the city. The citizens appear to have decided that the only course open to them is to_build a tunnel to the ocean, between sixteen and twenty miles away, and have asked the legislature to authorize them to raise $5,000,000 for this purpose; but as this debt would prove a pretty heavy burden to the community, it would doubtless welcome a cheaper solution of the problem. It strikes us that it might be worth the while of some of our Eastern sanitary engineers to look into the matter. Why should Los Angles not convert its sewage into fertilizers, as is done in so many instances in the East ?
PITTSBURGH, PA., narrowly escaped being the scene of another very fatal fire last Saturday. In the basement of a five-story apartment house, tenanted by ten families, a fire, thought to have been caused by natural gas, broke out about the boilers, shot up a convenient elevator shaft and quickly spread to all parts of the building. The occupants of course became panic-stricken, and a number of them barely escaped with their lives, two being badly burned; two women were taken from the fourth floor half suffocated, and another only escaped from the fifth floor by sliding down a rope which had been used for hoisting up some heavy articles to the upper story, and, luckily, still hung there. This incident, at least, shows the value as a fire escape of a good stout simple rope, fastened securely above and reaching to the ground, and the bill now before the legislature, requiring hotels to be Yuliy equipped with these, should be made law and then enforced.
SOUTHPORT, an economically inclined suburb of Elmira, N. Y., has always stoutly opposed annexation to that city, through a deep-rooted dislike to the payment of the city taxes. At the same time, in case of fire, it has, seemingly as a matter of course, called for and obtained protection from the Elmira Fire Department. At last, however, the city seems to have awakened to the fact that what is worth having is worth paying for, and hereafter no apparatus will be sent without the municipal limits, so that Southport, if it would not remain entirely destitute of fire protection, must either come into the fold and do its share toward maintaining the city department, or establish one of its own. Elmira, in following the lead of several other communities in this direction, has taken a commendable stand. The custom on the part of some towns of demanding dead-head fire protection from their larger or more enterprising neighbors has become an unmitigated nuisance and evil, and only a decided refusal to help those who won’t help themselves will ever put an end to it.
PROGRESS in the New South is evidently not confined to commerce and the manufactures, the scientists appearing to have also awakened from their lethargy. Says that excellent journal, The Electrical World: “ An inspection of the electric lights of Nashville was ordered recently by the city council, and the special committee made a ‘scientific test.’ They found that the lamps in use, known to the trade as ‘ 2000-candle power ’ lights, * varied from 690.73 to 1,512.88-candle power, with an average of 999.105 candles.’ Here is accuracy and minuteness to suit the taste of the most fastidious alderman. How sad and strange it is to think that the lamps came just within 895 thousandths of averaging 1000 candle-power. The investigating committee compares its results with those obtained at the Electrical Exhibition of 1884. But the Philadelphia tests can evidently not compare in delicacy or refinement of apparatus with those of the Nashville scientists. We see direct proof of this in the fact that in the Franklin Institute tests not a single instance occurs in which the candle power of a lamp is given with a fractional addition, all the results being in whole numbers. Now that we look back upon the Franklin Institute tests, in comparison with these, we see how utterly crude the apparatus must have been with which they were made. The Nashville scientists, on the contrary, take their fine measurements out in the open air in a spanking breeze, and get their readings down to the thousandths of a candle power with ease and certainty. The New South is evidently making rapid headway in methods of physical research, and the new photometer of such extraordinary delicacy and reliability is probably the forerunner of many other instruments of precision from that part of the country. To be more serious, however, while we are heartily glad to see these tests made, we ask, is it not ‘ going it a leetle strong’ to put in the thousandths ?”
‘TIIE verdict rendered by the coroner’s jury which has been in* vestigating the circumstances of the Richmond Hotel fire at Buffalo, severely censures the hotel proprietors, Chief Engineer Ilornung and the fire commissioners; the first for neglecting to provide proper fire escapes, the others for not compelling them to do so in obedience to the law The Buffalo Commercial Advertiser says, commenting upon the verdict, that it shows that the origin of the fire is a complete mystery.
The most rigid and ingenious examination of all living witnesses lias revealed nothing save the bare fact that the fire was first seen in the coat-room. How or just where it started is not and probably never will be known. The jury is compelled by unshaken testimony to exonerate the employees of the hotel from blame, and even to commend the conduct of Mr. Alport, the night clerk. The action of the fire department was prompt and as efficient as the fierceness of the fire and the obstructing wires permitted. But a heavy judgment is pronounced against the chief engineer of the fire department, the fire commissioners, and the proprietors of the hotel for “gross neglect of duty.” The hotel men should have have complied more promptly with the directions of the chief engineer about fire escapes, and the fire officials should have taken steps to enforce such compliance. The jury finds the means of escape from the building “ entirely deficient,” and holds the chief engineer and fire commissioners responsible therefor.
These officials will shilt a part of this responsibility on to the common council—The Commercial has told the story of the break-down of all pretense of enforcing the ordinance since 1883—and the result will be that no one man or set of men will take enough of the censure to himself or themselves to cause the loss of an hour’s sleep. Yet, upon the fire commissioners rests a responsibility of initiative in this matter that cannot be shifted. Let them see to it that no more hotels, factories and other high buildings are allowed to procrastinate and evade the law without at least making noise about it and bringing public opinion to bear on the delinquents.
O EVOLUTION seems to be the order of the day in political, l’labor, and other circles, both at home and abroad. The latest home revolution is among the fire underwriters in this city, in October last, the 157 companies doing business in New York formed a compact for the advancement of rates, the reduction of commissions pai l to brokers, and the harmonizing of conflicting interests. While there has been much criticism and much dissatisfaction growing out of this compact, both on the part of some of the companies interested and the public, which objects to increased rates, it was believed that the agreement would hold at least for a year according to its terms, but on Tuesday last, one of the contracting companies gave notice of its withdrawal from the compact, whereby, by the terms of that instrument, all the other companies were released from their obligation. This means that there will be again an unseemly rush for business among the competing companies, and that rates will be cut, extravagant commissions paid to brokers and agents, and a season of demoralization inauguratedsuch as has never been known in the fire underwriting business. It is to be a war between the big toads and the little toads in the puddle, with a fair prospect that it will result like that of the Kilkenny cats, each consuming the other. This demoralized condition of the underwriting business is bad for the public, and a means of inciting incendiarism and inducing recklessness in the care of property by the owners. When rates are high, owners of property reduce their lines of insurance, but when they are low, they carry insurance in excess of value, and become careless as to the means of prevention and protection. Experience has demonstrated that where competition for business among insurance companies has been excessive, the number of fires has also been excessive, induced largely by the facility with which propertyowners can obtain insurance in excess of the value of their property. The breaking of the compact in New York will have a bad effect throughout the whole country, for the reason that similar associations in other cities are affected to a very considerable extent by the practices of the metropolis. The underwriters have never been able to effect a combination among themselves that would last any length of time, for the reason that there are certain ones in their number who will not keep faith with their fellows. We think it can be confidently predicted that the fire losses for this present year will exceed those of last year, and the number of small fires be very greatly increased.
nrSCUSSING the question of replacing the inflammable wooden sheds which cover the piers along the water front of New York city, by structures of iron or mason work, The Commercial Bulletin remarks that one great difficulty about this would be the need of firmer foundations than the present old-fashioned piers with their wooden piling, for the support of the heavier superstructures advocated. The adoption of a system of stone piers extending, say, from the Battery to Twenty-third street, on both the North and East rivers, would be doubtless a benefit to the commerce of the port, but this would entail an expenditure hardly to be thought of at present, besides which stone piers would offer an obstruction to the free action of the tides and cause deposits of mud or sand. It appears to be pretty well agreed that for the present at least these sheds must be built of light enough materials to rest safety upon the existing foundations, and, if wood be discarded, nothing seems to remain available but sheet metal, against the employment of which, again, it is urged that sheet iron build ings are, in the event of fire, simply like so many’stoves or furnaces, confining the flames and preventing water from being thrown upon the burning merchandise within. Still, there would seem no particular reason why, to facilitate access to a fire, an adequate number of sliding doors and windows should not be provided in such structures, and there are doubtless many other improvements in construction which a real demand for them would develop. For, as The Metal Worker, which is an authority upon the subject, observes, “ in features of construction, men in the sheet-iron trade have carried their work to a less forward condition than those em ploying other and older materials, and this is one reason why iron is not more used. With inventive ingenuity there is no reason why sheet-metal buildings should not be erected of a far better character than those at present employed, and which should adequately meet the requirements of such exposed situations as the piers and docks of this and other seaports.”
n S our readers will doubtless remember, when the common council of New Orleans last awarded the contract for extinguishing fires in that city to the Firemen’s Charitable Association, it also provided for the appointment of a board of control, to supervise the performance of the contract by the association. There has been a constant difference between this board of control and the association, the latter refusing to a certain extent to recognize the former. When the board of control appointed its secretary the association refused to recognize that officer, claiming the right to appoint such secretary themselves. The counsel of the city and the city council both upheld the board of control in this matter, and the secretary appointed by them was retained. Recently, the koard of control reported to the council that they had, in the performance ot their duties, required of the association certain information relative to the fire department which had been refused, and they therefore reported the association for contumacy. They submitted, as a means of bringing the association to a recognition of the authority of both the board and the council, the passage of a resolution by the council requiring that, before any payments under the contract were made, the city treasurer should require a certificate of the board of control showing that the contract had been fully complied with. Such a resolution, it was believed, would force the association to recognize the authority of the board. The communication was referred to a committee for further action. Almost simultaneously with this action, The Vindicator, an insurance paper published in that city, devoted nearly a page to what it claims to be the inefficiency of the fire department, asserting that it is managed entirely by politicians, and advocated the introduction of the paid system. It quoted the fact that, at a recent cotton fire in that city the salvage amounted to about $30,000, and that the fire department sent in a bill for $750 for extinguishing the fire. This bill was disallowed by the underwriters, on the ground that it was the duty of the department, under its contract, to render its services without additional charge. The same paper criticises the action of the department at various fires, and indicates that there is considerable dissatisfaction with the present system of putting out fires by contract, in vogue in that city. It is certainly an anomaly in the history of fire departments, New Orleans, we believe, being the only city that contracts for such service.
‘”THERE is quite a war of words raging between the manufacturers * of automatic sprinklers, and the literature that they are putting forth, denunciatory of one another, makes quite spicy reading. There is not only a controversy between the advocates of the wet and dry pipe systems respectively, but also between the manufacturers of the different appliances used in these different systems —a sort of fight within a fight. The question of sensitiveness and non sensitiveness of the sprinklers plays an important part in the controversy, as well as the question of solder vs. soft solder. In a recent article on the methods of fire prevention, we incidentally stated that we did not believe that the automatic sprinklers could be satisfactorily introduced into commercial districts, where large values were stored, because of the liability of a heavy water damage from the sprinklers. Mr. Armstrong, of the Mutual Fire, picked us up on this, and declared that the sprinklers could be satisfactorily used in all commercial risks, and that where they were employed but slight water damage had been inflicted when fires occurred, even where the goods exposed were of a delicate nature. The president of the Globe Insurance Company of Cincinnati, S. F. Covington, declares that the wet pipe system would be dangerous in commercial districts because of the liability to water damage that we suggested. He claims, however, that the dry pipe system, which contains no water until the fire turns it on, is entirely trustworthy. Here are two well-known underwriters directly at variance in this matter, each being an advocate of a sprinkler system in some form, and both being more or less interested in a particular kind of sprinklers. Having no such interest ourselves, we are inclined to look with some distrust upon the claims of those who assert that the automatic sprinkler system can be satisfactorily employed in, for instance, the dry goods district of New York. Our distrust is based upon the idea that in case of a fire occurring that would open the sprinklers, in either the wet or dry pipe system, the continuous and unchecked flow of water in premises where there are large and valuable stocks of delicate fabrics, would tend to produce as much damage as would occur if the fire were left to burn itself out. Of course, this would not be the case if the water could be shut off automatically when the danger is past as it is turned on automatically when the danger occurs. The damage we apprehend would result from a continuous and unchecked flow of water, the flow being set loose by a very slight fire, which could be extinguished with very little damage if it were not for the sprinklers. We may be all wrong on this point, but, at the same time, we do not believe that owners of valuable stocks of easily injured goods will take the chances of damage by water by means of automatic sprinklers, unless they are abundantly satisfied that their insurance is all right, and that there will be no contest over the adjustment of any loss that may result from either fire or water. Nor do we believe that insurance companies in general will favor the introduction of automatic sprinklers as a rule in commercial districts. In saying this we do not wish to be understood as in any way deprecating the great value and importance of automatic sprinklers in their proper place. That they have done wonderful service in the protection of mills and factories and detached risks we know full well, and have frequently called attention to their good work; but we believe that out of their place their use would be liable to do more injury than good. Still, we are not at all tenacious upon this point, and will be very glad to be convinced that so valuable an appliance as we know the sprinklers to be, in a limited sense, are susceptible of general application.