Page images

"Second-Accident prevention: Guarding of machinery, proper and adequate inspection of factories and manufacturing establishments. "Third-Danger to life and health because of unsanitary conditions: ventilation, lighting, seating arrangements, hours of labor, etc.

"Fourth-Occupational diseases: Industrial consumption, lead poisoning, bone disease, etc.

"Fifth-An examination of the present statutes and ordinances that deal with or relate to the foregoing matters, and to what extent the present laws are enforced."

It is understood, however, that only the subjects under "First," above, will be reported upon by the commission on the prescribed date in February. In addition to submitting a comprehensive code of legislation to protect life from fire hazards, the commission will probably recommend that another tribunal be constituted by the legislature to pursue the other subjects indicated above, to which the present commission has been unable to give adequate attention. The continuance of the commission for that purpose, perhaps with the addition of one or more Republican Assemblymen to represent the changed complexion of the lower house of the legislature, is said to be likely.

Upon the subject of fire prevention legislation, which will first be reported on, however, the testimony so far taken before the commission indicates a probable line of effectual recommendations. Two facts, in the nature of axioms or fundamentals, have been attested alike by experts in fire suppression, experts in building construction, and experts in modern industrial organization. The first of these considerations is that, even under the present standards of construction, "fireproof" buildings are substantially "fireproof," in the sense that a conflagration rarely does serious injury to the building itself. The flames may rage from room to room and floor to floor; doors, partitions and all interior fittings, as well as contents, may char and be consumed and some or many of the occupants lose their lives; but the four walls and frame-work, i. e., the organic structure, of the building, usually come through the conflagration intact. Lives are lost even when walls stand. It is therefore the combustion of contents, not damage to the buildings themselves that makes fire losses in the United States so heavy, in proportion to the amount spent in new construction. With these facts before it, so terribly emphasized by the quickness of the restoration of the Asch building after the lives of its inmates had gone out, it seems likely that legislation will be sought which will make it impossible for a fire once started to course, virtually un

checked, from room to room and from floor to floor of a building whose walls are fireproof-in other words, to make "fireproof buildings," under the Building Code, also "death-proof” and “conflagration-proof."

The second element above referred to as emphasized by the testimony already taken, is that any new legislation should promptly take into account the fact that under present-day conditions of industrial employment, and also very often under metropolitan conditions of residence in buildings housing large numbers of persons, fire-escapes and means of emergency exit can not, as a practica! matter, be provided, which will with certainty afford to all the occupants of a modern building the means of immediate and safe descent to the street. Still less possible is any saving of contents of buildings through removing them to the street or to adjacent structures. Future construction must be so required that the starting up of flames in one room of a building need not make imperative the instantaneous exit therefrom of all persons employed in the building, or even on the floor where the fire starts. Means of safety, both for persons and property, must be secured in the building and even on the floor where the fire starts, by making impossible the instantaneous converting of stairways, doors, elevator shafts, etc., into flues for the flames, and also preventing, through the application of the "bulk-head" principle used in ship-building, the rapid spread of flames from room to room and from floor to floor. Especially in high and populously tenanted structures, fireescapes, even of the most approved kind, can hardly be provided sufficient to enable all occupants to reach the ground safely before the rush of flames spreads a panic which means death to many.

Even if, however, all the occupants could be got out safely and in time there is no reason why the contents should be left to be consumed. If the Wagner-Smith commission carries out the advice of its experts and the urgent wishes of the trades-union representatives appearing before it, the report will contain recommendations which will afford to both persons and property adequate protection in the building, by making the construction really "fireproof," i. e., "death-proof," and "conflagration-proof," through providing for the confining of the flames to a limited area within which to "burn themselves out" with consuming such contents as are not removed to safety behind doors and partitions as effectually fire-resisting as the walls themselves. As former Fire Chief Croker pointed out at the first meeting of the Commission, all

stairways, stairway-doors, room-doors, elevator shafts, partitions and the like, should be made absolutely fire-resisting, for about them a fire is hottest, and all inflammable material should be eliminated from their construction.

In this connection, it should fairly be said that either in the report of the Wagner Commission or in the subsequent consideration of the subject by a Board of Aldermen bent on a real revision of Building Code provisions, the necessity for a definite and drastic stand as to fireproof construction is likely to be squarely faced, no matter what contractors nor what material men such an attitude may hit. Not all materials nor all types of construction may safely be permitted under the guise of regulation, and sooner or later the unfit must be drastically excluded, no matter what purveyors of such material and no matter what architects and contractors are unfavorably affected thereby. So far it has been easy to "scare off" any such action by raising a cry of "special interests," and arousing public opinion by the representation that the Tammany organization was seeking to "put over" something for a favored set of contractors or material men. Probably such an outcry will be less effective when raised against the action of a Fusion Building Committee, headed by a lawyer of character and ability, such as Mr. Ralph Folks, who will succeed Alderman Kenneally as the head of that committee in the new board.

The history of the public agitation for adequate legislation as a result of the Asch place tragedy, is, so far as regards external appearances, typical of such matters. When nearly 150 girls and young men in the factory of the Triangle Waist Company met death in raging flames or jumped to a more merciful fate on the pavements below, the city and the state were profoundly stirred by a demand for adequate action. Great public mass-meetings were held, and many thousands of men and women, one rainy March afternoon, passed in solemn procession through the streets where death had befallen their comrades. The demand was then emphatic, from all quarters, that something-anything-be done to prevent the recurrence of such a disaster. Seven months later, the Wagner-Smith commission, the most tangible result of that agitation, began its sessions at the New York City Hall, and there were present seven of the nine members of the commission, three lawyers acting as counsel, two paid experts, and a dozen newspapermen-just twenty-two men and two women. The marching thou

sands of that Sabbath procession, the angry eloquence of the public assemblies, were apparently unrepresented in that subsequent scene. Yet that superficial conclusion would be far too hasty. In a very fundamental and effectual way, the militant public sentiment of the previous March had been crystallized into a Committee of Safety, which in large measure had brought this commission into being and stood ready to assist in a very substantial way to make its deliberations effective. The members of the commission and its vigilant counsel seem to have realized that they represent the public opinion so manifest earlier in the year, and that this is the city's way of committing to the deliberate consideration of experts the formulating and carrying out of measures upon which the public conscience has resolved.

WL. Rensom


(Providence Tribune.)

As the coroner's jury which held the inquest on the Washington Place fire in New York, in which more than a hundred persons lost their lives, was composed of men having special knowledge of building conditions, its verdict possesses special value not only for the people of New York, but for others, since the same dangerous conditions that exist in that city are found, in a larger or smaller way, in many cities.

For some of the loss of life the jury fixes responsibility on the already indicted proprietors of the waist factory, holding them blameworthy for the locking of the doors which prevented the escape of some of the workers and for the crowded condition of the factory floor which left passages to the stairs and the elevator only thirteen and a quarter and sixteen inches wide. The jury also finds that defects of the present laws are responsible for the catastrophe and makes a number of suggestions, not novel, for strengthening them.

But the more significant, though not at all, surprising, feature of the verdict is the jury's inability to determine that any one de partment of the city government was responsible clearly ard solely for the calamity; and there is unquestionable propriety, therefore, in the recommendation that this state of affairs shall be remedied. It is a recommendation which applies also in doubtless many other cities. Here in Providence, for example, when inquiries were made after the New York fire it was found that there were not a few buildings here which were not complying with the laws for fire prevention and life protection; and yet the responsibility for that perilous state of affairs seemed to be the theoretical rather than actual. At any rate it was not put definitely on any man or men.

« PreviousContinue »