Fire - Improperly Designed Fire System

A fire occurred in building No. 6 which was occupied entirely for coating and drying oilcloth. There was a space at the west end of each floor occupied by the coating mills and the balance of the floor was occupied as a dry room, being separated from the coating room by a frame partition. Table oilcloth was coated with a paint mixture (containing a little benzene) in the coating mills at west end of the building and then run into the dry rooms and hung in festoons about eight feet high and the length of dry rooms, or about eighty-three feet. Dry rooms were ten feet high and there was a space of ten inches between the bottom of joists and the small sticks carrying the festoons of oilcloth.

There was a line of automatic fire sprinkler s over each roll of cloth, these lines being seven feet apart, and the automatic fire sprinkler s were spaced eight feet apart across joists, down the length of the dryer. The automatic fire sprinkler s were on the end of three-inch nipples to one side of the pipes and also raised up a little in order to be more out of the way of the cloth in the racks below. This placed the fire sprinklers slightly at an angle so that the distribution was somewhat interfered with and they were, therefore, only about two inches below the bottom of joists, and the bottom of the deflectors of the automatic fire sprinkler s (fire sprinkler heads were placed pendant) was only six inches above the sticks carrying the festoons of oilcloth.

All the automatic fire sprinklers were 286 degree heads. All of the dry rooms on each floor of building were filled with table oilcloth, most of which had been coated and run into dryers the day before the fire occurred. Some of this oilcloth had also been varnished. The fire was discovered at 2 a.m. by the automatic fire sprinkler alarms and the head watchman immediately blew the mill whistle which assembled the men at night work. They at once got out the chemical engine and hurried toward the building which was then a mass of flames. A public fire alarm had also been sent in to the Fire Department.

It was apparent that almost from the start the fire was not controlled by the automatic fire sprinklers and must have gained rapid headway even after the first heads opened. Apparently some of the automatic fire sprinklers were obstructed and although they opened early in the start of the fire they did not prevent the flames from growing beyond their control. The fact that all the automatic fire sprinklers were 286 degree heads was presumably a factor in making their operation slow. A second and third alarm was turned in at 3 a.m. and a great many fire hose streams were played on the fire.

During the progress of the fire several firemen were on the roof of the one-story building adjoining on the north directing hose streams through windows of building No. 6 when, without warning, over half of the north wall on building No. 6 fell onto this roof, burying the firemen under tons of brick and crushing in the greater part of the roof. Two of the firemen were killed and several were severely injured. The sudden failure of this wall is in part attributed to the tremendous amount of water which was poured into the building and held there by the oilcloth.

The very satisfactory operation of the automatic fire doors in a large measure prevented the fire from gaining access to adjacent buildings. The fire was finally extinguished by the fire department and resulted in a very heavy loss to the building in which it originated. An examination of the ruins showed that quite a number of the automatic fire sprinkler heads in the coating room at west end of building had not opened, and on the second floor of drying rooms, where portions of the ceiling were still standing, a number of automatic fire sprinklers had not opened although the heat in all the portions noted would seem to have been intense. It had been suggested several times that 212 degree heads should be used instead of 286 degree heads.

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