John Ripley Freeman.

On the safeguarding of life in theaters; being a study from the standpoint of an engineer online

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ness. The nights of stairs should be each of the fewest steps
practicable, with frequent landings on which one can steady him-
self, and with good, simple, continuous handrails on each side
that can be followed down in darkness by sense of feeling, and a
strong centre rail, continuous all the way, where wide stairs are
necessary.

Width alone, as prescribed by most building laws, is not the
sole consideration. The architect of the Iroquois testified that
the gallery exits of the Iroquois were of 100 per cent, greater total
width than the law required. Yet 70 per cent, of those in the
Iroquois gallery perished, many at the back of the room not
reaching the exits, and some in their seats.

A sad loss of many lives occurred in the Iroquois by reason of a
blind passageway from the gallery, which led nowhere in particu-
lar, but which led out from the main exits in such a way that
those rushing outward naturally took it as a line of escape. A
few blindly located steps caused some to stumble; others tripped
over them, until there was quickly a crowded and confused mass
of men, women and children caught in this cul de sac at the top of
the grand staircase hall and doomed to quick death by suffocation.

Aisles and Exits.

As to the aisles and exits, a great deal of cutting out and en-
larging of aisles and removal of seats was done in theaters, in
Chicago and all over the country, immediately after the Iroquois
fire, apparently without reflection that to deliver the crowd from the
seats at the doorway with too great a rush increases the danger of
crushing at the doors and on the stairs. Indeed, I am of the opin-
ion that the width of the aisles near the stage might reason-
ably, and with advantage, be made much narrower than the law
now permits, thus increasing the number of good seats and the
earning capacity of the house enough to pay good interest on the
cost of making it safer and providing more numerous aisles, exits
and stairways at the rear.

The narrowest aisle permitted in a theatre, even close to the
stage, is commonly thirty inches. In a Pullman car and in the
ordinary railway coach, twenty-two inches and twenty inches
is found ample for a crowd of people moving along with all
necessary speed in single file.

It is far better to introduce additional aisles at the expense of
making all the aisles narrower, thus lessening the tendency, in a



94 ON THE SAFEGUARDING OF LIFE IN THEATERS.

mad rush, for people to try to crowd past one another, and giving
better chance for those who are not strong to steady themselves
by holding on with their hands to the seats on both sides the aisle
as they go along toward the exit.

I was interested in timing the exit under ordinary conditions,
from various representative Chicago theaters after their re-
modeling and was efficiently aided in this by Mr. Guy C.
Shaffer, a junior architect in the office of Pond and Pond. In
general we found that from the start of the curtain it was only
three and a half to five minutes until the corridors were cleared,
with the audience taking all the time needed for leisurely putting
on wraps ordinarily from two to three minutes sufficed for
clearing balcony and gallery, and in one minute after the drop
of the curtain the aisles of the main floor nearly back to the
exits were commonly crowded and continued full until about two
minutes after the start of the curtain. The heavy steel curtains
took from fifteen seconds to thirty seconds to come down, twenty
seconds being the ordinary time.

This time of leisurely emptying must not be taken as being
safely sufficient for the same audience to get out if panic-
stricken, for crowds may become wedged in to some of the
exits and the maxim of making haste slowly may be again
forgotten. At the Iroquois, under normal conditions at the
close of the performance, there is no reason to think that all in
this great crowd could not have found their way safely out in
two and a half or three minutes, but starting panic-stricken in
the midst of a performance it is different, -the door-keepers may
have not opened the gates, or a hurrying crowd may take the
wrong path, as to the death-trap in the Iroquois hallway and
many other un thought of things are possible, such that, in the
design, exits, smoke vents, and automatic sprinklers should each
have full, independent, adequate attention and each be inde-
pendently ready for the worst. At the Iroquois some were still
struggling out when the fire chief arrived five minutes after the
public alarm, and when he returned at probably nine minutes after
the alarm he reports that some were still struggling down from
the gallery.

Surroundings or Exposures.

Another feature that is worthy of note before closing is that
it is not essential for safety that a theater should stand in an open
lot. Some of the worst theater fi?*es in history have happened



ON THE SAFEGUARDING OF LIFE IN THEATERS. 95

where the space around the theater -was open on three sides or four
sides.

It is far more important that attention be given to the detail
of fire walls and to providing safe passageways. It should, how-
ever, always be the effort that channels of strongly arched
masonry, passageways roofed almost as strongly as for a
fortification, be provided running in opposite directions, so that
if a fire from explosion or other unusual cause be developed in
the street or along the main faade of the theater, all of the
audience could easily find exit in an opposite direction to the
alley or to the adjoining street.

Weekly Inspections.

In safeguarding our factories against fire, we find systematic
inspections and the filing of a weekly report one of the very best
means toward safety. It would be of equal value for the-
aters. A printed blank can readily be devised for each particular
theater, or one for all the theaters of a given city. This
should cover the completeness and operative condition of all
valves, fire hose, sprinklers, fire-pails, soda-water extinguishers,
pole-hooks, fire doors, exit locks and latches, smoke vents, fire-
curtain mechanism, and particularly of the neatness, cleanliness
and order of every room, passageway, closet, air chamber, loft,
basement and fly gallery, used as a part of the theater building.
This inspection should be made on each Monday afternoon,
since the week end is the time when attractions are commonly
changed and the confusion of new acts and strange properties
is most apparent.

A private fire brigade from the regular stage hands and ushers
should be drilled regularly, the Monday drill to be a " wet drill,'*
testing the stage hose and a few of the soda-water extinguishers,
which may be turned out of the window to the area way, or into
some convenient drain provided for the purpose, at the rear of
the stage.

The head stage carpenter should always be present during
this performance as chief of this theater fire-brigade.

If the municipal ordinance required such reports and drills as
just described, and that a duplicate of the report be filed each
Monday afternoon with the public fire chief of the district, a
single fireman or inspector detailed as instructor to cover in turn
all the theaters of a large city would, in my judgment, accomplish
more real good than the one or two stage firemen at each theater



96



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O.V TUB SAFEGUARDING OP LIFE IN THEATERS.



97




98 ON THE SAFEGUARDING OF LIFE IN THEATERS.

(The inside of the double sheet is ruled and left blank for descriptive remarks
under the following headings.)

RECOMMENDATIONS.
Urgent for Protection of life-



Urgent for Protection of Building & Contents-



Suggestions for further improvements to make this theatre as
safe as reasonable practicable without rebuilding -



REMARKS.



FIG. I?B.

perhaps ten firemen in a small city or one hundred in a large
city required by law to be present from the public force, doing
nothing in particular, at the expense of the theater, and who,
from my factory experience, will generally be less efficient than
the trained and responsible stage carpenter who is at home.

In other words, let the law emphasize fire prevention by inspec-
tion of neatness, order, and precautions more clearly.

The blank (Figs. 17, 17A and 17s on pages 160, 161 and 162) was
developed by Mr. E. Y. French (member of this Society and of
our Mutual Engineer Corps) and myself along the lines of the
Mutual Factory Inspection blank. The chief function of such
a blank is to focus the attention of the inspector on the
several and manifold sources of danger, and its chief virtue
is in thus directing the attention of the inspector to safe-
guards needed and to a test of the condition of all apparatus,
rather than its more apparent purpose of presenting a record of
faults. The record is condensed to briefest possible compass that
the statements may be more conspicuous, and we have found in



ON THE SAFEGUARDING OF LIFE IN THEATERS. 99

years of factory inspection that brevity in the foundation blank
increases the promptness of the remedy. Seventeen Chicago
theaters were inspected with this blank in hand, and it seemed
to fit fairly well, although it is certain that experience can
improve it. I present it here as a convenient summing up
of the many points that must be continually looked out for.
The condition is shown by an underscore of the word describing
the condition found.

For the purpose of illustrating some of the suggestions set
forth above regarding the arrangement of exit and stairways, I
present on a greatly reduced scale on the pages following some
carefully studied drawings that I prepared about two years
ago as a means of bringing some of these matters more
clearly before certain experienced theater managers, with whom
I was discussing certain possible improvements. In the prep-
aration of these plans I also had it in mind to enter a protest
against some of the requirements which have been urged by
eminent authorities as essential to the safety of the audience,
such, for example, as that frequently urged in Europe, that a
large theater or house of public entertainment ought to stand
in an open lot, and as a means of showing that such arrange-
ments for safety as proposed by the late Sir Henry Irving in his
designs for a modern theater were unnecessary.

I therefore purposely assumed the difficulties of a site in the
middle of a block, closely built up against on either side and
open only front and rear and to the sky above. To make the
illustration more complete, I also assumed a minimum width of
site. The purpose is to show that the fundamental requirements
for safety of the audience and safety of the fire underwriter's
risk can all be adequately met on almost any kind of site, and
that it is not difficult to provide far more safe and generous exit
than is often found.

The drawings will set forth the proposed means of providing
several exits so clearly that little description is necessary. The
total seating capacity is about 1500, a large house. The points
of chief interest are :

1st. The ample exit in four different directions from the bal-
cony and the gallery. I would call particular attention to the
exits at the front corners, which have a special value in being
always in sight and in front of the sitter, will tend to relieve the
crush toward the rear. It was through a small inconspicuous
balcony exit thus located that the family of one of my friends



JOO



OX THE SAFEGUARDING OF LIFE IX THEATERS.




ON THE SAFEGUARDING OF LIFE IN THEATERS.



101




102



ON THE SAFEGUARDING OF LIFE IN THEATERS.




ON THE SAFEGUARDING OF LIFE IN THEATERS.



103




MAIN STREET

FIG. 21. MAIN FLOOR PLAN.
AN ILLUSTRATION OF AMPLE SAFE EXITS IN DIFFICULT SURROUNDINGS.



104



ON THE SAFEGUARDING OF LIFE IN THEATERS.



BROAD ALLEY




BALCONY PLAN



William! En. Co.



STREET

FIG. 22. AN ILLUSTRATION OF AMPLE SAFE EXITS IN DIFFICULT SURROUNDINGS.



ON THE SAFEGUARDING OF LIFE IN THEATERS.



105



BROAD ALLEY



FIRE ESCAPE



MOTIVE - RAPID EXIT
400 CHAIRS

SIX INDEPENDENT EXITS




GALLE.RY PLAN STREET

FIG. 23. AN ILLUSTRATION OF AMPLE SAFE EXITS IN DIFFICULT SURROUNDINGS.



106 ON THE SAFEGUARDING OF LIFE IN THEATERS.

found their way to safety, while the crowd struggled at the
rear.

2d. The use of a tower fire escape (in the rear at the left)
modeled on the line of the Philadelphia factory fire escape,
communicating with the open air and with no door from audi-
torium or stage or dressing-room opening directly into the stair-
tower proper; it being required that passage be made from the
auditorium out across a platform, freely opened to the air, before
the stairway can be entered.

This arrangement making it almost certain that the stairway
will always be free from smoke.

3d. Note that the stairway exits from gallery nearest the street
are entirely separate from exits from other floors and serve only
the gallery. To still further favor rapid exit from the gallery,
two additional exits from the middle portion of the seating space
drop to a corridor below, making six exits in all, and so scattered
that choking about their entrances would appear impossible. As
a means of separating the gallery exit from that of the balcony,
I have in the spiral layout of the stairs employed a novel device
analogous to a double- threaded screw.

4th. It will also be noted that in view of the enclosed situa-
tion two ample exits of large size have been provided to the alley
in the rear, for both audience and stage people, each being a
sort of fireproof tunnel.

5th. It will also be noted that provision has been made for
permitting daylight to enter the auditorium and stage space,
but that the windows can be closed and daylight excluded while
an afternoon performance is in progress. These windows should
be glazed with prism glass for better diffusion of light if the
open-air court is narrow.

By making use of wire glass set in metal frames, and rein-
forced further by inside shutters folding back into the window
jamb, and with automatic sprinklers fed by a large elevated
tank, I have no doubt that a building of this type could stand
safe in the path of a raging conflagration and thus meet both the
best wishes of the fire underwriter and of the humanitarian.
This conclusion is given in the light of what I saw in my
repeated studies of the ruins after the great Baltimore fire and
in the safety of the factory of the Western Electric Co.'s factory
in the midst of the great San Francisco fire.

Buildings with their contents can be made fireproof by means of au-
tomatic sprinklers and adequate protection of the window openings.



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UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY
FORM NO. DDO, 5m, 12/80 BERKELEY, CA 94720





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Online LibraryJohn Ripley FreemanOn the safeguarding of life in theaters; being a study from the standpoint of an engineer → online text (page 8 of 8)