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- Fires and Firemen - 5/6 -


We may here mention as a curious result of the Gateshead fire that several tons of lead, whilst flowing in a molten state, came in contact with a quantity of volatilized sulphur. Thus the lead became re-converted into lead-ore, or a sulphuret of lead, which as it required to be re-smelted, was thereby debased in value from some twenty-two to fifteen shillings a ton.

The great fire, again, which occurred in Liverpool in October last, was occasioned by the explosion of spirits of turpentine, which blew out, one after another, seven of the walls of the vaults underneath the warehouse, and in some cases destroyed the vaulting itself, and exposed to the flames the stores of cotton above. Surely some law is called for to prevent the juxtaposition of such inflammable materials. The turpentine is said to have been fired by a workman who snuffed the candle with his fingers, and accidentally threw the snuff down the bung-hole of one of the barrels of turpentine. The warehouses burnt were built upon Mr. Fairbairn's new fireproof plan, which the Liverpool people introduced, some years ago, at a great expense to the town.

Water alone brought into sudden contact with red hot iron is capable of giving rise to a gas of the most destructive nature--witness the extraordinary explosions that are continually taking place in steam-vessels, especially in America, which mostly arise from the lurching of the vessel when waiting for passengers, causing the water to withdraw from one side of the boiler, which rapidly becomes red hot. The next lurch in an opposite direction precipitates the water upon the highly-heated surface, and thus explosive gas, in addition to the steam, is generated faster than the safety-valves can get rid of it.

A very interesting inquiry, and one of vital importance to the actuaries of fire-insurance companies, is the relative liability to fire of different classes of occupations and residences. We already know accurately the number of fires which occur yearly in every trade and kind of occupation. What we do not know, and what we want to know, is the proportion the tenements in which such trades and occupations are carried on, bear to the total number of houses in the metropolis. The last census gives us no information of this kind, and we trust the omission will be supplied the next time it is taken. According to Mr. Braidwood's returns for the last twenty-one years, the number of fires in each trade, and in private houses, has been as follows:--

Private Houses 4,638 Lodgings 1,304 Victuallers 715 Sale Shops and Offices 701 Carpenters and Workers in Wood 621 Drapers, of Woollen and Linen 372 Bakers 311 Stables 277 Cabinet Makers 233 Oil and Color men 230 Chandlers 178 Grocers 163 Tinmen, Braziers, and Smiths 158 Hooses under Repair and Building 150 Beershops 142 Coffee-shops and Chophouses 139 Brokers and Dealers in Old Clothes 134 Hatmakers 127 Lucifer-match makers l20 Wine and Spirit Merchants 118 Tailors 113 Hotels and Club-houses 107 Tobacconists 105 Eating-houses 104 Booksellers and Binders 103 Ships 102 Printers and Engravers 102 Builders 91 Houses unoccupied 89 Tallow-chandlers 87 Marine store Dealers 75 Saw-mills 67 Firework Makers 66 Warehouses 63 Chemists 62 Coachaakers 50 Warehouses (Manchester) 49 Public Buildings 46

If we look at the mere number of fires irrespective of the size of the industrial group upon which they committed their ravages, houses would appear to be hazardous according to the order in which we have placed them. Now, this is manifestly absurd, inasmuch as private houses stand at the head of the list, and it is well known that they are the safest from fire of all kinds of tenements. Mr. Brown, of the Society of Actuaries, who has taken the trouble to compare the number of fires in each industrial group with the number of houses devoted to it, as far as he could find any data in the Post-office Directory, gives the following average annual percentage of conflagrations, calculated on a period of fifteen years:--

Lucifer-match makers 30.00 Lodging-houses 16.51 Hatmakers 7.74 Chandlers 3.88 Drapers 2.67 Tinmen, Braziers, and Smiths 2.42 Carpenters 2.27 Cabinet Makers 2.12 Oil and Color Men 1.56 Beershops 1.31 Booksellers 1.18 Coffee-shops and Coffee-houses 1.20 Cabinet Makers 1.12 Licensed Victuallers .86 Bakers .75 Wine Merchants .61 Grocers .34

It will be seen that this estimate in a great measure inverts the order of "dangerous," as we have ranged them in the previous table, making those which from their aggregate number seemed to be the most hazardous trades appear the least so, and _vice versรข_. Thus lucifer-match makers have a bad pre-eminence; indeed, they are supposed to be subject to a conflagration every third year, while the terrible victuallers, carpenters, mercers, and bakers, at the top of the column, shrink to the bottom of the list. These conclusions nevertheless are only an approximation to the truth, since it is impossible to procure a correct return of the houses occupied by different trades. Even if a certain class of tenements is particularly liable to fire, it does not follow that it will be held to be very hazardous to the insurers. Such considerations are influenced by another question, Are the contents of houses forming the group of that nature that, in case of their taking fire, they are likely to be totally destroyed, seriously, or only slightly damaged? For instance, lodging-houses are very liable to fire, but they are very seldom burnt down or much injured. Out of 81 that suffered in 1853 not one was totally destroyed; only four were extensively affected; the very large majority, 77, were slightly scathed from the burning of window and bed curtains, &c. Among the trades which are too hazardous to be insured at any price are--we quote from the Tariff of the "County Fire-office,"--floor cloth manufacturers, gunpowder dealers, hatters' "stock in the stove," lamp-black makers, lucifer-match makers, varnish-makers, and wadding-manufacturers; whilst the following are considered highly hazardous,--bone-crushers, coffee-roasters, composition-ornament makers, curriers, dyers, feather-stovers, flambeau-makers, heckling-houses, hemp and flax dressers, ivory-black makers, japanners and japan-makers, laboratory-chemists, patent japan-leather manufacturers, lint-mills, rough-fat melters, musical-instrument makers, oil and color men, leather-dressers, oiled silk and linen makers, oil of vitriol manufacturers, pitch-makers, rag-dealers, resin-dealers, saw-mills, seed-crushers, ship-biscuit bakers, soap-makers, spermaceti and wax refiners, sugar-refiners, tar dealers and boilers, thatched houses in towns, and turpentine-makers.

It is a notable fact that the city of London, which is perhaps the most densely inhabited spot the world has ever seen, has long been exempt from conflagrations involving a considerable number of houses. "The devouring element," it is true, has made many meals from time to time of huge warehouses and public buildings; but since the great fire of 1666 it has ceased to gorge upon whole quarters of the town. We have never had, since that memorable occasion, to record the destruction of a thousand houses at a time, a matter of frequent occurrence in the United States and Canada--indeed in all parts of Continental Europe. The fires which have proved fatal to large plots of buildings in the metropolis, have in every instance taken place without the sound of Bow bells. A comparison between the number of fires which occurred between the years 1838 and 1843, in 20,000 houses situated on either side of the Thames, shows at once the superior safety of its northern bank, the annual average of fires on the latter being only 20 against 36 on the southern side. For this exemption we have to thank the great disaster, if we might so term what has turned out a blessing. At one fell swoop it cleared the city, and swept away for ever the dangerous congregation of wooden buildings and narrow streets which were always affording material for the flame.

The means to be adopted to prevent the flames spreading, resolve themselves into taking care not to open doors or windows, which create a draught. The same rule should be observed by those outside; no door or glass should be smashed in before the means are at hand to put out the fire.

_Directions for aiding persons to escape from premises on fire._

1. Be careful to acquaint yourself with the best means of exit from the house both at the top and bottom.

2. On the first alarm reflect before you act. If in bed at the time wrap yourself in a blanket, or bedside carpet; open no more doors or windows than are absolutely necessary, and shut every door after you.

3. There is always from eight to twelve inches of pure air close to the ground: if you can not therefore walk upright through the smoke, drop on your hands and knees, and thus progress. A wetted silk handkerchief, a piece of flannel, or a worsted stocking drawn over the face, permits breathing, and, to a great extent, excludes the smoke.

4. If you can neither make your way upwards nor downwards, get into a front room: if there is a family, see that they are all collected here, and keep the door closed as much as possible, for remember that smoke always follows a draught, and fire always rushes after smoke.


Fires and Firemen - 5/6

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