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We have had no loss of life due to conflagration. I like to have the word conflagration put in for the reason that you will have statistics upon the loss of life in tenement houses, children playing with matches or someone's clothes, catching fire from a gas stove; the buildings may burn, that may happen, but we have had no loss of life due to conflagration in the 24,000 tenements erected under the new law.
By Dr. KORN:
Q. Did you know of any old law tenenient house buildings where there have been lives lost where there has been insufficient or inadequate fire escapes? A. In almost five years I have been in office I have known of one case in which loss of life could be regarded as due to the inadequate means of fire escapes.
That was where between one inspection and another an apartment had been divided in two. You refer to a building on Monroe street. In that building there were three fire escapes and it was a corner building, a fire escape on one street, one on another and a fire escape in the court and the loss was due apparently to the people being suffocated while asleep and therefore unable to make their way out of the building.
Mr. Joseph O. HAMMITT (Chief of the Fire Prevention
Bureau) addressed the Commission:
By Mr. ELKUS:
Q. Mr. Hammitt you are at the head of the Bureau of Fire Prevention of the Fire Department? A. Yes, sir.
Q. Chief of the Bureau I think it is called? A. Yes, sir.
Q. And you have been since the first of this year? A. Since I believe the 26th of January.
Q. You are familiar with the testimony which was given yesterday with reference to your department? A. Only from hearsay. I did not hear the testimony. I know roughly that there was some testimony which possibly created some slight confusion as to precisely what is the function of the fire prevention bureau as to its responsibility for the protection of life and its responsibility for the protection of property.
Q. Yes, it was stated yesterday by one of the witnesses, that the function of your department generally, was to protect property and not life? A. The fact is that the function of the Bureau of Fire Prevention is primarily the protection of human life. The purpose of fire prevention is the same as the purpose of fire extinguishment. It is primarily the protection of human life. It is secondarily the protection of property. It is not possible to fully state the purposes of fire prevention or fire extinguishment without including both of those.
Q. It was stated yesterday that the sprinkler systems which your department is ordering into many buildings were ordered for the purpose either of affecting a saving in insurance or to protect property but not to protect life? A. The purpose of the installation of the sprinkler equipment as ordered by the Fire Department is for the purpose of all of the work of the Bureau of Fire Prevention
primarily, the preservation of human life. There are certain classes of buildings in which in case a fire starts there would be absolutely no method what ever by which water could be introduced into the building by the firemen for the purpose of extinguishing the fire. Especially if such risks expose neighboring property in which there is a considerable human occupancy and endanger a conflagration in the city, which if it ever got well beyond the control of the fire department would unquestionably exceed the catastrophe of the Baltimore Fire or the San Francisco Fire, it becomes necessary for the fire department to acquire some means whereby in case a fire starts it may be extinguished. It is also true that there are some buildings in which under normal conditions there may not be more than three or four occupants on a floor and yet under fire conditions there may be 25 firemen on the same floor. It is a somewhat difficult thing to bring to the attention of legislative bodies, but it is nevertheless a fact that firemen are workers as well as those who are employed in factories and that while the city demands of firemen that they make all necessary
sacrifices and encounter unpreventable hazards in preserving the city against conflagration, it is considered quite within reason that where it is possible to create a condition where a fire can be put out without sacrificing the lives of the firemen that condition should be created rather than preserving a condition where the fire can not possibly be put out without the cost of lives of men. I can not remember any building in which a sprinkler equipment has been ordered by the fire department where the purposes of the order would not be generally in line with the various purposes that I have stated. If I had a description of any building in which the sprinkler system had been ordered as to its construction and its contents and its occupancy I could explain precisely the basis for that order and would be very glad to do that for the information of the Commission in one or one hundred or any number of cases that were presented and to do it carefully and thoroughly and in writing.
Q. Reference was made here to the Cable Building; are you familiar with that? A. I do not believe that I am by that name.
Q. The building at the corner of Broadway and Houston street ? A. Broadway and Houston street — what is the occupancy?
Commissioner McGUIRE: Part office and part factory.
Mr. HAMMITT: That is a building regarding which there was an old order from the Fire Department for a sprinkler equipment. The question was raised as to whether the requirement of sprinkler equipment in that building was reasonable. At the suggestion of the special corporation counsel assigned to the Fire Department in order that a decision might be made that would be satisfactory to the owners of the building and so well considered that the Fire Department would be justified in depending upon it, the question of whether that order should be sustained was submitted to an informal board of survey on which there was no officer of the fire department as there is generally on a Board of Survey. I believe that a member of your commission served on that Board of Survey. I do not believe the decision has yet been reached.
Commissioner McGUIRE: It has.
Mr. HAMMITT: What was the decision?
Commissioner McGUIRE: The order was reasonable but if certain other requirements were complied with the fire commissioner was justified in rescinding his sprinkler order. I served as a member of that Board of Survey on that building and made a report to the fire department. That matter was testified to here yesterday I believe by Mr. Doyle.
Mr. ELKUS: He did not tell us anything about the survey?
Commissioner McGUIRE: But that I believe Mr. Hammit will tell you is rather a new way of arriving at the solution isn't it?
Mr. HAMMITT: It is.
Commissioner McGUIRE: And has it proven satisfactory so far as it has been carried out?
Mr. HAMMITT: It has. Ordinarily a Board of Survey as provided for under the law consists of one member appointed by the owner of the building, another member who is an officer of the fire department and is appointed by the Fire Commissioner, and a third who is selected by the Fire Commissioner from one of several lists submitted by several different societies. Now the dissatisfaction that we have had with that kind of a Board of Survey has been that there is a natural inclination on the part of the owner first to assume that his representative is his advocate and not a judicial surveyor. A natural attitude on the part of the officer of the fire department to ssume that the representative of the owner is not going to be fair and the thing resolves itself frequently into a decision by one member of the Board of Survey as between the absolutely uncompromising and conflicting views of the two other members and if the law does not work it out for us we are going to endeavor so far as we can, with the co-operation of representative organizations of property owners, to work out some method by which we can submit these questions to a mcre satisfactory and more impartial board of review.
By Mr. ELKUS:
Q. Mr. Hammitt some statements have been made that the attention of your bureau has been called to conditions in buildings by outsiders whose interest in the matter was ulterior? A. I think that is unquestionably true and it is the very reason why it seems to me essential for us to get away as quickly as possible from the policy of making most of our inspections upon complaint. It arises in a great many different ways. A tenant recently attempted to break his lease in a building in Brooklyn. He was sued by the landlord and a judgment recovered against him for damages for the breach of the lease. It is represented to me and I believe it to be a fact, that he thereupon informed the owner of that building, in which there was a private school, that he would communicate with the fire department and have orders placed on that building and “get even,"— a question of vindictiveness. He did communicate with the fire department. The fire department made inspection and issued orders. The problem relating to that building was a rather peculiar problem and the matter was given a considerable amount of attention by the Bureau of Fire Prevention with a view to working out some method of changing the design of that building at the least possible expense so that it would provide adequate facilities for the occupants of this private school. There was involved by that process several months of delay before the orders were all complied with, and regularly every month letters came from this same complainant they not only came to the Fire Commissioner but they came to the Mayor's office complaining of the inactivity of the fire department. They were transmitted by the Mayor's office regularly to the Fire Commissioner and also with reference to the fact that this was not the first time the matter was called to our attention. Inspection upon complaints results in a great deal of inequality in the administration of the law because the building against which a complaint has been received gets first attention.
Orders are issued and the owner is required to make changes which, while they may render the building safer, may not increase its renting value, and right next door or across the way is another building competing for the same class of tenants, quite as unsafe as was the building regarding which the complaint was received, but not yet reached because the fire department has been inspecting only on complaints. In order to meet that situation we decided, with 13,000 complaints pending and uninspected in February and increasing at the rate of five hundred to six hundred complaints a month, that we must clean up that complaint file by the quickest possible method. We therefore instructed our inspectors: “When you go to inspect a complaint your duty is to inspect only for the matter complained of, and when you have finished that, leave that building and go to the next one where you have a complaint to inspect. By that process we expect fully that by the first of the year we will have completely cleaned up our complaint file and