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1945 Theatre Catalog, 4th Edition, Page 532 (506)

1945 Theatre Catalog, 4th Edition
1945 Theatre Catalog
1945 Theatre Catalog, 4th Edition, Page 532
Page 532

1945 Theatre Catalog, 4th Edition, Page 532

suspicious, an expert should be called in at once to recheck and repair it.

Careless Smokers

Careless smokers, whether patrons or employes, are an ever-present hazard. Many a theatre has been destroyed by a fire which started from a cigarette butt or match, smouldered in a cushion or carpet until after the building was deserted for the night, then raged beyond control before anyone discovered it.


Pyromaniacs are usually indistinguishable from "average theatre-goers" so it is easy for one who possesses this type of twisted intellect to buy a ticket and mingle with an audience. It is estimated that about 5 per cent of our theatre fires are of incendiary origin. Incendiary activities of a maniac, like those of careless or ignorant smokers, are difiicult to curb. The best defense is constant vigilance, to keep the premises free from non-essential combustible materials and to detect incipient fires or signs of arsonist activity at the earliest possible moment.

Exposure Fires

Exposure fires*those which start outside the building and spread to it-account for a monthly average of three or four burned theatres. Fire-resistant construction of the theatre building exterior minimizes this danger, but no construction material can withstand an unlimited amount of heat. Fire walls and outside sprinklers also offer considerable protection against this hazard in some locations. The theatre manager can usually enlist the cooperation of local authorities to make frequent inspections of the surrounding neighborhood, and should do so in his effort to protect his own property.

Miscellaneous Causes

Miscellaneous causes common to all types of buildings are responsible for about one-fifth of our theatre fires. Spontaneous ignition of rubbish or of oily cleaning rags, fiammable cleansing compounds, heating plant defects, carelessness, coals or hot ashes, hot steam pipes, defective air-conditioning equipment, and open lights or torches, often used in conjunction with repair work, are among

A A THEATRE FIRE OF OUTSTANDING INTEREST was that which occurred in the Laurier Palace Theatre, in Montreal,

Quebec, on January 9, 1927. This fire caused the death of 78 persons and iniury to 30 others. The use of a building of inferior construction and improper exits was a contributing factor. (All pictures used in this article were generously made available by and presented through the courtesy of the National Fire Protection Association.)


the fire hazards continually reappearing in these miscellaneous causes.


The minimum requirements for theatre safety are outlined in the Building Exits Code.* However, it should be understood that these requirements are only the minimum. Better facilities and construction than outlined in the code provide a greater safety margin. A healthy trend toward higher standards is materializing in laws which have been adopted recently in several states and municipalities.

During the numerous investigations that always follow fire tragedies, it is significant that violations of recommended practices and standards are invariably discovered. Among the more dangerous conditions that are found over and over again are the following:

( 1) Lack of adequate exits.

(2) Overcrowding.

(3) Lack of adequate fire protection


(4) Inadequately trained personnel.

Lack of Adequate Exits

Wherever large numbers of people are gathered under one roof, the suspicion of fire, whether false or real, is apt to start a panic. In theatre fires, more audienceinjuries have resulted from crowding and trampling ,in an attempt to escape through blocked exits than from burns and other direct effects of the fire. In February, 1945, in Mechanicsville, New York, a false cry of fire was raised in the State Theatre and, before the audience, mostly 'teen-agers, could be brought under control, a girl and some boys had been injured in the rush for exits. Enough unobstructed exits should be provided to permit safe dispersal of a frenzied mob.

Assuming that a safe number of properly constructed aisles and exits are provided before a theatre is licensed, the manager still has the continual responsibility of making sure that the exit doors swing out, that they are readily opened from the inside, and that nothing interferes with their free use either inside the theatre or outside in the path of travel from the doors.

Any curtains or draperies should not extend over a door, but should be moved aside so that they cannot conceal its presence or interfere with its effective use in case of a rush. Doors should, of course, be kept unlocked at all times when the theatre is occupied and employes should not be permitted to begin locking up after a performance until the entire audience is out.


Overcrowding is a flagrant violation of life safety standards. Theatre code requirements are based on an occupanCy of not more than one person to every six feet of net floor area used for seating, and not more than one person to fifteen square feet of gross area of spaces not used for scating. A Hholdout" line should be formed before every seat in the house is filled, and standing patrons should not be allowed to obstruct aisles, foyers, or exit areas.

" Published by the National Fire Protection A3sociation in the National Fire Codes for Building Construction and Equipment and also available in separate form.

1945 Theatre Catalog, 4th Edition, Page 532