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1945 Theatre Catalog, 4th Edition, Page 566 (540)

1945 Theatre Catalog, 4th Edition
1945 Theatre Catalog
1945 Theatre Catalog, 4th Edition, Page 566
Page 566

1945 Theatre Catalog, 4th Edition, Page 566

The Duties of Personnel in Case of Fire

Organization and Responsibility of Staff ls Essential for Meeting All Emergencies

Personnel training is as important as proper construction and equipment in keeping theatres safe from fire and panic.

Training of personnel for the event of fire should equip them to:

(1) Notify proper authorities.

(2) Make use of safety equipment, such as proscenium walls, fire doors, and fire extinguishers.

(3) Empty the theatre quickly.

(4) Prevent panic.

The organization of the staff to carry out these functions will vary with the size of the theatre and the available manpower. Without adequate manpower, of course, adequate coverage is not possible. A thoroughly ushered theatre, in the opinion of Chief Michael J. lOiDonohue, in charge of Public Assembly in the New York Fire Department, is an excellent defense against panic. Nevertheless, even with a small staff, proper planning can make effective use of the personnel available.

In small theatres, it is most practical to consider the entire staff as one unit. In large theatres, it is frequently useful to divide the personnel according to areas, such as the balcony, stage, etc.

Regardless of the type of organization, each member of the staff should be assigned some specific duty in the theatre (or in his area of the theatre). But, in order to maintain fiexibility and to ensure smooth performance, it is advisable, wherever possible, to give each man

v training in every aspect of the program. Each man should know how to turn in an alarm, man an evacuation post, close the fire doors, and use extinguishers.

The training of the staff may be quite elaborate in large theatres, or may take the form of simple weekly meetings in smaller theatres. In any event training should be continuous and regular, and should include practice fire drills, simulating actual conditions.

Properly planned lectures and demonstrations should give personnel an opportunity actually to handle extinguishers during fire drills. The local fire department and the National Fire Protection Association can give valuable help to the manager in organizing such a program and teaching the proper use of extinguishers. In some theatres, former professional firemen are employed for this purpose. With proper training, even young ushers and usherettes can use equipment successfully. In theatres where extinguishers have been promptly put to use, a large number of fires have been put out with trifiing loss.


The manager, chief usher, or person in charge in an emergency should always be readily available. Either he, or someone delegated by him, should be in the theatre at all times, at some spot Where


he can be reached at once, and, in turn, can contact the rest of his staff.

The person who discovers a fire should notify the manager at once, and then the fire department. Or, the manager may prefer to be the one responsible for notifying the fire department. In either case, as soon as a fire is discovered, whatever its size, the fire department should be notified immediately. This may be merely a precautionary measure in most cases, but it should never be omitted. Even if a fire has been extinguished by the theatre personnel, the fire department should check to see that there is no danger of reignition.

The signaling system is a very important factor in the prompt reporting of fires. Automatic fire alarm signals, either electrical or mechanical, are recommended by the National Fire Protection Association, and may be practical in large theatres. Any automatic system installed should carry the approval of the Underwritersl Laboratories, and, to assure operation when needed, it should be inspected regularly. It should be arranged so that the alarm is given in the manager's ofiice or at some observation post where a watcher is constantly stationed. It is understood, of course, that these alarms are to be indications of fire only to the manager and his staff. The audience should never be subjected to a perceptible alarm system.

In small theatres, Where automatic alarms are not practical, some other rapid but quiet signaling system should be used, with a minimum of motion to disturb the audience. Where an automatic sprinkler system or other extinguishing apparatus is installed, it may be connected to the alarm system, so that the manager will be warned when these extinguishing systems are set off by fire.

It is advisable to have a direct connection to the fire department as part of the alarm system. If this is not possible, instructions for calling the fire department should be an important part of the training program. Wherever practical, the nearest city fire alarm box should be used, and the employe should remain by the box until firemen arrive. If it is necessary to use the phone for notifying the fire department, clear instructions should be posted near all telephones.


While one employe is notifying the proper authorities, another should be able to attack the bra with an extinguisher or other appropriate equipment.

Depending upon where the fire has started, other protective equipment, such

as the asbestos curtain, fire doors, etc., may be called into action.

If the fire has started in the projection booth, a special situation develops. Because more than half of our theatre fires begin in projection rooms, they are now constructed so that fire will be confined within the room. In the event of film fire, the projectionist should shut down the projection machine and are lamps, operate the shutter release at the point nearest to him (or, if it is automatic, see that it has operated properly), leave the projection room, and close the doors. If the room is equipped with automatic extinguishers, they will, in most cases, put out the fire.

In some cases, hand extinguishers have put out fires even before the automatic extinguisher has gone into action. They should always be mounted at the entrance to the booth and used from outside it. In no case should any person remain inside the projection booth during a film fire, since the fire not only fiashes quickly, but also produces dangerous fumes.

When the manager arrives upon the scene, he should find some fire-fighting activity already begun, and should be able to determine what further steps are necessary. He may find the fire under control. Or he may discover that it is necessary to call upon men from other parts of the theatre who have been assigned to a fire-duty post. Since the fire department is likely to arrive within a short time, it is never advisable to involve too many of the personnel in fights ing the fire. The primary duty of the staff is the evacuation of the theatre. The majority of the staff should therefore be alerted to evacuation duty, in case this should become necessary.


In numerous cases, fires have started and have been extinguished without the audience being conscious of any unusual activity. Only recently, an explosion in the air-conditioning system of a large New York theatre resulted in the death of an engineer, yet the audience remained undisturbed.

The judgment of the manager is an important element in deciding whether the theatre needs to be evacuated. If he, or the fire department, finds that the fire is extinguished, or under control, the audience may not need to be dismissed. Until such time as it is decided that evacuation is necessary, every effort should be made to prevent any hint of disturbance from reaching the audience. The turning on Of lights, opening of exit doors, or undue movement of ushers, may excite and disturb the crowd, making subsequent panic more likely.

If, however, smoke has seeped into the building, the fire looks dangerously large, or there is some other reason for consid THEATRE CATALOG-1945

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1945 Theatre Catalog, 4th Edition, Page 566