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JAMA 100 Years Ago
February 1, 2006


Author Affiliations

JAMA 100 Years Ago Section Editor: Jennifer Reiling, Assistant Editor.

JAMA. 2006;295(5):571. doi:10.1001/jama.295.5.571-b

Following the terrible Iroquois theater fire in Chicago, we commented on the experimental theater which was prepared in Vienna to test various safety devices. Consul-General Rublee of Vienna has just made a report on the tests made with this model. As nearly as possible exact reproductions were made of the conditions existing in actual theaters and old theatrical scenery and hangings were used, saturated with kerosene. Some of the conclusions were as follows: The most effective means of reducing the danger to the audience is to provide means for the escape of the dangerous gases and smoke through ventilators on the roof of the stage. When ventilators of sufficient size were opened, automatically or otherwise, the fire was, to a great extent, confined to the stage, and a draft was caused from the audience room onto the stage, but when the ventilators were closed the auditorium was filled with gases, smoke and flames so speedily that the lives of many spectators would be imperiled. Further, in the latter case, the movement of the iron curtain was frequently interfered with by the pressure of gases from the stage so that it proved inadequate for protection. This latter point seems to us a very important one, in view of the great dependence now placed on the steel curtains. If a severe fire would cause this curtain to bind, or would otherwise prevent its descending promptly, another terrible fire may result, because the use of inflammable scenery has not been discontinued. These experiments further revealed the striking fact that when the ventilators were covered by wire screens the charred paper, fragments of scenery, etc., carried up by the draught, lodged against these wire screens and, to a greater or less extent, closed them, thus rendering the ventilators valueless. In this connection attention is called to the building law of New York City, which requires that underneath all of these smoke vents wire netting must be stretched. These points become very important when one realizes their relation to the present provisions in theaters in the United States.