An asbestos curtain, because of its weight, must have to hold it unusually firm fastenings and brackets securely bolted to the proscenium wall, and the cables holding the curtain should run first over these brackets and then over a head-block to counter-weights that slide in a groove. These weights should be so balanced that the curtain may be easily manipulated from either the fly gallery or the stage level by a small manila hand rope. The curtain should overlap the proscenium opening on the inside at each end of the arch by not less than eighteen inches.
It is a debatable question whether the asbestos curtain, controlled by a fusible link, as required by law, would or would not come down in case of fire. The fire curtain at the fatal Iroquois Theatre fire in Chicago, equipped in this manner, stuck at the critical moment, and allowed the gas and smoke to pour underneath the bottom of the partly closed curtain into the auditorium, asphyxiating most of the victims of this sad catastrophe.
It is the conviction of competent authorities that if the lowering of the fire curtain depended upon an attendant rather than upon the automatic action of a fusible link, it would be far more certain of operation.
It is better to have the asbestos curtain disguised by pictorial decoration, so as not to create alarm whenever it is lowered to test its working condition. A small fireproof door installed in this curtain is also most desirable, for should a panic occur and the curtain be dropped the immediate appearance of some responsible person on the stage would be of invaluable aid in quieting the audience. Anyone with sufficient presence of mind to use this door would be likely to have enough composure to demand the immediate attention of an audience and might by reassuring advice prevent a panic.
The vast quantity of inflammable articles usually assembled on the stage also increases the liability of fire. Such articles should be thoroughly fireproofed, and where it is impossible to construct them of incombustible materials precaution should be taken that they are separated widely enough to prevent a general conflagration in case of a sudden blaze in one stage section. Carpenter shops, scene docks and storage rooms should also be separated from each other, and the boiler room should be isolated from the stage itself.
For the sake of convenience dressing rooms are usually installed on the side or rear of the stage section behind fireproof walls. Although the laws of some cities forbid it, there is no rea son why well ventilated dressing rooms should not be placed underneath an orchestra floor, if a safe mode of egress be provided.
The skylights over the stage, controlled by the fusible links usually prescribed by law, are of very doubtful value. It would be far better to substitute large automatic ventilators in the stage roof for the escape of gas and smoke, as the accumulation of gas generated by fire and its subsequent explosion on the stage might blow the proscenium wall into the auditorium in an incredibly short space of time. If it be inconvenient or unsightly to furnish similar ventilation in the auditorium ceiling, vent-flues could be placed high above the stage opening in the proscenium wall to insure better air circulation. The air circulating at this height would form a draught strong enough to clear the hall of gas or smoke in time of conflagration and in normal times serve as an excellent means of ventilating the auditorium.
Every theatre should be equipped with the most improved and modern devices for quickly detecting, suppressing or reporting fires, and each manager should insist on a daily fire drill. Regular examinations by fire experts should also be made of all safety devices, fire alarms, standpipes, chemical tanks and ventilators; and the clearance of all exits and entrances should be strictly supervised and enforced.
Proper provision should be made for the safety of the actors and the stage personnel by the establishment of ample and well-lighted passageways, with stairways and exits leading directly from the stage and dressing rooms to the open on either side of the theatre. As a substitute for stairs a continuous slide, similar to those provided at amusement parks, would be an excellent innovation for the use of actors and stage hands, who could be easily rehearsed in its use.
The fly galleries and rigging loft, too, should have iron ladders or stairways on each side of the stage, leading therefrom as a means of protection to the workmen there employed. Greater safety for the stage section can be secured by good planning and construction than by any other means. Where it is possible iron construction should take the place of wood, and the ventilating apparatus should be always kept in perfect working order.