This section is from the book "Modern Buildings, Their Planning, Construction And Equipment Vol6", by G. A. T. Middleton. Also available from Amazon: Modern Buildings.
Agreat source of danger exists in the use of buildings for purposes other than those for which they were originally designed. A hall intended to be used for dances does not require such extensive provision of exits as it does if it is to be used for theatrical entertainments, while if the latter are likely to be held in the hall provision should be made in designing the building.
A very common case of this improper employment of buildings is the periodical use of schoolrooms for the holding of amateur theatricals and other entertainments, for which the room is packed with people who, in all probability, must make their exit through a single small doorway; while, to make matters worse, old and flimsy scenery is employed, lighted by oil lamps and candles fixed in insecure positions. Entertainments of this sort are of such usual occurrence that it would be well if the larger rooms of school buildings were designed to accommodate them.
Entertainments given in private houses, which are quite inadequate to accommodate the number of people they are called upon to hold, are another source of danger. On such occasions houses are not infrequently filled to such an extent that to move from one room to another is almost an impossibility, while the staircase is totally inadequate to allow the people to escape in case of fire. The remedy for this lies to some small degree in the hands of the designer, for he can provide ample door openings and staircase accommodation, but the safety of the guests must chiefly depend upon the discretion of the host, who should proportion his entertainments with regard to the accommodation of his house; while, on the other hand, by placing furniture across doorways in passages, he may do much to render useless the provisions made by the architect.
Entertainments in private houses or in other places are often rendered particularly dangerous by the very general practice of decorating with flimsy hangings and many small lights. Such hangings on catching fire will fall against other inflammable material, and the spread of fire will be rapid, while a large quantity of smoke will be produced by its combustion.