Spiral Staircases for firemen


Jan 5, 2001
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I thought that it would be interesting to post this information, I was off the board for two weeks and have not read any threads yet. Phil told me that my Olympic article had been accessed 12,000 times which astonished and pleased me.

I got off a train from Liverpool yesterday, with astonishing new information that I hope to share as time permits. It included plans of Cunard to refit Olympic by July 1935 for cruising, proving that even Cunard it seems did not see her scrapping at that date as mandatory. I also researched every maintainence cost, from victualling, oil, wages, deck repair, etc. From 1933, Olympic was the cheapest of the Big Six to run except Homeric and possibly Mauretania. I am able to expand even more on my article in my Olympic work which I was really pleased with.

I know that David G. Brown among others has mentioned his belief of the poor design of the Firemen's staircase and tunnel. Yet, in 1911 one expert slated it as being too small!

quote:

'At the forward end of no. #1 boiler room [sic: no. #6] there is a spiral staircase on each side, leading to the firemens' rooms. This we think is a great mistake, as only one man can ascend or descend it at a time, and a broad stairway with landings would have been much better.'
It is from a nautical Cunard observer who, on June 1st 1911, walked aboard and was astonished by the enormous engine room. He had many praises for the machinery and features, but wasn't impressed with the passenger accommodation.

But, assuming the 'flawed design' theory of the tunnel is right, what on earth would have happened with an enormous passage and stairway?!

Best regards,

Mark.​
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Mark -- fascinating stuff. I have always wondered if the spiral staircases weren't a bit of a problem moving men to and from the boiler rooms. Going down is not much of a problem on a spiral staircase as you can hook one hand on the center pole and almost run. Going up one at a time means the whole group could only be as fast as the slowest man.

My criticism of the design of the firemen's staircase extends to the tunnel as well. They are effectively the same structure in a flooding situation. A larger stairway with the same configuration could have created more flooding in the spaces above the orlop of hold #1, although there is no way to tell how much.

--David G. Brown
 
May 9, 2001
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Was the spiral staircase seated, or mounted, upon the inner bottom, or the outer bottom?
And was the stairwell a single verical opening? Or were there any hatchways that could be closed thus sealing off certain sections of the stairs?

Yuri
 
Dec 2, 2000
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It would seem to me that it was mounted on the inner part of the double bottom. I could be mistaken, but nothing else really makes a lot of sense. No hatchways I'm afraid. Just a column which goes right through a step in Bulkhead "B" with no way to close it.
 
Jan 5, 2001
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Hi!

A larger stairway with the same configuration could have created more flooding in the spaces above the orlop of hold #1, although there is no way to tell how much.

It is interesting to speculate on the theory regarding what would had happened had the staircase been enlarged. Certainly I agree that additional flooding, or a greater rate of inflow, could well have resulted from an enlarged staircase and/or passageway. If I remember rightly, there were some complaints about lighting and ventilation in the tunnel, and that it might have been improved. Of course, for the greater part of Olympic's life she was an oil burner.

I think it especially interesting that a Cunard observer did not see anything wrong with the staircase design, as evidently Harland & Wolff did not either. Certainly if your theory regarding the tunnel is true, it seems that two qualified people at the time were short-sighted and did not see any problem.

In answer to Yuri's question, I agree with Michael's answer from what I know. Mike brings up a good point again when he mentions 'Just a column which goes right through a step in Bulkhead "B" with no way to close it.'

This has been a thorn in many technical researches. In the scenario that holds #2, #3, boiler room #6 and boiler room #5 -- possibly also #4 -- were completely flooded, along with the passageway and staircase, then water would be able to mount the staircase as the bow sank and flood through the step in the watertight bulkhead, into hold #1. Whether or not the ship would already be lost in that condition, certainly the flooding of hold #1 would have speeded-up the process. In any case, the main goal in that situation is of course to try to isolate flooding as far as possible and then to keep the ship afloat for as long as possible. Certainly, the designers' hope seems to have been that the tunnel and staircase would remain dry, and how likely would it have been for water to reach that step anyway? In hindsight, very.

I am sure everyone is looking forward to meeting in September. Once more, I am sorry that I cannot attend, but I would love to hear about some of the debates and deliberations. Particularly with regard to the Aquitania. Several people might know that I supplied Erik with information on one of her groundings, in 1919 in the Mersey. She suffered extensive bow damage and showed signs of weakness forward for pretty much the remainder of her long life. Whether or not these stresses or signs of weakness were directly related to the grounding is a matter of debate, but it certainly seems likely, as nothing was noted forward when she was placed on the confidential list in 1918 owing to repairs needed to her stern frame.

Best regards,

Mark.
 
Dec 4, 2000
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All spiral stairs that I have seen are built on a central "pipe" vertical support. The steps slide over this pipe and the whole affair can be free-standing for a vertical rise of many stories. Side bracing can be obtained where the stairway has a landing. The problem is that a spiral stairway cannot have watertight closures at the various deck levels. It must rise in a stair tower which could (but in Titanic's case did not) have watertight doors at the landings. The tower design as built allowed water to rise up and pierce bulkhead B.

The problem with the tunnel/stair tower is that the combination allows water to flow through one watertight compartment and into another. It really doesn't matter which way the flow goes, it can come down from hold #1 or up from #3. Or, severe damage (enough to breach both the bottom and the tunnel) confined to hold #2 could flood both fore and aft.

The real weakness in the design, however, is the vestibule at bulkhead D. This small space had two automatic and two manual watertight doors. Damage to that small space could easily result in the effective piercing of bulkheads B and D with the result that water could reach holds #1 above the orlop, hold #3, and boiler room #6 through a single point of ingress.

--David G. Brown
 

Paul Lee

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Aug 11, 2003
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At the BoT, Wilding et al had the following exchange:

20713. I noticed that you said that you took the case of the inner skin of the "Titanic" on the starboard side of the spiral space? - Yes.

20714. And you said that as that inner skin was a certain distance - I think you said at 3 feet 6 inches? - 3 feet 3 inches, I think it is.


What does Wilding and his interrogator mean by "inner skin"? Do they mean the double bottom? I've looked at plans of the ship and the distance between the spiral staircase housing and the shell plating is more like 8 feet!

Paul
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Dec 2, 2000
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>>I've looked at plans of the ship and the distance between the spiral staircase housing and the shell plating is more like 8 feet!<<

You might want to look at the forward part where the staicase itself meets with the tunnel. It's only 3 feet from there to the shell plating of the hull.
 

Paul Lee

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Aug 11, 2003
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I'm not sure what you mean...in the plan, the distance from A to B is 9 feet. Wilding et al. were talking about the distance to the side of the ship, which seems to be more than 3.5 feet

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Dec 2, 2000
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At the point where the hull plating curved, it was 3.5 feet. What you're looking at is the extreme bredth as seen for the upper part of the plan. (The point where the overhead is the underside of G Deck.) The point where it starts to narrow is the tank top.
 

Paul Lee

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That would be where the bilge keel was located, further aft, wouldn't it? I thought the iceberg inflicted damage much higher than this (2 feet above the floor plates according to Barrett)

Paul
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Mar 22, 2003
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Paul: From the part of the plan you posted you can see the edge of tanks narrowing in under the firemen's tunnel. At the base of the stairs the width of the tanks is less than the width of the base of the staircase just before bulkhead B. The sides of the ship shown is not at that level but somewhat higher up. Unfortunately you cannot take measurements off these types of GA plans, especially where the hull curves so much approaching the keel. Attached is a sketch showing what it would look like facing aft just behind bulkhead B, including the tunnel opening. By the way, the tunnel was 8' 6" high by 10' 6" wide. Also just because Barrett saw an opening about 2 feet above the stokehold plates in BR 6 does not mean that the damage extended at that level along the entire side. I believe most of the damage was underneath the bottom along the starboard side. In the vicinity of BR 6 there may have been some contact along the side as the ship was widening there causing damage at the level Barrett reported. It should also be noted the Beauchamp also said water was "coming through the bunker door and over the plates." The bilge keel you referred to was well aft of that location, starting about bulkhead F, the beginning of BR 4.

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Dec 2, 2000
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>>That would be where the bilge keel was located, further aft, wouldn't it?<<

Nope....it wouldn't be. Further aft that is. See the diagram that Samuel posted above. It helps to know that with a ship, it's very shape changes constantly so just looking at deck plans from above can tend to be misleading. What you're seeing is the section at it's widest, not it's narrowest nor would it take into account such things as the turn of the bilge.

Remember, when dealing with a ship, you need to think in three demensions, *not* just one.
 

Paul Lee

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Aug 11, 2003
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Something occurred to me after a few beverages. I checked Hendrickson's testimony, and he says that the water was "falling in" (ie --into the staircase section). Is it just me or does this sound like the damage to the hull was sufficiently above the tank top to fall downwards, like a waterfall?

Best wishes

Paul
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Dec 2, 2000
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One might look at it that way, but there's another possibility to consider. Namely the presence of a fresh water saddle tank which straddled the firemans passage from above. If it was split open by the shock of the impact, the contents would have emptied into the tunnel fairly rapidly. Bruce Beveridge mentions the existance of this tank in "Olympic & Titanic, The Truth Behind The Conspiracy" on page 79.
 

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