From the plans, it appears that there was a boiler room in the basement too, and is likely what fed the radiator seen in the picture. I doubt whether the compressors in the room directly behind the wall were running, since the refrigerators appear to have their own compressors in a separate room. Being 28 outside, I don't think they would have used air conditioning, even with the large crowd inside. A running methyl chloride system would have a high discharge temperature, according to the sources I found, in the neighborhood of 170-180 degree compressor discharge temperature. Methyl chloride will also self-ignite in the presence of aluminum. I don't know very much about the construction of a comfort air conditioning system back then, but I doubt that they would have remotely located evaporators like shown in the picture, especially since it appears from the pictures that there was a forced-air system in place
OK, it appears that the refrigeration unit was about a 5-ton capacity unit, water cooled receiver/condenser, and all the refrigerant (20-50) lbs had been pumped into the condenser, which was removed, inspected, and found to be severely corroded and leaking badly after the fact. If it dumped all 20-50 lbs at once, it could have had something to do with it, but it would make a hell of a sound, and it might not even all evaporate at once, since the boiling temp at atmospheric pressure is -10 Fahrenheit. Interested to see what everyone else thinks about this
From what I read, and taking wide liberties, and a little time on MS Paint, here is the system as I imagine it. Seem reasonable? Thoughts? Drawing it out to try to explain to OP
I think this is like exhuming Lincoln's body to see what killed him....
[Avatar photo from a Florida training accident. Everyone walked away.]
2 Tim 3:16-17
RSES CMS, HVAC Electrical Specialist
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Refer leak ignited by some spark somewhere maybe smokers, or electric short kaboom all over.
It's not if your doing it right it's whether your doing the right thing that is important.
Having grown up not far from Boston, this thread reminded me of the many family discussions about the Coconut Grove fire (especially around Thanksgiving, when the Boston Globe usually ran a commemorative story), the most memorable of which was my parents relating how they had planned to go there that evening to celebrate my father's 27th birthday. The Grove's dinner and floor show were quite popular back then, but fortunately they made other plans at the last minute.
Dad was just getting started in the refrigeration business that year. Later when I was a kid in the 1950's, I remember him working with many older system with either SO2 or methyl chloride. While the SO2 was just plain nasty, methyl was rather sweet-smelling...but highly flammable, something like alcohol, so I can see how methyl chloride could indeed be a cause for the fire.
A couple of things to point out about refrigeration system of that era are that they tended to use one central compressor for all of their cooling. For instance, a meat market may have one unit serving half a dozen coolers. Also, the compressors were belt drives with open motors and controls, so it wasn't uncommon to get a flareup if you had a methyl leak.
Additionally, while air conditioning wasn't common in those days, apparently this club had it, and possibly it was incorporated into that single, water-cooled unit which also served the refrigeration, possibly with a capacity of 10-15 tons.
This an excerpt from an article in the NFPA Journal (May 2000):
Having eliminated cellulose nitrate as a possible fuel, Beller turned his attention to the refrigerant gas hypothesis. According to Robert Moulton's 1962 account of the fire, air-cooling units in the Melody
Lounge were served by a refrigerating unit behind the false wall, and
after the fire, some of its tubing had been found broken or melted. As
Moulton notes, however, none or the commonly used refrigerant gases are flammable, so this would seem rule our any refrigerant gas as being in any way responsible tor the initial flash."
Moulton also notes that, although some refrigerant gases used at the
time were toxic, there wasn't any reason to assume that the refrigerating
unit's tubing melted or broke to release the gas during the first
minutes of the tire. "It thus appears," he said, "that refrigerant gas may
be dismissed as a factor in the early stages of the fire when most fatalities occurred."
Or so it appeared in 1962. In 1993, however, David Arnold published
an article in The Boston Globe that seemed to shed doubt on this conclusion. According to Arnold, "Methyl chloride is a flammable gas that was commonly used as a refrigerant during the war years. It replaced freon, almost all of which was allocated to the military."
He goes on to say that, "it was common knowledge that the Coconut Grove was cooling beer, food...and people in the summer...with methyl chloride in system with a capacity of 10 to 15 tons." Apparently, investigators at the time thought the Cocoanut Grove was using freon or an older cooling chemical, sulfur dioxide. They didn't know about the methyl chloride, so it wasn't mentioned in their 1943 published report. No one noticed the omission because those who'd serviced the Coconut Grove cooling system never saw the report."
From the source I found, the refrigeration units had their own compressor room in a separate location. This one appears to be only air conditioning, and was pumped down into the condenser for the winter, if I find the report again I'll link to it