A FEDERAL FIRE PREVENTION BUREAU
I feel sure that the subject which has been assigned to me has often been the subject of public discussion, and I hope that which I have to say may in a measure contribute toward Federal recognition of the question—fire prevention from a national standpoint. The subject, “A Fire Prevention Bureau of the Federal Government,” would admit of an extended discussion of the many phases of fire prevention. However, it is my purpose to treat the subject only in a general way. The fire waste of the United States is estimated at from $250,000,000 to $300,000,000 per annum. This estimate does not include the cost of fire protection or the economic loss, the result of business interruption and the loss of life and health. This fire waste is nation-wide in its scope. It enters into every phase of our social, economic and civic life. It is the direct cause of a nation-wide tax—the cost of protection against the individual fire loss. President Wilson has said, “Preventable fire is more than a private misfortune; it is a public dereliction.” In order to prevent fires and to reduce to a minimum this enormous waste, it is necessary to educate the people of our country to a higher sense of personal responsibility regarding same. They must be educated along the lines of better construction and taught to appreciate the importance of considering the possibility of fire as a factor, the same as light, heat, ventilation, space requirements and other elements that enter into the designing of buildings. The public, through education, may be brought up to a correct mental attitude regarding the fire waste. The result would be reflected through better housekeeping; they would be mindful of the importance of good care and order, necessary at all times as a means of preventing fires; they would provide adequate public and private fire protection and would more fully appreeikte the necessity of supporting the state and local governments in their efforts to ferret out and prosecute the incendiary.
Present Methods Not Effective.
Our present-day method of fire prevention, while effective in many localities, has not reached the degree of efficiency which may be obtained through the same agencies should they be brought to a closer relationship. We have public departments, under the direction of state fire marshals and fire prevention commissioners in thirty-one states and the District of Columbia, each conducting a campaign of education regarding fire prevention within the boundary of their state. The National Board of Fire Underwriters, supported by the fire insurance companies and stimulated to action by the interest of its membership, is conducting a nation-wide campaign on fire prevention and maintains the world’s greatest laboratory for ascertaining the merits of appliances, devices, machines and materials in respect to life and fire hazards and accident prevention. The
•Excerpts from a paper delivered before the annual convention at New Orleans of the Fire Marshals’ Association of North America.
National Fire Protection Association, with its membership consisting of trained men, actually in the field of fire prevention, and the state societies for the prevention of fire waste, which have been organized under the direction of the secretary of the National Fire Protection Association, are decided factors in this great work. The Bureau of Standards of the Federal Government, in its laboratory, has begun to make tests of various fire-resistive materials, and, although its work along this line is in its infancy, much is being done, and its influence is felt. Through the medium of these various agencies, all of which are doing a great service for humanity in safe-guarding lives and property against loss by fire, we are getting results, but as stated before, it is necessary for all these bodies to co-operate with each other, and we should not seek for a selfish motive which may have prompted the organization of any one of these agencies, but let the results accomplished be the qualifications for recognition, and I believe that aside from any other reasons that may be offered, the creation of a Federal Bureau of Fire Prevention would be worth while should it serve no other purpose than to bring together these great factors in our present-day method of preventing fires.
National Bureau a Necessity.
A Bureau of Fire Prevention of the Federal Government is necessary to bring the citizens of these United States to a realization of the importance of fire prevention; it is necessary to create a proper attitude on the part of the public regarding fire waste. It should be the purpose of such a bureau to coordinate and direct the efforts of all existing agencies, bodies, associations and state departments, to which I have referred; to merge into one smoothly working machine all of the present highly efficient, but more or less independent organizations, working along the same lines. This would permit a proper division of labor, prevent a duplication of effort or overlapping of work and permit specialization and increased efficiency. This bureau having under its control the activities of these various affiliated bodies, could disseminate information, the correctness of which could not and would not be questioned. We cannot dispute the fact that the National Board of Fire Underwriters, through the underwriters’ laboratories, in testing the various fire appliances, consisting not only of devices for fire protection but fire retardents for building construction and various kinds of machinery, is doing a public service. However, we know that in thousands of instances the people have hesitated in adopting and using these devices, believing they are recommended for no other reason than that they have the approval of the underwriters, and that the difference in cost, due to superior workmanship and better quality of materials necessary for approval. is merely a charge for the use of the underwriters’ lable. The National Bureau of Standards is today equipped sufficiently to test a great steel shaft or the accuracy of a length measure so delicate that the scale can be read only by the aid of a microscope magnifying 50 diameters. I refer to this great bureau that we may more fully appreciate the thoroughness and the length to which our Government goes in behalf of the people after a bureau is created to specialize upon any one branch of public service and because the standardization of fire-resistive materials is within its scope of work, and I am glad to know that they arc studying fire-resistive materials and have a trained force and good apparatus for that purpose. In advocating a Bureau of Fire Prevention of the Federal Government, 1 would suggest that it be a bureau of the Department of Commerce and that it be an independent bureau. Being under the same department head as the Bureau of Standards, it would advocate the use of such methods, materials and devices, under its approval or label that had the approval of the Bureau of Standards or of any laboratory which was conducted in cooperation with and to the satisfaction of the Bureau of Fire Prevention.
Scope of Bureau Far-Reaching.
It must be borne in mind that the scope of the work of the Bureau of Fire Prevention would be far-reaching and educational in its nature and that laboratory work is only one phase of fire prevention—therefore, the importance of creating an independent bureau instead of enlarging the scope of the work of the Bureau of Standards. In advocating a Federal Bureau of Fire Prevention, I do not underestimate the good which we are accomplishing through the state departments. I know that our work is increasingly effective, but the bureau which I advocate may co-operate with our departments in the same manner as the Department of Agriculture of the Federal Government co-operates with the State Department of Agriculture. I recall the tour of Mr. Carl Vrootnan. assistant secretary of agriculture, through the South, and his appeal to the country for increased production of foodstuff and the response of the people was instantaneous, so to speak. There is another reason why we should want F’ederal co-operation. The laws of our states creating the office or department of fire marshal arc not all they should be. In many instances they do not provide for the necessary power and authority to carry on the work in all of its many phases, nor do the laws have the hearty endorsement of the great body of people, owing to a lark of appreciation on the part of the public as to the value of such a department. The United States Government has appropriated funds to assist in the building of roads that may be used for carrying the mails, provided that the roads which arc built with Federal aid are constructed according to specifications approved bv the secretary of agriculture. The Weeks law provides for giving Federal aid to states in preventing foiest flies, along the forested watersheds of navigable Streams, and when the states provide by law for a system of forest fire protection. The constitutional reason for the appropriation is the protection of navigation, but it is argued by Federal authorities that the general national and interstate interests are a tremendous additional justification for asking the National Government to provide the money to use in that important branch of fire prevention. The United States warehouse act, which is today being put into effect by the bureau of markets of the Department of Agriculture, and which was enacted for the purpose of encouraging the proper storing and handling of agricultural products intended for interstate or foreign commerce and to provide for the issuance of negotiable receipts for same, requires from each warehouseman, before a license is issued, that he give bond which shall contain such terms and conditions as the secretary of agriculture may prescribe, including the requirements of fire insurance, and the secretary of agriculture is preparing rules and regulations overning the licensing of cotton wareouses under the act, has included rules for construction and protection which, from the standpoint of fire prevention, directly affect the classification or grading of warehouses, so again we find the Federal authorities endorsing the great work. The fire waste is a drain on our national resources. The individual loss in one state affects the citizens of all states. Government buildings are situated throughout all the states, and the United States mails are housed in Government controlled postoffices in every city, town and hamlet throughout the United States, all subject to loss by fire, which may be prevented. Therefore, I should think that Congress has the authority to give aid to such states that will create a state department of fire prevention, provided the department aided by the Federal Government will carry on the work in a manner that will meet with the approval of the Federal authorities.
Individual Protection Too Costly.
Again, the urgent need of a Bureau of Fire Prevention is emphasized by the growing feeling of dissatisfaction on the part of our people regarding the cost of protection against the individual loss by fire! In many of the states laws have been enacted for the purpose of controlling the rate of insurance to be charged, with the view of reducing the rate, rather than to enact laws tending to reduce the hazard, which is directly responsible for the rate. A few states may enact and enforce these laws fixing the cost of insurance and possibly maintain a lower average rate at the expense of the other states, but with the development of our country, the rapid building up of cities and towns, the enlargement of our industrial enterprises, all having a tendency to increase fire hazards, unless fire preventive methods keep pace with the times, this feeling of dissatisfaction will spread, to the end, that a majority of the states will undertake to adopt similar methods of relief, only to find they are trying to accomplish the impossible. The average loss per $100 value on a given class of risk Is the only basis for an equitable distribution of the fire tax, and there are few, if any, classes of risk, which are sufficient in numbers, within the bounds of any one state, to intelligently apply the average, especially when we take into consideration the large conflagrations. Therefore, in order to reduce the rates of insurance, we must control and diminish the fire waste of the United States. I am mindful of the fact that a bureau of this kind to be effective must be upon a fairly considerable scale and would entail a considerable expenditure, but when we take into consideration the urgent necessity of conservation, as a contribution toward the winning of the present world war by our country and our Allies, for the preservation of the peace and democracy of the world, and when we consider the fact that the people of our country, long known to be a wasteful people, are being awakened to a realization of their extravagances and wastefulness and are now in a receptive attitude, awaiting the advice of the officials of our Government, we can but urge that now is the stragetic time to have .created this new Governmental service, notwithstanding the rapid expansion of the expense of our Government. That we may conserve the resources of our country; that we may reduce the cost of insurance, one of the chief bases of mercantile and industrial credits and the prosent-day method of distributing the burden of the fire waste, let us consider this great question from every standpoint, and as leaders in the work of fire prevention, call upon our representatives in Congress for this new Governmental service—a Bureau of Fire Prevention.