Causes and Dangers of Fires in Public Schools

Causes and Dangers of Fires in Public Schools


The destruction of property to the value of more than $225,000,000 and the loss of thousands of lives, which annually take place in the United States as a result of fire, is a story of carelessness and crime so appalling that it has justly aroused the interest not only of economists but of the general public. We claim to be highly civilized, yet unless the future can give greater security to life and property than is afforded by the present we will be compelled to admit that our civilization does not measure up to its boasted supremacy. Our people have a veriable mania for enacting new laws. For every ill, economic, political and social, a cry goes up for more law. As a result we have many laws of general application, hastily enacted in response to individual clamor and not at all suitable to the needs of the public or the times. Our statutes are burdened, and overburdened. with a mass of penal provisions that are not enforced. Many people have a vague idea that laws enforce themselves automatically. They have never engaged in the law-enforcing business. or they would know better. “The majesty of the law” is a beautiful phrase. The law is majestic only when it is enforced without fear or favor. But who will enforce a law which is not grounded in and upheld bv public sentiment?

*Address delivered by Ole O. Roe, State Fire Marshal of Iowa, before the eighth annual convention of the Fire Marshals’ Association of North America at Philadelphia, Pa., Oct. 10, 1913.

Who will build better buildings when it does not pay and when the cheaply constructed firetrap rents as readily and for as much money as the fireproof structure? Cleanliness is the great fire preventive. “Cleanliness is next to godliness,” and should prevail not only in the home but in the factorv and in the business house. However, until a high sense of moral responsibility and civic pride have been developed the comnliance with clean-up orders will be grudging and spasmodic rather than free, full and thorough. Every vear brines new inventions and new processes of heating, lighting and motion. We are thoughtlessly sowing matches and match-heads by the thousand every minute. Our familiarity with gasoline and other highly inflammable and explosive fluids leads us to treat them like water. We install electric wires for the transmission of light and power in utter disregard of the simplest rules of safety. We are in such an everlasting hurry to secure results—and we get them, though not always desirable—that we are entirely unmindful of the means or the attendant hazard. How may this busy, hustling, strenuous American people become safe?

We catch a firebug, almost red-handed. The evidence against him, direct and circumstantial, is overwhelming. Is the punishment swift and certain? No, for we must first convince the prosecuting attorney that he has a good case. This gentleman is often timid, sometimes ignorant or obtuse. In many States we go through the form of a preliminary hearing, where the State is often compelled to disclose its entire case without being able to secure an inkling as to the nature of the defense. If the case goes to the grand jury the State has another battle to convince that body either that the fellow has not already been sufficiently punished by having been arrested, and perhaps confined in jail and mulcted by his attorneys, or that he is not insane. Next comes the trial where “twelve good men and true” must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the prisoner is guilty. The State’s witnesses are often timid and forgetful. Many of them have been interviewed by the defendant or his attorney and coaxed or threatened to “be easy.” which they frequently are. especially in cases where the charge is “burning with intent to injure the insurer.” The prosecuting attorney, usually young and inexperienced, is no match for the array of legal talent pitted against him. Result : “We, the jttrv. find the defendant not guilty.” The prisoner shakes hands with the jurors and the curtain descends upon the last act of another farce too often enacted in our courts of justice. How may strength and courage be imparted to our lawenforcing officials so they will do their whole duty?

How may the men and women of our land, who, in the last analysis, must be held responsible for the administration of justice and the enforcement of law. be endowed with a holy desire to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth when called upon to testify in court. How mav the 12 men who serve as jurors be inspired by patriotic zeal to “let justice be done though the heavens fall”?

These are questions that touch the very vitals of our government. They cannot be answered by passing resolutions in a political convention. They must be solved in the home and in the school. Let us bring to their right solution every agenev and everv influence at our command. Inasmuch as the public school is supported by general taxation. the public has a right to demand that whatever it may teach it must train the children and youth in good citizenship Recognizing the influence of the public school and the duty which it owes to the generation which supports it. a number of States have made provision for the giving of instruction in these schools in the causes and dangers of fires. In the enactment of the State tire marshal law my own State adopted this provision :

“It shall be the duty of the State fire marshal and his deputies to require teachers of public and private schools, in all buildings of more than one story, to have at least one fire drill each month, and to require all teachers of such schools, whether occupying buildings of one or more stories, to keep all doors and exits of their respective rooms and buildings unlocked during school hours. The State fire marshal shall prepare a bulletin upon the causes and dangers of fires, arranged in not less than four divisions or chapters, and under the direction of the executive council shall publish and deliver the same to the. public shoots throughout the State, and the teachers thereof shall be required to instruct their pupils in at least one lesson each quarter of the school year with reference to the causes and dangers of fires. Any teacher failing to comply with the provisions of this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished by a fine of not to exceed ten ($10) dollars for each offense.”

Our governor designated the 9th day of October as Fire Prevention Day, and a copy of his proclamation, accompanied by an urgent letter requesting observance of the day in the schools, has been sent to every superintendent in the State, as well as to every mayor, and a number of requests have been received from school children for fire prevention literature, saying that they want such literature in order properly to prepare essays on the subject of fire causes and fire dangers. Then, too, the fire drill alone possesses educational value of a high order. While it is popular with the pupils, it serves to present to their minds a constant warning of the Red Plague. It is furthermore a training in promptness and orderly conduct which may be of inestimable value in after life. The giving of instruction in fire prevention methods appeals to the good common sense of our people. We are living in a practical age, an age which demands, and has a right to demand, a practical education. What instruction, may I ask, is more practical than that which teaches the child to be cautious, careful, honest, upright and mindful of the rights of his neighbor? The question, how far education should be practical and how far purely disciplinary, is one which, though new in form, is old in controversy, and we may well leave its academic discussion to the realm of pedagogues. While leaders in educational thought may differ as to the scope and ingredients of a practical education, they generally agree that the present-day demand for such an education must be met. What constitutes a practical education cannot be answered by the theorist. It will ultimately be answered by the practical man and woman of this generation. I submit, however, that a knowledge of the principles underlying good, sound, substantial building; of the dangers attending improperly installed heating and lighting systems; of the constant menace presented by the promiscuous use of the parlor match: of the danger to which property and life are subjected by the careless smoker: of the great value of cleanliness in and about all buildings and premises; of the nature and danger of gasoline and other highly inflammable substances, and the importance of handling the same with the greatest care; that patriotism need not be expressed in fire and noise; that crime is crime and should be punished ; that the moral sensibilities should be trained so that the child will spurn a falsehood and tell the tr_____th at all times; that the will be so strengthened that the future citizen and official may dare to do right and dare to be true in every relation of life; that the greatest civic virtue is Obedience to law ; these, all of these, are essential elements in a practical education. Conservation of our resources is not alone for the coalfields and forests of Alaska. It concerns every home in the land. How may a careless and wasteful people become careful and frugal? This is one of the greatest questions to which the reformer can address himself. Its right solution will do more to reduce the high cost of living than any tariff bill ever enacted.

“As the twig is bent the tree’s inclined.”

It is better to form than reform, “to call than recall.”

THE CALL IS TO THE PUBLIC SCHOOL. It must it will answer the call for a safer, truer, nobler citizenship.

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