Chicago Planning Fira Prevention

Chicago Planning Fira Prevention

A comparison is frequently made between Chicago and Berlin in the matter of losses by fire. The population of the two cities being approximately the same, it is shown that the fire loss per capita in Berlin is only one-tenth that of Chicago, and the cost of maintaining fire departments is in about the same ratio. Speakers and writers on this subject call attention to the carelessness of the American people as compared with the greater regard for the property rights of one’s neighbor evidenced in the practises and the laws of the German capital, and some go so far as to state that the prosperity and welfare of the American people is seriously threatened by the constantly increasing fire waste, which is said to have averaged $260,000,000 per year for the past five years, and for the year 1912 to show an average of nearly $30,000,000 per month. 1 believe that it is the duty of a municipality to protect the lives and property of its citizens against loss by fire, and that this protection is quite as essential as proper protection against contagious diseases and similar menaces to the public health, as well as other features entering into the public welfare. Fire departments are maintained for this purpose, building laws and ordinances are enacted, fire limits are prescribed, and here in Chicago at the present time we have in contemplation the establishment of a special bureau of fire prevention to deal with many phases of this subject, which do not or cannot come within the scope of the duties of present municipal officers. At the same time I wish to point out what I believe to be the one underlying cause for the disproportionate losses by fire in American cities. No one has a greater admiration than I have for the thrift of the German people or the orderliness of German municipalities, but we must not lose sight of the fact that the average European city was not built in 75 years Chicago, which has grown to its present size in this comparatively short period, could not possibly have attained its present size and importance as a city if from the outset it had attempted to follow those precautions which we at the present time recognize as necessary. To have attempted to limit the central business section of the city to none but fireproof structures before the great fire of 1871 would have been futile. Since Chicago was rebuilt, following the fire, we have seen another entire rebuilding of the central business section, utilizing improved methods of construction, and I do not doubt that this will in turn give way to something offering even greater conveniences and safety to the inhabitants. Progress is necessary to transform the small frame stores lining two sides of a single street into the modern city of steel and concrete and brick and stone, and this progress must often come through the scourge of fire. For otherwise much of the old timber must remain as a menace to surrounding property and stay the advance of improvement. It is indeed a heavy tax that we pay for rebuilding our cities through loss by fire, and it is to be hoped that modern building construction and methods are sufficiently stable so that future improvements will take place through other agencies. As a means to this end it should be the aim of every municipal officer to increase the efficiency of his city’s fire defense. Of recent years there has been great improvement in fire-fighting apparatus, which should be recognized and utilized. The separate high pressure fire service system of water supply has been adopted more or less completely by a number of cities, and here in Chicago we are endeavoring to put this movement forward in connection with our subway and other problems of underground construction. We have a new, and what we believe to be a comprehensive, building code, in a proper enforcement of which we are determined to proceed. The enforcement of adequate building regulations and the equipment of premises with first-aid appliances is essential in connection with all large establishments, and particularly in those places where large numbers of people congregate. You gentlemen are thoroughly informed in reference to the necessity of fireproof construction, proper fire signaling systems. and all of the other items which go to make up efficient fire protection, and I understand have specifications in detail covering all of these subjects, which are very largely utilized by the recognized authorities. It seems best to me, therefore, simply to impress you and your associates that Chicago is, as I doubt not other cities are, endeavoring to solve these problems for the benefit of the city and the citizens as a whole. Opposition is always in evidence to any plans which make for increased taxation or which seem to put a burden upon the cost of building construction, or which call for renovation of structures at one time accepted or permitted under former building ordinances. Civic betterment along all lines is the constant endeavor of many earnest men. We are endeavoring to bring about the city beautiful, and we are likewise working for the city safe. We know that we have the city healthful, and we arc certain that Chicago’s location is unsurpassed.

*Address at the sixteenth annual meeting of the National Fire Protection Association. Chicago. May 14th, 1912, by Hon Carter H. Harrison, Mayor of Chicago.

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