Chief Taber Broadcasts to Industrial Fire Departments
Emphasizes Necessity for Co-operation Between the City and Plant Departments—Always Call the City Department in Case of Fire
ON July 3, Chief John O. Taber, broadcasted an address by radio from the Mason Street engine house in Boston, Mass., on the subject of “Plant Protection.” This address was listened to by thousands all over the New England States and no doubt by many more remote parts of the eastern section of the country. At the same time Fire Commissioner Theodore R. Glynn spoke extemporaneously on the subject of “Patriotic Firemen.” Chief Taber’s address follows:
It isn’t very often that I get the opportunity to speak to such a large group of people. Inasmuch as my topic for this evening is “Plant Protection”, I will take it for granted that there are many persons among the listeners-in who are associated in some capacity or another with industrial plants in some form.
You men have the opportunity to help the fire department. Let me tell you how. If you will think a moment, you will agree with me that every fire is the same size at the start—in other words, there is a time in the life of every fire when a tum’bler of water will extinguish it. From that moment on the size of the fire increases very rapidly, and it is not many minutes before it is going to take hundreds of gallons of water to put it out, and then not many minutes more before it is going to take thousands of gallons of water, and after that not many minutes before it is going to take hundreds of thousands of gallons of water. All of this in an industrial plant means property damage, curtailment of production, and interruption of employment.
Have Employees Familiar with Location of Boxes
Now the fire department wants to get to your fire and every other fire at the earliest possible stage of the fire. To enable fire departments to do this, every known electrical and mechanical means to save seconds is employed—to save seconds after the hook is pulled in the fire alarm box. But what of the time before the hook is pulled in the fire alarm box? That is up to you gentlemen! Boiled down to hard pan, what I want every one of you to do is this. On Thursday morning find out the location of the nearest fire alarm box to your plan. Don’t take some one’s word that there is a fire alarm box on a certain corner—go and look at it yourself. Then gradually as you can do so, send your sub-foremen and other employees to look at that box. It isn’t enough to tell them it is there—have them go and see it and get it impressed upon their memory. Next, detail certain men whose duty it is in case of the discovery of a fire in the plant to go and pull that box without any further instruction. Don’t leave the duty to any one man—he may be sick the day you have the fire or he may drop dead running to the box. You’ll have to arrange it to suit the individual size of your plant, but be on the side of safety and remember that when that fire comes, it is better to have six men racing for the box than not to have any. You’ll say that isn’t efficiency to have six men doing what one could do. It isn’t in ordinary matters, but in fire matters you can’t have too large a factor of safety.
Call City Fire Department At Once
Now another thing. You may have your own private department and no doubt it is a good one and in nine cases out of ten it will have the fire out before we get there. Never mind that, however, just pull that box for every fire you have, no matter how small—that’s what fire departments are for. Don’t be afraid of calling us. We won’t scold you a bit for calling us out for what has turned out to be a needless alarm. On the other hand, we’ll pat you on the back and say “You did just the right thing, Mr. Superintendent.” That’s the way you can best help and co-operate with us by letting us know of every fire you have in just as few seconds as you can after it is discovered.
Detail Men to Inform Chief on Building
One other thing. Make it the duty of two or three men who know the physical layout of the plant to report to the chief when he gets to the fire and advise him of the nature of the inside of the building, what is stored there, what openings there are in the floors, where the stairways are. Don’t try to all talk at once. Simply tell him you are familiar with the physical layout of the plant and are there to give him any information he may want.
I will close my talk on “Plant Protection” by saying that the loss of human life in this country through causes other than natural death is appalling —fire stands high on the list of factors causing this loss of life. A great proportion of this loss of life from fire causes is preventable—hardly a loss of life is morally excusable.
Before concluding my talk for this evening I want to discuss two important topics, “Carelessness” and “Schoolhouses.” Now when I tell you that more than two-thirds of our fires are caused by carelessness — plain every-day carelessness — you will see why I complain.
Fires from Carelessness of Smokers
Gentlemen, I am an inveterate smoker myself, and so I am not condemning smoking, but do be careful what you do with your lighted cigars and cigarettes and pipes, and the matches with which you light them. Carelessness in their handling has cost this country thousands and thousands of lives and millions and millions of property. We know that the lives cannot be replaced, but all of us do not realize that property destroyed by fire is gone; just so much value gone front the face of the earth. The most striking example of this sort of carelessness that I can think of at this minute was the Windsor Hotel fire in New York some years ago. A smoker snapped a lighted match towards a window, the lace curtains caught fire, and when the death toll had been counted, fifteen human lives had been snuffed out. Just think of it; one little match carelessly snapped towards the widow.
Fires in Schoolhouses
At the outset I want to mention one class of buildings that I believe should be built in every detail, so far as possible, of non-combustible material without regard to expense; that class of buildings is our schoolhouses. I don’t know anything about your schoolhouses, gentlemen, but I am willing to hazard a guess that they don’t furnish all the prevention and protection they should to those little lives that are so valuable to you.
Gentlemen, if you are going to store your household furniture, you are probably very careful to select a fireproof storage warehouse. What about your children? Have you ever thought about where you store them for five or six hours a day for five days a week for thirty or forty weeks a year? Your household goods can be covered with insurance at a small cost, and replaced if destroyed. Your household goods are not thrown into a panic if they are surrounded with smoke. But those little lives can never be replaced if they are suffocated out by smoke or trodden out by panic, and that is what any fire in a schoolhouse is very apt to mean—smoke and panic.
Gentlemen, have you any idea whether your child has any proper drill in leaving the school building in case of fire? One little actual incident in my own experience will illustrate this. I went into a wooden schoolhouse one day—a three-story building in which there were several hundred children. Unbeknown to anyone I sounded the fire call, and took out my watch to time the exit. In due time one teacher and her class appeared and filed out. I waited for the other classes. None came. Finally I went upstairs and into a class room. A lesson was going on. I beckoned to the teacher and asked her if she had not heard the fire call. “Oh, yes,” she said, “but we only have fire drill at five minutes of twelve.” And, gentlemen, this happened only a few days after the great tragedy in the Collingwood School in Cleveland, Ohio. I have no bones to pick with the schoolmasters or the school teachers, but I have no sympathy with a system which prescribes a fire drill at a certain time and through a certain door.
Consult the Chief on School Building Appropriation
Gentlemen, I beg of you as you love your children, when it comes time to pass a school building appropriation, take the chief of your fire department into your confidence, and don’t let a little matter of a dollar a thousand on your taxes stand in the way of providing every possible ounce of prevention and protection. Don’t feel satisfied that your building laws, your architect, and your school committee will provide all you want. Call the chief in; it is not theory with him; it is actual experience either of himself or of his fellow chiefs throughout the country.
You can repair or rebuild your schoolhouses after a fire, but you can never repair that crippled little child or rebuild that little life that was lost, and the life of one child is worth infinitely more to you than the cost of any school house that was ever built.