Costly Carelessness Eliminated by Education Measures
From “Make Pennsylvania Fireproof”
WASTE of life and property by fire has for years been a heavy burden on the people of the State of Pennsylvania, the cost of insurance and protection has constantly increased and will not materially decrease until the fire waste decreases, declares Howard E. Butz, Chief of Bureau of Fire Protection, Dept, of State Police, in the monthly Bulletin, “Make Pennsylvania Fireproof,” issue of November, 1919. No subject, he continues, should so fully arouse the general public to its own interest as that of the prevention of fires, which heretofore, have been looked upon as a visitation that was unavoidable. This waste is preventable and controllable by the concerted action of State and municipal officials by proper regulation, and the co-operation of the people at large. This can be accomplished by a movement for the education of the public as to fire waste. Education should commence with the children in schools, of which there are approximately 1,500,000 in Pennsylvania, and they should be instructed in fire drills and the chemistry of fire. Lessons should be simple and cover the proper and improper use of matches, kerosene oil and oil stoves, gasoline and gasoline stoves, oil lamps, wicks and chimneys, stoves and stove pipes, heaters, fireplaces and grates, the proper making and keeping of fires, construction and care of chimneys, the effect of sparks on shingle roofs, prevention and remedy, care of hot ashes, cause and effect of leaking gas, its danger and prevention, the possibility of grease, oil and oily rags causing spontaneous combustion; electricity, showing the dangers of defective wiring; how to celebrate a sane and safe Fourth of July, and dangers arising at Christmas holidays from the use of flimsy decorations, and lastly lessons in fire fighting.
The field for this work is ready and should be used, and its success means the attaining of active allies in fire prevention. Educate the children and in most communities the parents who have given no attention to this important subject will fall in line, and thus a vast army enlisted to fight for clean, wasteless, trashless communities will have been established, with an efficiency of greater magnitude than all the laws that can be enacted could produce. An educational campaign designed for success requires constant thought and active work to be far-reaching in effect and must be undertaken with a determination and object to carry it into every home and to enlist every individual as a worker and advocate for the prevention of fires.
Exhibitions by means of moving pictures or stereopticon should be given with lectures, calling the attention of the audience to the exact condition in their own locality, as compared with localities where the work for prevention is progressing, pointing out where improvements can be made by removal or repair of dilapidated buildings and the destruction of rubbish or other matter of inflammable nature.
Chambers of commerce, boards of trade, village improvement associations, which are generally composed of the public-spirited citizens who have the welfare of their community in view, if not already established, should be formed and invited to participate and aid in this great and beneficial work which means so much for public welfare.
Citizens, irrespective of their positions in a community, are directly and indirectly interested in fire prevention, and should give special encouragement and assistance in this work as they have both a selfish and public interest in the matter. Their selfish interest being the reduction in insurance rates, and their public interest the good of the community in which they live. Cleanliness, improvement and repairs to property and the protection of lives must surely appeal to everyone to put forth their best efforts for prevention of fires and the saving of lives and property.
While educating the public in fire prevention, the matter of proper fire protection and the training of those charged with fire fighting should not be neglected, but should be given close attention, not only in so far as apparatus is concerned, but to the sufficiency of the water supply, proper location of hydrants, and an adequate alarm system that will enable absolute knowledge of the exact location of a fire. In addition to the duty of fighting fires and of equal, if not more importance, should be the prevention of fires, which means the saving of thousands of dollars in the reduction in loss of property and the lessening in the cost of insurance. Members of fire companies should be instructed and the citizens of the community should make it a matter of such interest to them that the individual members of fire companies will familiarize themselves with the construction of the buildings in their respective districts, by frequent inspection of the same and report to the proper official as to the conditions of buildings, and whether by reason of their condition they are a fire menace and situated so as to endanger other property. Also report should be made of the accumulation of trash or rubbish in or around buildings that might cause fire, and action should at once be taken to have the same removed and destroyed, and the buildings or places put in a clean and safe condition.
Fire prevention should be the slogan of every fire company and work along that line should be vigorously pushed. The preparedness of companies for emergencies should not be neglected and some special member should be delegated to frequently see that pipes are properly flushed and that in winter time that hydrants do not freeze. A little attention, in this direction, may be the means of preventing what otherwise might be a great loss of property.
You are probably familiar with the per capita fire loss in this country amounting in 1918 to $2.63 as compared with the average of 30 cents per capita in Europe, no doubt you have sought the reason for so great a difference. The construction of buildings in Europe are mostly of brick or stone, and in this country of wood, is one reason. The methods of obtaining insurance and the strict inspection of property to be insured, and the investigation of fires previous to the payment, by the insurance company to the insured, and the practicably impossibility of over insurance, which is a great incentive for the burning of many properties in this country, is another and a very important reason.
Consideration should be given by every community in its endeavors to prevent loss by fire to proper building laws prohibiting in so far as possible the erection of any structure, other than those built of fire resisting material. Architects estimate that at the present price of building material, fireproof structures can be erected at a cost not to exceed ten or fifteen per cent more than non-fireproof structures. When considering that the deterioration of fireproof buildings is about one per cent as against four per cent of ordinary buildings, that they rent better, that money can be borrowed on them on easier terms, that the insurance is less, that they are vermin proof, cool in summer and warm in winter, it can readily be appreciated that it is much better and of self interest to build a fireproof building rather than one of a non-fireproof construction.
Thousands of business men fail to safeguard their property, which strict economy and industry have created, nor do they give a thought to the protection of the lives of their employes. They probably carry insurance and in case of fire except to be refinanced from that source. But no insurance can restore lost trade, which becomes scattered as the inevitable result of fire loss. Nor can insurance bring to life the victims of the terrible scourge.
Fire prevention, fire insurance and business are closely related to each other, but, usually thought is expended on the latter disregarding prevention entirely. Business could not be conducted without fire insurance, if an attempt was made to do so, credit would be cut off as insurance is essential, being the basis of commercial credit and security back of all bonds and mortgages. Insurance being simply the indemnification for loss through fire funds contributed to others, or in other words, a large number of persons contribute small sums in order that such of them that would otherwise lose a larger amount through fire would receive in whole or part, the amount of their loss. Many manufacturers and merchants are under-insured and excuse themselves for neglect in carrying sufficient insurance on the excessive premium rates. Let fire prevention Ire before you in the conduct of your business, no matter how large or small it may be. For your activity in the prevention of fires means a reduction in insurance rates, as rates are based on the condition of property and surrounding, including construction of buildings, occupancy, water supply, lighting, area, police symstem, fire department, night watchman, pavements and width of and condition of street. You can aid in the reduction in premiums by assisting and improving your city and the condition of your own property. Remove fire hazards and introduce fire preventive and protective measures, in order to eliminate destruction by fire.
Benjamin Franklin said, that “Neglect taxes us more heavily than necessity.” Whether he was alluding to his own period of life, or looking way off in the future, his words are especially applicable when consideration is given to the stupendous waste confronting us today. This loss cost the country in 1918 the enormous sum of $290,000,000. Of this amount $12,000,000 was right here in Pennsylvania, and of this sum sixty-five per cent., or $7,800,000 of this waste was caused by carelessness and neglect. When we consider that this wastage of resources means a per capita tax on the entire population of the country of two dollars and sixty-three cents each per year, as against about thirty cents per capita tax in Europe, it should astound us with the comparison, and arouse into activity every one in effort to reduce the fire loss which is causing the drain on the national wealth of the country.
In Belgrade, the capital of the little Balkan Kingdom of Servia, a city of 100,000 people, the fire loss for ten years was but twelve cents per capita. Is this not worth being thought over and used as an example to profit by? What has been done there, should surely, with our improved facilities for fighting fire and for prevention, be accomplished in this country.
The fire waste in the United States is costing more daily than the entire army and navy, and in a fortnight we burn up enough property to pay a year’s interest on the cost of the Panama Canal. The average tax, to pay the interest on the whole debt of the government, is only twenty-five cents a year, so that the fire waste eats up, in one year, the interest for twelve years. Beside the great property loss, in the tremendous waste, about 15,000 lives are sacrificed and 5,000 perosns injured annually, which must be looked upon as seriously reflecting on the laws, the utter carelessness, indifference, unpreparedness or neglect on the part of those charged with safeguarding the lives of those unable to protect themselves, and especially applicable to those who are compelled by necessity to labor in buildings, which are neither adapted to the use they are put to, and are overcrowded with workers by the avaricious owners to lessen expenses, and fire drills and preparedness in cases of emergencies are unknown or neglected in the observance by being entirely ignored. The time has come when drastic action mast be taken to make it a costly proposition to the owners or tenants of buildings, neglecting to comply with the rules of safety or ordinances enacted for the protection of the working people. This will not be accomplished until the man who has a fire ceases to be regarded as an unfortunate, and is looked upon as a public offender.
Individual responsibility for loss by fire seems drastic in its operations to the ordinary citizen, but such restraint must be enforced if the number of fires are to be reduced. It every occupant of a building is answerable financially for any loss his neighbor may sustain, caused by fire in his property, there would be a stampede for protection and the conflagration hazards would quickly disappear.
There is nothing revolutionary in the idea that an individual sohuld be responsible to others for his acts.
It does not rest with Americans, however, to make primary application of this principle in the manner indicated, for the French have long so applied it with admirable results. There are no special laws in France relating to fire inquests, yet an inquiry by the police is made into every fire in cities and towns and in the country districts by the gendarmerie. The responsibility of a man for fire damage to his neighbors lies not in any special enactment, but in the interpretation of two short sections of the Code Napoleon, which code of laws prevails especially in France and Belgium, and forms the basis for the modern law in most Latin countries.
The sections referred to are as follws:
Article 1382: Every person is responsible and liable for any acts of his by which any other person has or may have sustained any loss, damages or injury.
Artcie 1383: Every person is responsible for loss, damage or injury caused by his own act, carelessness or negligence.
Responsibility, as it relates to fire, is called in France the neighbor’s risk. It is universal and applied to landlord and tenant alike. If a fire starts in any premises through gross carelessness or culpable fault, all damage done to neighboring property at that fire must be made good. There is no limit to this liability, which may extend to an entire block in case of conflagration. The only point in the application of the law by which such offender may escape, is that the burden of prof lies with the neighbor making the claim. The latter must be able to prove, before he can recover damages, that the fire w’as directly due to gross carelessness, culpable neglect or mischievious intent.
There are also two articles in the French Code which apply specifically to fires. These undoubtedly originated with the landlord. They read:
Article 1733: The tenant is responsible for a fire on his premises unless he can prove, that the fire was caused by something beyond his control, by some fault in building, or that the fire was communicated by a neighboring building.
Article 1734: If there are a number of tenants all are alike responsible unless they can prove that the fire caught in the apartment occupied by one of them, in which case, he alone is responsible, or unless some one of them prove that the fire did not begin in his apartment, in which case he is not responsible.
The tenant having a fire is responsible to the landlord for loss of rent, not only his own rent, but that of other tenants.
Fire losses can be described under three heads. Lightning, Carelessness and Design. All preventable, providing perfect co-operation exists between officials and the general public, and their work is in harmony and consistently performed.
Of the first cause, Lightning, statistics gathered from any sources, show that the proper redding of buildings reduces the loss from this cause about ninety per cent. (90%). The Department is advocating and advising the rodding of buildings and has met with much encouragement, and will continue to fight for prevention of loss from this source, along this line.
Of the second cause, Carelessness, it is shown that sixty-five per cent. (65%) of all the fires occurring are from carelessness and also preventable, but yet, the hardest to combat, owing to the apparent disinteredness on the part of the general public, and it is to reach this public that extraordinary efforts must be put forth if the fire waste is to be appreciably reduced.
Of the third cause, Design, it can be divided into three classes. First, maliciousness or revenge, there being but a few of this class. Second, insanity, known as pyromania. Third, burning of property for personal gain through the collection of insurance money, these being the majority and can be attributed to numerous reasons, as over-insurance, adverse circumstances, financial embarrassment, family disputes, and where quick sales are necessary, even though it be at a loss. The punishment accorded persons guilty of this crime should be of the severest nature, as it is always premeditated and there is no hesitancy in jeopardizing the lives and property of others in the perpretation of the deed.
There is no crime more difficult to detect than that of arson. The obtainance of evidence being an ardous task, requiring time, patience, hard work and expense. After establishing the fact beyond a question of doubt in the mind of the investigating officer, it is difficult to secure indictment before a grand jury and doubly hard to secure a conviction, owing to the lack of interest or indifference of many of the prosecuting officers and courts when cases are brought before them. Some juries will not give the Commonwealth’s side of the case fair consideration, being made to believe by the defendant’s attorney that the Bureau of Fire Protection is simply an adjunct of insurance companies and that a rich corporation is trying to avoid payment of a claim, and in other cases, the suspect is known to a number of jurors and they have their minds made up before the trial. Many of the civil officers do not lend their aid as they should in assisting in the endeavors to better conditions. Such officers are doing injustice to their community, as the Bureau of Fire Protection is putting forth every effort for the benefit of the public, with no selfish motives to serve, and by the monhtly distributions of bulletins throughout the Commonwealth is trying to educate the people to the duty they owe themselves, that of the prevention of fires and conservation of resources.
The Public Press, which forms one of the greatest educational forces in the country in the effort to disseminate knowdedge in the crusade for fire prevention, recognizes that the movement is for the public good and it is responding, and through its columns much good is being accomplished against this unnecessary waste of lives and property.