Over the years I have developed and refined my concepts of fire loss management. The following excerpt from my memoirs of my Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) career tells how this started:
Before we got into WWII, the director of a Belgian Congo mining monopoly, had, on his own, shipped tons of high-grade uranium ore to Staten Island. At nearby Middlesex, New Jersey, the “Madison Square Area” of the Army Corps of Engineers (the predecessor of the AEC) had taken over a two-story sprinklered building as a sampling plant, where a typical ore sampling process took place to determine the price of each batch of ore.
In 1949, I joined the fledgling AEC as assistant chief of safety and fire prevention. I was informed that we had a public relations problem with the local volunteer fire department. They had responded to a small fire at the plant. The Army had locked the volunteers in the plant, made them fill out six-page PSQs (security forms), and threatened to draft them and send them to Alaska.
I went to see the chief. I explained that we (AEC) were a new regime. (All government agencies should be abolished and reorganized every five years so that all mistakes can be blamed on the departed.) I learned that they had a foam nozzle but no foam concentrate. We had the only oil fire hazard in town.
I ordered a hundred dollars of foam concentrate to be shipped to the plant. I had done this sort of thing many times at Norfolk for public fire departments. I was never particular as to which branch of the taxpayers benefitted. Somebody started a brouhaha: “Brannigan is giving away government property to friends of his.” The manager called a staff meeting.
Our attorney pontificated. “We are in the Borough of Middlesex. They must give us fire protection. We give them nothing. That is the LAW.” (It is not a law but a GAO rule that the government finds convenient. It became a cropper after the St. Louis records center fire. Now, by a tortuous process, the government will reimburse fire departments for out-of-pocket expenses.)
Bill Kelley, the manager, a hardheaded construction engineer, turned to me and said,
“What do you say to that, Frank.”
I replied, “It is a rainy, snowy, nasty night. The bullhorn blows Box 42, for the ‘government plant. ‘The volunteer firefighter turns over in bed and says, ‘P—s on the government plant.’ What do we do now?”
Said Kelley, “Give them the foam.”
We did, and improved relations with the community.
We rehabilitated the sprinkler system.
We instructed the guards in proper actions.
In short, we arranged that a fire would be an incident and not a disaster.
Shortly thereafter, there was another fire from the identical cause. The fire department responded promptly. The fire was extinguished.
Now I had a problem: The loss was about $75. All losses over $50 had to be reported to the Federal Fire Council. I was getting abused by Washington for not having PREVENTED the fire. I explained that we could have spent a fortune and not prevented the fire, but that we had set up a system to MANAGE any fire that occurred so that the loss would be acceptable and in line with other production losses. That was too advanced a concept for Headquarters at that time.
The second fire had started exactly as the previous one had. A large bulb was used in a trouble light too large to be protected by a guard. The extension cord was coiled and hung on a fiberboard wall. The switch was on the floor below. A watchman lit all the lights and then put them out. He missed the switch controlling the trouble light he couldn’t see.
The plant was run by an ex-Army sergeant named Ben Klevinger . When I arrived the morning of the fire, I noted that there was a sprinkler head directly over the extension cord hanger. I wondered aloud how the fire had spread so far down the wall. Ben said, “If we’ re going to have all the @#$% &* fires in the same @& place, we’ re going to have a @# % $& sprinkler head over the fire. “He repiped the sprinkler system that morning and put it back in service. My kind of guy.
I explained my problem. Ben removed the stub of pencil from behind his ear and figured on a scrap of paper. “We used laborers, not carpenters; the wood was scrap; … the final loss is $47.53. “
A couple of years later I was giving my fire loss management program throughout the AEC.
In developing the program, I put together almost 200 pages of notes. Much of that material will be included in this new series, which we’ 11 call, not surprisingly, “Fire Loss Management .”
-Francis L. Brannigan