A Sure Way to Put Across Fire Prevention Successfully Is to Treat It from the Standpoint of the Danger to Human Life

PUBLIC indifference is the greatest handicap that the fire departments and the cause of Fire Protection has to face today in the United States. Despite the efforts of scores of different organizations the fire loss continues to climb. Only this week a paper in my own city commented editorially on this and asked why this loss kept climbing. I notice in an advance copy of the program of the annual meeting of the National Fire Protection Association to be held at Atlantic City, that one of the questions is, “Why do not Fire Prevention Efforts produce more results?” Each one perhaps has his own answer, and each his own remedy, but all of us will agree that public indifference is perhaps, the greatest handicap. So far we have endeavored to overcome this indifference by emphasizing the loss of property. Intelligent, interesting and continuous work has been done and in a considerable volume. One needs only to look over the work of the various associations to realize how wide-spread this influence is.

The work of the International Associations of Fire Engineers and all of the local fire chiefs’ organizations, the efforts of the Association of Municipal Electricians, the National Fire Protection Association, the Engineers of the National Board and Underwriters’ Laboratories and the Fire Marshals’ Association has been of real value. The local work of the fire departments, newspapers, Chambers of Commerce has helped to spread the doctrine. The editorial work of FIRE AND WATER ENGINEERING and other fire extinguishing and fire protection journals has been of help, as has been the educational work being done through the publicity of business concerns selling apparatus for fire signaling, fire prevention and fire extinguishing, yet the loss climbs up. Certainly it is not because intelligence has not been displayed in the educational work. Certainly it is not because there has not been sufficient volume.

Why is it? Frankly it seems to me that the answer is psychological. The appeal to the American people has not been made on the proper basis. The American people are willing to take a chance on anything—fire included. When we talk to them about the danger of property loss instinctively we are appealing to their gambling spirit. They are willing to take a chance and do and the result is an ever-climbing fire loss. They figure that they are protected by insurance. They overlook, of course, the fact that these losses cannot be completely replaced by insurance, but it is hard to stir them from their indifference. You can, however, get the quick attention of the American people by an appeal on humanitarian grounds. Emphasize the loss of life rather than the loss of property and you will find a greatly increased interest in the fire department, fire protection, fire signaling and fire extinguishing.

Saving life has a dramatic interest that saving property never can have. Saving life deals with human beings, saving property with inanimate objects. Watch your neighbors carefully as they read their papers and see which it is that gets their attention. The story of some man or woman, perhaps obscure, grips them closely while an account of some extremely worth while movement leaves them cold.

The fathers and mothers of America may turn an indifferent shoulder to you when you talk of the millions that are burning, but phase your story so that it affects them personally and you will get interest and action. Show them that the lives of their children are endangered by indifference regarding schools, that the lives of their husbands and brothers are exposed because of neglect in factories, that their whole family may be endangered from fires in the homes, the theatres, the hotels and public buildings and you will get a return from this fire protection work of which you have never dreamed.

Preach the doctrine of saving life and you will be preaching the doctrine of saving property in its most effective form. Saving life is the greatest service the firemen of the country can render to us. Emphasize this and the fire department will be looked upon with fuller respect than they now receive. Emphasize this and the appropriations for the fire departments which today are vetoed or postponed will be approved gladly.

There are sufficient organizations in the United States to put this idea over, get it accepted and substantially reduce the loss of life and the loss of property. The list given at the beginning of this article is extensive, but by no means complete.

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