Federal Focus on Fire Ready to Start
The Editor’s Opinion Page
The United States military casualties in Southeast Asia from January 1, 1961 until October 7, 1972 totaled 45,882 deaths and 153, 206 wounded. In this same period civilian fire deaths totaled approximately 144,000 and fire injuries reached a fantastic 3,600,000. There is no need to elaborate on the attention our Vietnam casualties received and the turmoil they created in our country. Almost everyone—finally—made it loud and clear that the carnage was unacceptable. But what attention did our civilian fire carnage get, and what turmoil did it create? Very little and practically nothing are the sad answers.
Our people seem to have a built-in indifference to fire and its consequences. To them, fire has always been something that happens to the other guy, a vague problem that one rendered some lip service to during Fire Prevention Week and a cause for grumbling when the fire department budget was increased.
Why this is so is beyond us. Our people are not indifferent to crime—particularly street crime—and its consequences. Through their representatives at the local, state and federal levels they have seen to it—demanded, in fact—that the forces against crime be beefed up and “don’t worry about the cost.” Yet, the deaths and injuries occurring from crime don’t even remotely approach those from fire.
Perhaps, the fragmenting of our fire suppression and fire prevention efforts provides the reason. We have organizations at the state, city, town, village, regional area and military levels, plus the federal government, all working on the fire problem. What we have needed for a long time is a concentration of efforts—a focus—that could tie all the fragments together. And it looks like we might be going to get it at last.
The report (starting on the next page) to President Nixon by the National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control, which was two years in the making, proposes a U.S. Fire Administration “to provide a national focus” for the fire problem. This administration would collect and analyze data, provide bloc grants to states for disbursement to local governments, and provide improved training and education.
We said “might” above, because the commission’s report is only the beginning of a long—hopefully not too long-process which will eventually turn the report into law. Several bills will be, or have been introduced, all sparked by the commission’s report. We favor the “Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1973,” which will be introduced by Congressman Wright Patman (D-Texas) and Senator Warren G. Magnuson (D-Washington).
A digest of the act appears elsewhere in these pages. We urge our readers to back it up vocally and in writing to their own representatives in Washington and to other members of Congress on the various committees which will have a big say in it.