FIRE DRILLS AS PROTECTION TO YOUNG WORKERS
Roscoe Pound, Dean of the Harvard Law School, has said: “The greatest thought of this century is the transference of value from property to humanity.” We believe this to be true for we see political parties, churches, and even insurance organizations, more and more ready to consider human welfare. Miss Perkins’ impressive appeal of last year, as well as my own opportunity to-day, makes good your transference of value. For a few minutes I want to emphasize the need of fire drill in factories and stores where young persons are working. Human nature is human nature still, even when housed in concrete and iron with automatic sprinklers above and below, in a city with an efficient fire department and a municipal department of fire protection and public safety. Young people working in crowded factory rooms, three to twentythree stories above the street, make a serious problem even in a fireproof building with all the fire prevention apparatus at work. America has over three million female worker wage earners over ten years of age, and we can safely say the mass are under 18, and nearly 200,000 children at work in mills and factories. Chicago alone has nearly five thousand wage-earning children under 16 years of age, easily excited yet capable of growing habits of mind and action. Chicago has also 116,505 female workers over sixteen and approximately under twenty and for our purpose they may be classified as girl workers. These with the children wage earners present our problem. These young workers are in fire provoking industries, such as clothing, millinery, lace making, box making, printing and publishing. They are excitable and naturally nervous, but can easily be drilled to a habit of action. Great numbers in the cities work in establishments that are not responsive to any new demand that asks for even a small amount of time or money. It is said by labor statisticians that 73 per cent, of the “Women Workers north of Mason and Dixon line do not get a living wage.” As one woman said to me: “Not enough to be sick or to die on.” To protect the lives and health of these voting persons is the duty of society, and that means of business also. After the Triangle waist factory fire Chicago passed one of the best ot the municipal ordinances for a Fire Prevention Bureau, having a compulsory fire drill clause that had been urged by many civic organizations and especially by the committee from the Women’s Trade Union League. This ordinance required fire drills in theatres, schools, department stores and mercantile buildings three, or more, stories in height in which forty or more persons were employed above the second floor. This provision for compulsory fire drill was based upon the belief that even in the Asche building, which was fireproof (for it was said that the building stood intact and that the firemen walked over the floors a few hours after the fire), many of those 140 young lives might have been saved by the fire drill, which prevents panic from fear and nervous excitement. It seems hardly necessary to cite the success of fire drills in schools, but it may be well to remind ourselves of the fires where many lives might have been saved if the habit of self-control had been established by the fire brigade and fire drill. I have been told that loss of life might have been avoided if fire drills had been practiced in the following: Union Paper Box Co., Pittsburgh, Pa.. October 25th, 1915. 13 lives were lost. Diamond Building. N. Y., November 6th, 1915. Thirteen lives were lost. Mr. Georee W. Price, M. D., Director of Joint Board of Sanitary Control of New York City, says. “I am convinced that the maintenance of fire drills among workers in factories teaches the workers the ordinary means of exit, a proper conduct during panics, an orderly manner of exit in case of fire, and a spirit of confidence in the possibility of escape during fires. 1 know of several cases where small fires have occurred and where, were it not for the orderly exit of employees trained by the fire drills, much confusion and probable injury to the workers might have ensued.” That Chicago has not had any recent experience, is not saying it cannot have, for we have any number of buildings wherein the loss of lives might be far in excess of any of the eastern holocausts. One point I desire to mention is that in the short time that we were enforcing the fire drill ordinance, we had one example of the value of this type of protection in a building on Ashland avenue, occupied by a clothing manufacturing firm employing approximately one hundred and twenty-five persons. This building was of ordinary joist construction. The fire started over the heating plant. The alarm was sounded and the fire brigade responded and extinguished the blaze while the rest of the employees left the building in safety. The fire drill clause in our city ordinance has been nullified by a case brought before the Illinois Supreme Court. The court made its decision on a technicality. The City Fire Prevention Bureau tells me that since our ordinance was nullified the local fire alarm systems in practically all of the buildings where they were needed the most have not been taken care of, whereas in the better grade of buildings, occupied by reliable manufacturers, the fire alarm systems are kept in shipshape condition, fire drills are practiced and monthly reports submitted to this Bureau the same as though the ordinance still held. At the time they had been enforcing this ordinance they experienced very little difficulty as a rule in obtaining compliance with this chapter of the Fire Prevention Ordinance. Unless I am badly mistaken, I believe that the public and the average employer in general is in sympathy with the most important safety measure, even though they sometimes hesitate when they discover that it is going to entail a little expense and time. Before the Supreme Court decree the very efficient city fire prevention engineer, without friction, organized drills in 130 factories, most of them in four-story buildings of cheap construction practically. It is these small manufacturers that need just this help in organizing fire drills, and there the danger is greatest for since the Supreme Court decision they arc under no compulsion to prevent that danger. Before they were willing and friendly after the city fire drill engineer had instructed them. The loss of time occasioned by fire drill practice is certainly very small, as only about six minutes, once a month, is all that is required. It would be rather difficult for me to state just what that time would amount to in dollars and cents. However, as the majority of employees in the manufacturing plants do piece work, you can readily appreciate that the cost to the company would be very little. One of the largest clothing manufacturers says it takes about six minutes a month, seventytwo minutes a year and the cost is so small as not to be worth mentioning. Perhaps I need not suggest to the business mind that the fire drill will be an economy in the end, a saving in insurance rates as well as compensation for injury to employees. To the young wage earners who have “not enough to be sick on” it is a serious thing to be an invalid.