Fire Prevention Best As a Local Function
The Editor’s Opinion Page
We have always felt that fire prevention was a local function and one that could be best handled by the local fire department in cooperation, of course, with the local population. But it’s no easy job.
If you approached a hundred people at random and asked each one if he had ever had a fire in his house, chances are the answer would be “no,” 98 out of 100 times. To those 98, fire has never been a problem and they are therefore almost completely indifferent to the hazards of fire. How to break down this indifference is the biggest problem facing those engaged in fire prevention education. But it is a problem that must be solved and any attempt made is a step in the right direction.
Such a step was taken recently by the Albuquerque Fire Department—reported on elsewhere in this issue. At first glance the Albuquerque program seems rather run-of-the-mill, one using 35mm slides to demonstrate fire hazards and fire protection to employees of large commercial and institutional facilities. But the slides are not a canned presentation. They focus attention on fire hazards and protection devices found in the buildings of the particular firm or institution involved.
As one Albuquerque inspector put it, “We needed some way to show people working in a particular building such hazards as fire doors blocked open, or poorly marked exits, but couldn’t take them to see these hazards just due to the large number of people involved. Then we hit upon the idea of taking the hazards to the people through the use of 35mm slides.” The slides, of course, were made from photos taken by members of the Fire Prevention Bureau.
In another part of the country, the Dallas Fire Department also carried a message to its citizens—this time on a much larger scale and in the area of arson. Back in 1977, incendiary fires were responsible for 30.3 percent of the total Dallas fire loss and accounted for 28 percent of all structural fires. Citizens were unaware, and as usual indifferent to the extent of arson in their home town. And there was a definite need to create public indignation over arson.
The answer here was to launch the “Burn an Arsonist for Cold Cash” campaign, a campaign that enlisted the help of all elements in Dallas including business, industry, insurance, enforcement agencies and, of course, the citizenry.
Key to the campaign was a 24-hour arson hotline, established to urge citizens to call the Dallas Fire Department with possible tips or details leading to the arrest of arsonists. In addition, a $5000 reward fund was set up as an incentive for citizen participation. Results? In an eight-month period Dallas witnessed a 26 percent decrease in arson fires.
It would seem then that fire prevention can pay off, particularly when worked at on the local level.