Fire Prevention Is Worthwhile
With the celebration of the 39th Anniversary of Fire Prevention Week beginning October 8, the question of the effectiveness of such activities the year ’round is once again in the minds of many fire fighters. If the cold statistics of dollar losses are viewed by the skeptic without interpretation, it is possible that a negative opinion may be formed. However, students of this field are pretty much agreed that based on present-day dollar values and the tremendous increase in building activity to meet our needs the over-all losses are well in line with previous records over the years.
This may seem incongruous when viewed against reported 1960 record losses of $1,107,824,000, or the indication that current losses are running nearly 11 per cent above that total. If the present pace is maintained, the 1961 figure will reach the highest total in history and mark the fifth year in succession that our fire losses have exceeded the billion mark. When reviewing such totals, keep in mind that the great Chicago fire, which is commemorated by Fire Prevention Week, created a loss of $175,000,000. At the same time, note that statisticians point out that if this figure were translated into today’s values the loss would reach well into the multibillions.
This situation may tend to confuse many since a logical person will question at once the contention that present-day inflation is the reason for excess losses. However, it is imperative to consider the following facts: More people live in this country today and they require more extensive and more expensive facilities which were undreamed of in the very recent past. The rapid expansion of this country since World War II is unprecedented and can be considered a population explosion.
Between 1890 and 1930 the population of the United States grew at the stable rate of about 12½ millions per decade. During the depression period of 1930 to 1940 the growth dropped off to about nine millions, at which point there were about 132 million people in the country. From 1940 to 1950 the population zoomed to 151 millions, an increase of nearly 20 millions. In the past 10 years nearly 30 millions more were added until our present population is about 180 millions. This means that in a space of 20 years our country grew at a rate nearly equal to that of the 50 years prior to World War II.
With the tremendous boom that followed to house the people and build the manufacturing facilities necessary to supply their needs, it seems inescapable that increased fires must result. It appears logical to expect such an occurrence since it is an age-old truism that people cause fires. Yet on the contrary, the statistics disclose that the total number of building fires over the past 10 years has not increased proportionally with the increase of building activity. The dollar value of these fires has risen, yet since 1950 the number of building fires per year have remained at or about the 400,000 level.
Perhaps the most important area which tends to prove this thesis is the matter of human lives lost by fire. Over the past 10 years, during which our population jumped by 20 per cent over previous census totals, the number of fire fatalities remained at a fairly constant average of 30 per day and totaled 11,350 during 1960. While it certainly isn’t comforting to think in terms of the loss of even one life as an achievement, it is possible to state realistically that concentrated fire prevention efforts have paid off in this area. If this were not true, the death rate would have increased in proportion to the population growth rather than decline as the statistics indicate.
The record also shows that the greatest period of fire prevention activity occurred during the past 10 years. There may be many facets of this work which have been neglected or overlooked by our present methods, yet the facts tend to prove that what has been done up to date has been effective. This knowledge should spur the fire service on to even greater achievements in the future. If only one additional life or one extra building is saved from destruction by fire, it will be well worth the effort.