Fire Prevention Most Valuable Fire Protection
FIRE PREVENTION SECTION
Director of Fire Prevention, Indianapolis, Ind.
“An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure”
(NOTE:—Communications for this department are solicited from Chiefs and all others interested in the subject.—Editor.)
Conclusion of Paper on Problems of Fire Prevention in the City of Indianapolis—The Shingle Roof Hazard—How Fire Inspections Should be Conducted—Good Results Achieved
AS noted in last week’s issue, while the paper which is concluded herewith deals with Fire Prevention problems in Indianapolis, it can well be applied to those in many other cities. The paper was originally read for the Indiana Sanitary and Water Supply Association at its annual convention.
Wooden Shingle Roof Danger
Spark fires on exposed wooden shingle roof coverings are not only a great menance to the city from a fire protection view, but are a very expensive proposition for the fire department of the City of Indianapolis. I want to call your attention to the figures compiled by our department relating to spark fires in the roof coverings of buildings in Indianapolis. In the year 1916, there were 513 spark fires; in the year, 1917, 803 spark fires; in the year, 1918, 757 spark fires, and in the three months of this year, 1919, we are starting out with 533 spark fires, twenty more than in the entire year 1916. The number of spark fires in the roof coverings of this city in three years and three months is a total of 2,606. When these figures are shown to the average citizen who is not giving serious thought to loss of fire, he will probably tell you that the financial loss of the majority of these fires are very light, ranging from $1 to $25, but he does not consider the loss of time and cost to the city. I am informed by Assistant Chief Hoyle, of the fire force, that an average of not less than 12 men are in action when an alarm of fire is sent to headquarters, and that it takes at least one hour from the time the alarm is received until the men and apparatus are back in service. The chief also informs me that a conservative estimate cost of each of such alarms from spark fires will be about $30, considering loss of time and depreciation of apparatus. On the basis of these figures, it can be easily assumed that this is an expensive proposition. For three years and three months, a total number of 2,606 spark fires at $30 each, entailing a cost to the city of $78,180, and starting out with the first three months of this year with 533 spark fires at $30 each, costing the city $15,990, and it will become worse year after year unless some remedy is provided for.
Not only does this condition entail a great expense on our city, but the efficiency of the fire department is seriously crippled on account of having a number of such fires at one time in the outer part of the city. Quite often is the apparatus ordered removed from the congested part of the city and placed temporary in the outer stations, leaving the congested business district in great danger of a serious fire.
The city of Indianapolis was indeed fortunate on account of the weather conditions at the time of the Industrial Building fire. The members of the fire department have repeatedly told me that had there been no snow on the roofs of the surrounding property, nothing could have kept our city from having a serious conflagration and no doubt it would have gotten entirely out of their control. The exposed wooden shingle roof covering is a very serious menace, and I have submitted to the Council at their last meeting on Monday, April 7th, an ordinance providing for roof coverings to be of fire resisting material and I believe that if favorable action is taken on this ordinance beneficial results will be attained, thereby giving the fire force a chance to maintain control of fires, that are not preventable. I do not believe that I would be considered as a foe to wooden shingles, because personally, I much prefer the wooden shingle construction as more pleasing to the eye than other roof coverings, but I feel that we should all lay our personal ideas aside and adopt some remedy to benefit the whole community.
Fire Prevention Inspections
How should fire prevention inspections be conducted? Inspections have been made by members of the fire force and other departments of the city government previous to the organization of the division of fire prevention. But I have been informed that there was no system as to the method of inspection and therefore no results. When orders were given to the men to make inspections they would repeatedly go out on their districts and come back to their station and report a large number of so-called inspections. I have been told that no records were kept of these inspections. The inspection work in the division of fire prevention is conducted entirely in a different manner. A complete record of every inspection and a survey of the building and premises are made by the inspectors, which is returned to the division of fire prevention and a record of same is made and placed on file.
The inspection sheets are made in triplicate, the original is returned to the office for the purpose of checking the field inspector and recording same. The second sheet is a copy of an order given to person or persons whose premises are inspected. The third sheet is kept on file by the fire department. At the time of the organization of a division of fire prevention, one captain and three first grade firemen were detailed to assist the director in enforcing the provisions of the fire prevention ordinance. These firemen are under the supervision of the director of fire prevention, but are still members of the fire department. I have always believed that the fire department as a whole should make all fire prevention inspections and have jurisdiction in enforcing the provisions of all ordinances relating to public safety, where such is in danger from the cause of fire.
I discussed this idea with the board of public safety. and the chief of fire force, recommending to them that as the city had 31 fire stations that the city should be divided into 31 districts and that a fireman be detailed for fire prevention inspection in his immediate district. In making this recommendation I have this in mind that at some future date a fireman should and will be detailed to patrol the district continuously throughout the day as a fire prevention inspector. I believe that it is just as essential to prevent fires as it is to fight them. The board of public safety and the chief of fire force readily agreed with me that this should be tried out, but on account of the shortage of men in the fire department it was arranged that a fireman be detailed to make a two hour inspection each day for four days of the first and third week of each month and use the same amount of time in the second and fourth weeks of each month for reinspection as to whether their orders had been complied with.
Good Results from Inspection System
This system has now been in operation since the first day of August, 1918, and we believe that good results have been obtained therefrom. The average fireman not being familiar with the laws and ordinances relating to the methods of building construction and public safety, is somewhat handicapped when making inspections. This is not his fault. It has always been supposed that a fireman is to be used only for fire fighting purposes. The fireman awaits the alarm and immediately goes to the fire, does good work in putting the fire out and returns to his fire station and again waits the tap of the bell. How much better it would be if the fireman would study fire prevention during his moments of leisure at the station and have something to look forward to rather than acting as an automaton. It is my opinion that when this is impressed on the fireman, he will also get enthused in this work and the city of Indianapolis will reap benefits thereon.
Hand Book of Laws and Ordinances
The board of public safety has authorized me to compile the hand book with all the laws and ordinances incorporated in same for the purpose of giving one to each fireman so that he may become familiar with this work and be in position to give recommendations properly and practically so that the best results are obtained. The board of public safety and chief of fire forces are now arranging to establish a school of study both in fire prevention and fire fighting. This school is to be located at the fire headquarters, and the several men of the different stations will attend this school in the evenings and be instructed by their superiors, and other persons who have studied fire prevention and fire fighting.
Heretofore it has been assumed that private dwellings should be exempted from inspections. Private dwelling fires caused by defective flues, rubbish, hot ashes, over heated furnaces and stoves, combustible material, in the cellars and attics, exposed wooden shingles, and unknown causes amount to at least 75% of the alarms. It is my belief that there is no good reason to be given why private dwellings should not have educational inspections. It certainly will assist in careful housekeeping, and I trust that the citizens will co-operate with our department in these inspections. In Philadelphia in the year 1915, there were 25,000 private dwelling inspections without ordinance and not a refusal was encountered.
Since August 1, 1918, when the new system of inspections went into effect, there has been 23,756 inspections made under the supervision of the division of fire prevention, and we believe that our work is beginning to be noticed.
I have been informed by Chief Curran of the Salvage Corps that the average loss per year for the last five years is $990,000. With this enormous financial loss and quite often the loss of life, it behooves us to take notice and recognize the value of the words of the President of the United States.