Fire Prevention Most Valuable Fire Protection

Fire Prevention Most Valuable Fire Protection


By ,

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.

Fire Prevention Most Valuable Fire Protection

Fire Prevention Most Valuable Fire Protection


“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.)

Inspection Should Be Made By Uniformed Force—Building Construction Important Factor—Dangers of Open Connections Between Floors and Elevator Shafts—Carelessness Great Fire Cause

WILE the following paper by Mr. Hilkene deals primarily tenth the city of Indianapolis, the name of other municipalities could be read into the text with perfect truth and propriety. The problems of fire prevention are pretty much the same throughout the length and breadth of the land. The paper was read before the Indiana Sanitary and Water Supply Association at its annual convention.

The President of the United States recently said: “Preventable fire is more than a private misfortune, it is a public dereliction, and it is a matter of deep and pressing consequence that every means should be taken to prevent this evil.” Mayor Jewett was awake to this duty, and of seeing that all property in the City of Indianapolis had adequate fire protection and believing that an “Ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” he took the steps to bring this about by creating a Division of Fire Prevention under the supervision and control of the Board of Public Safety. Indianapolis, with its many frame dwellings and structures with wooden shingles, and other buildings of wooden construction, is at all times in danger of a large conflagration, just as other cities were and who by costly experience have seriously taken up the subject of Fire Prevention and have changed their method of building construction and roof coverings.

Fire Prevention Most Valuable Fire Protection

The most valuable fire protection is fire prevention. The best time to fight fires is before they occur. Fire is not mysterious. It has been thoroughly studied, and its causes are well known. Most fires start with conditions which may easily be recognized not only by the expert, but by the thoughtful citizen as well. Most fires may be prevented by the simple process of correcting such evils.

Some of the most common evils that are the causes of starting of fires are carelessness, defective chimney flues, smoking cigars and cigarettes, careless use of matches, hot ashes, rubbish, open flame lights, electricity, spontaneous combustion, sparks on roof, and the often mentioned unknown cause. Some of the most common evils that are the cause of the spreading of fires in buildings is the open stairwell and elevator hatchways.

“Flow shall these evils be corrected?” It is my belief and I think I am in line with the thought and opinion of authorities who have seriously studied the subject of Fire Prevention, that the evils can be corrected only by a thorough and educational inspection of every premises in the city of Indianapolis, regular, thorough and educational inspections will always keep uppermost in the minds of the average citizen the danger of fire, and until the citizen arouses himself to the duty of eliminating fire hazards, the conditions will be such as to keep fear of a large conflagration in the minds of those officials who are charged with the duty of preventing and fighting fires.

Fire Prevention vs. Insurance Inspector

The fire prevention inspector in his own mind has separated the citizens in different classes. He finds on his inspection trips the citizen who is willing to comply with our recommendations and co-operate with us in our work. This impresses the inspector and gives him a feeling of satisfaction that his work is accomplishing something. Again he will find a citizen who quickly informs that he is well insured and is paying a high rate of premium and that his premises have been thoroughly inspected and approved by the insurance inspectors. Without criticism I have my doubts whether the insurance inspector gets results in eliminating the fire hazards. He will find them but instead of insisting that they be removed he slaps on an additional premium, taking a chance that no fire will happen and if a fire does occur that our splendid fire fighting force will keep the fire within the bounds of a very small financial loss. The Division of Fire Prevention not being interested in premiums assists the citizen in recognizing violations of ordiances, elimination of fire hazards and remedies for the evil conditions which are primarily the cause of starting of fires. It is our endeavor to show this citizen who pays a high rate of premiums on insurance for his hazardous occupancy that his neighbor should be also thought of and when fire hazards are reduced in his own premises the whole community is benefited thereby.

Another citizen that the inspector meets is the one who has in his own mind great political power, and never fails to let the inspector know such is a fact, and that he will exercise that power if the inspector should for a moment recommend any improvements or involve any expenditure on the politician’s part, but I think we are overcoming such condition, having full assurance by the Mayor and the Board of Public Safety that “no pulls go,” and his plea would not be even considered, especially where it is a condition of fire protection or safety of lives.

Also on our inspection trips the inspector meets the selfish citizen who does not care for anybody or any law or ordinance. This class of citizen is a dangerous person to have in our midst. It is just as essential to protect ourselves from such characters as it is from the burglar who comes in our homes at night, and it is our duty to compel by law and ordinance that he keep his premises free from fire hazards as well as the thoughtful citizen who is at all times alert to the danger of fire.

Carelessness a Great Factor

Carelessness stands out as a great factor in the starting of fire. Many fires have been caused by persons who were careless when smoking, careless with their stove or furnace fire, or coal oil lamps, electric irons, handling inflammable liquids, gas jets and many other conditions all leading to great avenues of fire waste. Not many persons give thought to the fact that every time an alarm is sounded and the firemen and apparatus leave the station, perhaps through accident a fireman’s life is lost or he is injured, and probably the fire is a small loss caused by carelessness. I have in mind of recent date the lives of three firemen were lost and nine injured, and thp fire was caused by a gas jet hose being carelessly maintained and involving only a $50.00 fire loss.

(Continued on page 442)

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Building construction is quite a factor in fire prevention. The officials who are charged with the duty of enforcing this branch of the city government should be ever watchful that good construction of buildings be maintained. Quite often the builder is attracted by material cheap in price, attractive in appearance and passed by the building inspection department because of supposed tests or misrepresentation. It does not take the owner long to find out by costly experience that this material while O. K. on the surface is rotten to the core. The owner or builder would surely be benefited by complying with the provisions of the building code and cooperating with the Commissioner of Buildings. It is possible that the code will work a financial hardship on an individual here and there, but if each citizen will have in mind the welfare of our city, at the time when he is erecting a home or place of business, we are going to get the best results in building construction and fire prevention. My experience as commissioner of buildings and director of fire prevention convinces me that some changes in our building code would be advisable for the purpose of preventing the spreading of fires as well as preventing the starting of fires.

Hazard of Open Connections Between Floors

One of the greatest dangers in buildings other than private dwellings in this city is open connections, in the different floors throughout all the stories from the basement to roof. Commonly there are the stairways, generally two in number, one in the rear of building and the other in the front. Very few stairs are enclosed. Some are enclosed with 7/8 tongue and groove wooden construction absolutely worthless as a fire retardent, and in addition to these open stairwalls we have the elevator shaft which is also open from the basement to and above the roof. Dumb waiter chutes and other openings of different construction all lead from the basement or cellar which is generally used as a depository for all sorts of inflammable material, to the attic which is used to store the remainder of the material that cannot be placed in the basement or cellar. This condition makes an endless chain of fire hazards from one end of the building to the other, and places the other stories having the valuable merchandise in constant jeopardy of loss by fire.

It is surprising how small an opening through wall or floor will allow fire to pass through with damaging results on the other side. It is easier for us to think of convenience, and lose sight of the danger that we create when arranging construction of this character.

This kind of construction is not only bad in non-fire-proof buildings but in fire proof buildings as well. The basement or cellar is usually the store room for all kinds of rubbish, debris and other highly combustible materials, which is always placed near the open elevator shaft for convenience. A fire occurring in the basement is likely to escape discovery until it gains considerable headway. These conditions are right for a disastrous spreading of fire throughout the building at any time.

Each Floor Should be Isolated

The building code provides for horizontal trap doors to be placed in open elevator shaft. From experience of a late fire, 1 believe this would be improved on and compel fire proof enclosures around elevator hatchways and stairwells. At the time of this fire, I made personal inspection and found the shaft was equipped with trapdoors, but some failed to drop and the others when they did drop, did not close opening to keep fire from spreading to upper stories. It is my belief that buildings should be so arranged to have no more openings in the different floors than are absolutely necessary, and these equipped with self closing doors, so that each story will be a separate compartment, and giving the fire force an opportunity to confine the fire in as small a space as possible.

I believe that it would be well if the city council would pass an ordinance providing for a certificate of occupancy. No building should be used for other than that mentioned in the permit of occupancy issued by the director of fire prevention. This probably looks somewhat drastic, but it is the only correct way of keeping control of hazardous occupancies. For instance, a permit is issued by the commissioner of buildings for a two-story building of frame construction to be used for the storage of iron, steel, brick or other non-combustible material, and then within two or three months the building is vacated and i.°to be used for the storage of hay, straw, paints or other combustible material which requires a better construction, the division of fire prevention would have no control of this situation unless a certificate of occupancy is asked for and issued. It would then be possible by ordinance for the Director of Fire Prevention to provide a better construction, or sprinkling system ot other safety appliances to make conditions safe from fire hazards not only to the one building but surrounding property.

Not only is the building containing inflammable merchandice to be thought of. Of recent date this city has had two disastrous fires in rooming houses where several lives were lost. This department is now making a thorough and rigid inspection of all hotels, rooming houses and tenement houses. We have found persons lodged in the upper stories and extreme rear part of buildings in the congested part of the city that are wholly unfit for such use. This condition again convinces me that a certificate of occupancy is the only remedy for such unlawful conditions.

We have at the present time an ordinance concerning the installation of sprinkler systems. This ordinance provides that all basements, cellars, or sub-cellars, large or small, and of every dimension in which merchandise is stored, must be equipped with an automatic sprinkler system. This is wrong, and a more sensible one should be enacted by the council. It is my belief that not only the basement, cellars, etc., should be sprinklered, but only in the instance where inflammable material is stored and then in all of the stories of the building. Quite often do we read where disastrous fire is prevented owing to the sprinkler system starting to work when the fire is just beginning.

(To be continued)

estfield, Mass., will hold a town meeting on March 1, at which it is proposed to place the position of chief of the fire department in the civil service list. This measure will make Chief Mahony’s tenure of office secure from the influence of political changes.