FIRE PROTECTION AND INSURANCE.
The following is abstracted from a prize essay by J. E. Woodthorpe, read recently before the Insurance Institute of New South Wales, upon the subject of the origin and commercial necessity of fire insurance :
No provision appears to have been made for lessening the baneful effects of fires until the beginning of the seventeenth century, when schemes for insurance were suggested ; but it was not till after the “Great Fire of London,” in 1666, that these suggestions began to take a practical form.
The fire referred to burnt for three days, consuming 13,200 houses, with St. Paul s Church, eighty-six parish churches, six chapels, Guild Hall, Royal Exchange. Custom-house, the many hospitals and libraries, fifty-two companies’ halls and a vast number of other edifices, together with three of the city gates and several bridges and prisons. The fire swept from the Tower to the Temple Church, the total loss of property being estimated at that lime to be ^10,730.500.
It is interesting to note that of the number of offices still extant only one dates from the seventeenth century, viz.: the Hand in Hand, established in 1696. Five date from the first halt of the eighteenth centurv, viz.: Sun, 1710; Union, 1714; Westminster, 1717; London. 1720; Royal Exchange, 1720 ; while three only date from the second half of that century, viz.: the Salop. 1780; P. oenix, 1782, and Norwich Union, 1797. [Also the Providence Washington of Rhode Island, 1799 ; the Insurance Company of State of Pennsylvania, 1794. and the Insurance Company of North America. 1794.—Ed.]
The causes which led to the initiation of insurance have in no degree abated, for we find that from the institution of the system in 1681 up to the present time extraordinatily destructive fires have occurred at frequent intervals.
As an illustration I will quote particulars of a few of the most memorable conflagrations of recent times :
1803. A destructive fire at Liverpool damaged property to the extent of £ 1,000,000.
1835. On December in this year a serious outbreak of fire took place at New York, burning 500 buildings in the business part of the city and causing a loss of £ 3,000,000.
1842. At Hamburg a lire raged for 100 hours, destroying 4219 buildings, killing too people, besides incurring a loss estimated at £7,000,000.
1851. On May 4 and 5 was witnessed a fire in San Francisco, which destroyed 2500 buildings (being three-fourths of the city), and property to the amount of over £2,000,000 was lost. In June of the same year another fire burnt 500 buildings, causing damage estimated at £600,000.
1854. At Gateshead a fire killed fifty persons and destroyed £x,000,000 worth of property.
l86r. At Tooley street, London, a number of wharves, etc., were burnt, doing damage to the extent of £2,000,000.
1871. Hut tne greatest fire of modern times was that at Chicago, which began in a shed on the night of October 8 and raged until the 10th. The area burned over was 2124 acres, or three and one-third square miles of the very heart of the city ; 250 lives were lost, 98,500 persons were rendered homeless and 17,430 buildings were consumed. The buildings were one-third in number and one-half in value of the buildings of the city, and the loss was estimated at £39,000,000.
1872. A great fire on November 9 and 10 occurred in the richest quarter of Boston ; 776 buildings and their contents were destroyed, the loss being about £15,000,000.
1875. A fire at Glasgow caused damage to the extern of £300,000.
1877. At St. John’s, N. B., British North America, a fire raged, covering in extent some 200 acres, and destroying 1650 buildings and eighteen lives, the total loss being .£2,500,000.
The losses enumerated above seem somewhat appalling, but it is generally acknowledged that the loss by fires of comparatively smaller dimensions amounts to more in the aggregate than loss by the “great fires.”
Great fires have been due to various causes, viz.: defects in the erection of buildings, inferior and inflammable materials used in their construction, the combustible nature of the contents, rows of wooden buildings, blocks of inferior brick buildings huddled together in narrow streets or lanes, inadequate supply or total lack of water, no disciplined or organized body of men trained to battle with the fiery element, and insufficient means and appliances for promptly extinguishing and preventing the spread of fire.
These conditions are to some extent being overcome by the improved character of buildings ; the incombustible materials used in their construction, such as brick, stone and iron ; the introduction of an abundant water supply ; the mechanical appliances and inventions now in use for giving warning to the authorities in the event of an outbreak, such as the electric fire alarms, telegraph and telephone ; powerful steam engines, floats, extension ladders and other implements for effectually checking fires when notice has been received ; and, lastly, an organized body of firemen, skilled in the working of their appliances, and with the necessary experience, under an able leader, to take prompt measures for either subduing a fire, or, if it has a strong hold, to prevent its spreading to the adjacent property.
Considering the loss of wealth to a community through fire, 1 think it is an essential duty of any government or municipal body to take measures for preventing the outbreak and checking the spread of fires : 1. By regulating the class and character of buildings. 2. By supporting and maintaining efficient means lor extinguishing fires. That public bodies do to a certain extent recognize their responsibility in this respect is shown by the fact that our local council has had included certain clauses in the city of Sydney building act of 1879 (42 Vic., No. 25) tor preventing fire, viz.: those forbidding the erection of wooden buildings in conliguity with other buildings ; for forbidding the manufacture of •’ vitiiol, turpentine, naphtha, varnish, fireworks, oil or oilcloth, or other things dangerous on account of the liability ‘of substances contained therein to cause sudden fire or explosion in any building, vault or open air at a less distance than fifty feet from any other building or vacant land belonging to any other person than the landlord of premises wherein such manufacture is carried on ; for imposing a fine not exceeding £5 for anv chimney taking fire through neglect ; also the clause for offering rewards in case of fire, viz.: not exceeding ros. to first turncock who shall arrive and open plug for water; not exceeding 40s. to engine-keeper who shall have fire engine ready and at work first, and 30s. and X5S. respectively to second and third.
Some three years ago the government of New South Wales, with a view of introducing a better system of coping with fires, passed a bill for establishing a permanent brigade, with the necessary buildings and appliances, the cost of which was to be borne in equal proportion by the government, municipal councils and insurance offices, the management of the whole being vested in a board representing the three bodies named.
The board, whilst having done good service in providing means for subduing fires, is strongly urging upon the government the necessity of granting it some power in dealing with matters which cause most of the fires in this city. The board contends that if the fire brigade is maintained solely to have a race with a fire when it breaks out, the fire, even if promptly extinguished, will have the best of it.
Another preventive measure is the fireproofing of any building; but whatever means may be taken to render a building almost fire resisting, no sooner are goods stored in it than the building ceases to be fireproof.
The means discussed under the preceding division certainly cannot wholly, and only to a very limited extent can they partly, prevent the necessity for insurance.
Whatever measures may be adopted for preventing and putting out fires, nothing can entirely stop their occurrence; therefore, whilst there is any liability, so there must be some provision for meeting it, and insurance has proved itself to be the provision required.
Owing to the increased price of land in our cities, the necessary space for business premises is limited, therefore, what cannot be obtained in breadth is obtained in the height of buildings, thus providing a very large storage capacity. That these extensive buildings, when filled with valuable goods, are a source of great risk, cannot be doubted, but is there no security against such risk? Yes, insurance.
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF FIRE ENGINEERS.The committee on manual and drill for fire departments wishes to call renewed attention to the fact that all persons interested are invited to give the committee] their ideas upon the subject in question at their earliest convenience. Communications should be sent to the chairman of the committee, Chief Engineer A. C. Hendrick, New Haven, Conn.