IN the great mass of current literature and in the multiplicity of laws and ordinances concerning fire prevention, to say nothing of the widely-advertised devices being marketed by wide-awake business firms, is found a bewildering array of facts and fancy in which officials of many towns, villages and cities find themselves enmeshed, unable to mark the beginning or the end of this governmental science.
It may be worth while, therefore, to put into everyday English, a few common-sense, practical suggestions of what may readily be done and such presentation may prove welcome to progressive municipalities not included among the larger cities of the first class.
No new law or ordinance is necessary in any town or city for the beginning of the important work of fire prevention. Neither legislative nor municipal action is needed in taking the first step. The well-established custom or common law under which the maintenance and equipment of a fire department is controlled, is based largely upon the police powers of a municipality. Any act which will place in jeopardy the lives or property of others is a distinct violation of the law which gives the town itself the right to exist and to govern and protect its people.
Particular laws may be needed for particular purposes, but, generally speaking, a member of a fire department has a perfect legal right to say to a property owner, “You must not permit inflammable rubbish to accumulate, because you are putting the life and property of your neighbor in danger.”
In the large majority of cases such warning is sufficient to bring results. Special laws are needed only as clubs for the more obstinate citizen who must first be brought into court and fined before he will take heed.
The fireman who is paid to protect life and property from fire has the inherent right, not only to put out a fire after it has started, but to prevent a fire if he finds someone in the act of kindling a blaze, or of maintaining conditions which seem sure to result in a fire. It is not only a fireman’s right, it is his duty.
The moral responsibility rests squarely upon the shoulders of the fire-fighters—and—more directly— upon the shoulders of the man in charge of the fire department, who, in nearly every case, is the chief engineer. Years ago it was well enough for a fire chief to sit in his quarters waiting for the bell to hit before he got busy. Once started he never let go until he and his men had conquered the fire.
Rut times have changed, and the progressive fire chief must know something about fire prevention. The more he knows of fire prevention the better fire chief does he become. Conventions of fire chiefs now devote as much attention to the subject of fire preven tion as they do to the subjects of fire protection and fire extinguishment.
In these latter days it has become the duty of every fire chief to familiarize himself with the conditions which confront his fire-fighting forces. He must know all about the buildings which he is paid to pro tect. How foolish, therefore, for him to sit idly by, waiting for the gong to call him to a fire which is possible only because neither he nor his men made any move to remedy conditions which were plainly hazardous.
And the fire chief has a further duty than that which induces him to become familiar with buildings in his municipality. It is his place to see that his subordinates also learn about such conditions as may be dangerous. It is well to start his fire prevention work within his own official family circle. This can be done in no more effective manner than by issuing an order at once that every company in his department shall immediately begin the inspection of buildings.
Right here does confusion begin. Experts differ as to the best methods to be adopted by members of the fire department in making inspections. And when experts disagree, how can the inexperienced beginner decide? Some men expect too much detail. Actual experience has proven that when a series of inspections is begun, and when such inspections really mark the beginning of a system, the simpler the report the better are the results. Fire prevention is essentially an educational campaign and the educational work must begin with the firerqen. The inspecting officer must be led, through actual experience. to a realization of the broad realm of fire prevention. But if his initial work is made distasteful to him because of technicalities, he will never take the right interest in his labors.
To the fire chief who desires to arouse himself to the full significance of fire prevention work, it is recommended that he have printed a lot of cards four inches wide and eight inches long, like Card I.
This is for a beginning. The man who makes the inspection should keep a duplicate card at his company quarters and the original should be filed at department headquarters. Such filing should be bv street and number, alphabetically. Each succeeding card will naturally find its place alongside its neighbor and in a very short time will become valuable.
Every fire company has its own fire hydrant dis trict. It seems scarcely necessary to say that this department division of territory should be continued, not only for fire fighting work but in the line of fire prevention duty. The companies can adjust their inspections so that they do not overlap on the bound ary.
Inspections should be made by the officers of the company. Reinspections, without the formality of report cards, may be made by the privates in the company under the captain’s direction. Such re-inspections will be for the information of the fireman himself. who will naturally talk more freely with his comrades than would the officers of the company. The work is highly interesting. No man living will object to an order which calls him into various manufacturing establishments, there to note general conditions, the system, the goods on hand, the workmen, the values, the hazards to life and property. He must make reports about shoe factories, bakeries, tool shops, garages, stores, tenements, churches, theatres, anything and everything, anywhere and everywhere, and his work assumes an attractiveness of which he had no conception.
The simple inspection card will serve merely to whet the appetite of the general fireman. He will see much more than he has to report. He finds his edu cation being continued even without specific direction. He is ripe about this time for a subscription to some one or more of the ably conducted technical magazines which have been devoting so much attention to fire prevention. He wants to get in touch wdth what is being done in other municipalities and he begins to realize that there is a broad field in the work of fire prevention.
From six months to a year should be devoted to an inspection of every building in the city. Dwellings may well be exempted from this first series of inspections, but schools and theatres and factories should all be covered. Whether company captains take up the work by going up and down each street or whether they take the most hazardous buildings in their districts in order, makes little difference in the general results. It might be well to adopt the latter course. There is always some building which is booked in quarters for “a bum.” Some one building is generally in a class by itself and the men of the company say “if we ever get a fire in the Blank building, look out.” That’s the building to inspect first.
A second general inspection is now in order, for which a sample card, No. 2, printed on both sides, is suggested.
This inspection card should take the same course as the previous card. It should be signed by the officer making the inspection.
The system would be faulty if it stopped here. The cards must be looked over.at headquarters and each item checked off separately. It will soon dawrn upon the officer who examines these cards, the fire chief, of course, that a special visit is necessary to many of the places. He will note on one of the inspection cards, for instance, some such message as this:
“This place doesn’t look good to me. There is a lot of rubbish lying around and employees seem to be careless. Smoking is permitted.”
A record like this ought to be put aside and a re inspection made by the Chief. A few words from the man in authority will nearly always bring about an improvement in conditions. When you point out to a manufacturer that although he may recover from the insurance companies every penny for goods that may. be destroyed by fire but that he will never recover from the loss of business that always follows a fire and that he will be the biggest loser in the end, he stops to think and when he begins to think, the r*st is easy. It isn’t necessary to hreaten him nor tell him he is violating the law. Tell him he is going to lose money and that’s enough. He will listen attentively to some such argument as this:
“Mr. Manufacturer, our records show that we had ten fires in this little town last year from rubbish and one of these fires put the firm out of business. If you allow rubbish to accumulate there is always the chance that some one will come along with a match or a cigar or cigarette butt and if it falls into this rubbish you are on the way to a fire that may wipe you off the business map. Better clean up and tell your employees to keep clean.”
The same arguments hold true as to the storing of oily rags, greasy overalls, oily waste used in clean ing machinery and in old paint pots and cans. These things take fire automatically, that is, they are selfstarters. It has been proven that cotton waste, soaked in linseed oil, will burst into flames within sixteen hours under certain atmospheric conditions. There is a chemical reaction which produces heat and this heat starts a smouldering fire which will flame when the proper draught strikes it. Most manufacturer* will declare that it is impossible to start a fire in this way. Many will admit that it is possible but they are skeptical. In an up-to-date paint factory there was an alarm of fire about three o’clock one morning. The fire alarm was sounded automatically when the sprinkler system went off. When the firemen got there the fire was out. Smoke was coming from a small room on the third floor. Here employees hung up their clothes and kept their lunch. The side walls were of frame but the room was protected by a sprinkler systcm. The firemen found on one of the side wall clothes hooks, a pair of overalls and jumper surmounted hv a cap. These articles were all greasy. Everything was iust as the employee had left it at quitting time the night before. but the cap was burned out. That is. the rim and peak of the cap were all that remained hanging on the hook and inside the remains of the cap was found a half-burned bunch of oily waste. The fire had started from the spontaneous combustion of this oily waste and had eaten the wooden wall above it, gaining sufficient heat and headway to set off the sprinkler head. There was never a clearer case of spontaneous combustion.
The average business man doesn’t know the many combinations used in starting fires or in causing them to spread after they have once been started. He cannot be blamed for not know-ing these things because he has devoted his time and energy to the successful promotion of his business. He is willing to learn, however, and when an inspector who has devoted the best part of his life as a fireman in saving property, pays him a visit, he listens with marked attention, be cause the story is new and interesting. The mistake is often made of expecting a manufacturer to know all about fire prevention and of scolding him for being foolish—foolish in the eyes of the expert. The man must be educated.
Business men and manufacturers in this country have not yet realized the seriousness of fire. They have paid their premiums and. in case of fire have collected their insurance and then gone ahead in the same old way. The members of our fire departments must serve as teachers.
It can he readily seen how quickly the field of fire prevention opens up as these inspections proceed. Of course, the inspecting officer will note conditions and report them, and equally of course, but only more so. the man higher in authority will take up these reports and finish them.
While this system of inspections is being introduced the fire chief will soon realize how valuable would be a complete record of tires in his city. There never has been any adequate system, we’ll say, in this town. True enough, there are records for years hack, show ing the number of alarms, an estimate of the loss and possibly the cause, with about fifty per cent of all fires so recorded showing the word “unknown” in the cause column.
How can fires be prevented unless you know what causes them? How can the number of fires be re duced unless you have some guide? It is apparent that the investigation of each and every fire becomes a duty of paramount importance. This does not mean a cursory examination at the time of the fire in order to put on record a brief outline. It means the carefill research, the minute investigation that may cover quite an extended period of time after the fire, an investigation by some one who knows something about fires so that the details may be a matter of record worth keeping.
In such investigation of fires a separate card should be used. It is well for the fire company which first reaches the scene of a fire to make the investigation. It is wise to detail one man in the company for this work. So many matters enter into the careful investigation of a burn that it is useless to send one man after another with instructions to fill out a card and turn it in. The right kind of a man will find in every fire something worth recording which the average man would overlook and which had not been taken into consideration by the man who designed the card. He therefore writes in that part of the report himself and frequently draws a diagram showing where the fire travelled and why. The right man will do this if given half a chance.