Fires and Injuries Caused by Electric Currents.
- The difficulty of giving accurate and useful statistical information without asking a great many questions is aptly illustrated by the use made by The Chronicle in its issues of March to and 17, respecting statistics furnished by myself regarding “fires and injuries to firemen caused by electric currents.”
- The inquiries by means of which these statistics were obtained were originally drawn to include statistics regarding property losses by fires caused by electric currents. But on account of the tremendous pressure continually being brought to bear upon the Census office to cut down the scope of its inquiries, it was decided to omit all reference to property losses in this connection and confine the inquiries strictly to personal injuries to firemen. This course was taken in consideration of two facts. While insurance associations and journals could be relied upon to keep the interested reasonably well informed as to property losses, there was no apparent source of information regarding personal injuries to firemen from electric currents.
- It must be conceded that the conditions under which firemen work among wires carrying electric currents are more hazardous than any under which the employees of electrical companies or the public have any occasion to come in contact with such wires. The statistics were gathered from 425 cities, each having 8000 or more population and an abundance of wires carrying electric currents for every form of commercial use. To show the experience of firemen in facing the dangers supposed to be lurking in such wires, it was necessary to show the number of men at risk, the number of times they were at risk, the number of times the risks were alleged to have been caused by electric currents, the number of injuries received, the number received at fires alleged to have been caused by electric currents, the number of injuries alleged to have been caused by electric currents, and the number of fatal injuries. Here are seven inquiries necessary to establish one fact. This was not sufficient, however. Stating that 31 injuries were caused by electric currents does not convey full information. It is important to know whether any or all of the injuries were serious or merely trifling. To ascertain this fact several more inquiries were addressed to each chief of a fire department, who reported an injury, to obtain information fully showing the character of the injury reported. The letters received in reply to these inquiries, covering every case of reported injury, are attached to the statistical information. The showing made by them is instructive. As a result of these inquiries it is shown that in 42$ cities, covering about 76 per cent of the total urban population of the United States. $6,498 firemen are enrolled on the regular and volunteer force. That there were during the year 1890, 39,847 fire alarms for which the whole or a considerable portion of the force was called out. Of this number §18 alarms are alleged to have been for fires caused by electric currents ; 1719 injuries to firemen, received in the line of duty, are reported, 60 of which were fatal; 31 injuries are said to have been caused by electric currents. But the special reports received, covering each of these cases, show conclusively that not one of these injuries was fatal, and with two or three exceptions they were so trifling that they were not worthy of being dignified by being called injuries ; yet they gave occasion for lurid articles in the public press portraying the “dangers of the deadly wires.” It was to remove the prejudice thus so unjustly created against the electrical industries that this investigation was made. This purpose it has accomplished most admirably.
Let it be borne in mind that all reference to fires in this inquiry is merely incidental; that the returns were made by the chiefs of the lire detriments, and used as given without any effort to secure verification, and it will be very apparent how wholly unjust the attempt of The Chronicle is to use the reference to the number of fire alarms to sustain its theory “that electric fires are increasing in ftequency.” If it had stopped when it had written : ” Most of Mr. Foote’s 518 fires probably caused trivial losses, being in fact mere alarms. In the same year The Chronicle received reports of 121 fires caused by electric currents, in which the piopetty losses and insurance losses were nominal. By our reports the proportion of electric fires in 1890, sizable fires, was only .54 of one per cent, or about one-half of Mr. Foote’s percentage,” it would have made a perfectly fair statement to which no charge of prejudice could attach.
The dangers ol property losses by electric fires cannot be settled in this way. Insurance companies are eminently practical and conservative in their management. Their business depends upon the fact that fires do occur, and their profits depend upon premiums calculated in the first instance upon the theory that they occur more frequently and are more destructive than the actual results show, and in the second place that any particular agent used on the premises is a factor of increased hazard. These two factors are depended upon in insurance calculations to keep the premiums abnormally high. Every per cent unnecessarily added to the premium by this process is a direct addition to their profits. A new agent like electricity, coming into the field, about which there has been so much popular superstition and so little actual information, has offered an unusual opportunity for this particular method of figuring, and insurance men have not been slow to reap the harvest while they may. The day has come, however, when electricity shall benefit by the opposition it has encountered and overcome.
The interests of those engaged in the electrical industries are the direct opposite of the insurance companies. Risk of loss by fire is not the reason for their existence. They can make no profit out of the difference between the amount collected as premiums and the amount paid for losses. It is to their interest to prevent every fire they possibly can, and so to establish the reputation for safety for electric services, that the public, whose interest is identical with their own, will count such feature one of the determining factors in adopting the use of electricity for every service that can be rendered by it. The adoption of “ Rules for safe-wiring,” by the National Electric Light Association, is in the interest of the public as well as those engaged in supplying electrical services. They furnish a guide for this class of work prepared by those who know when wiring is safe, and whose interest it is that it shall he safe. Let these rules be broadly distributed. Let the users of electrical services be fully supplied and posted regarding tliem, so that they will demand a certificate that the wiring of their premises has been done in conformity with these rules before they pay their wiring bills. They can then show such certificate when wishing to place their insurance, or to renew or change their policies. This is the way to watch electricity as a cause of fire.