Fires from Negligence and Carelessness

Fires from Negligence and Carelessness

Loss of Life and Property from Fire Doubled in 1920 That of Any Other Year—Continuous Campaign of Education Necessary—Unprotected Openings and Improper Fire Exits

FOR years we have been content to accept figures involving life loss from fire as approximately 5,000—Even this was appalling, but carefully tabulated statistics show that last year nearly 15,000 persons were burned to death with approximately 20,000 injured, a large percentage of whom were injured permanently and made a public charge on our citizenship. A classification of these losses shows that over 70 per cent, are women and children of school age and under. This classification shows that the home and the school have been neglected in our great scheme of safety education. It also shows the effectiveness of the general campaign of safety in the shop and factory.

T. Alfred Fleming

1920 Doubles Previous Year’s Property Loss

Coincident with this loss of life, the destruction of property during 1920 as quoted by W. E. Mallalieu, general manager of the National Board of Fire Underwriters. almost doubled that of any previous year of our history reaching an enormous total of over $505,000,000 —which does not include the stupendous losses in forestry, 90 per cent, of which is due to carelessness of citizens. This waste of our national wealth of nearly one and one-half millions a day is paid for every citizen of the nation. It is generally considered that these losses are borne largely by insurance companies, which is true but insurance companies are only collecting and distributing agencies and of necessity are compelled to require increased rates to cover increased losses. Every product purchased for the home in food, furnishing, or wearing apparel; or for the factory in essential requisites for production has in its cost to the consumer an amount to cover the insurance and overhead cost as well as that of regular production. In this way in the last analysis the losses of property from fire find their way and are borne by every citizen of the country in increased prices for necessities. It is the largest and most unnecessary leakage of the country’s resources, and is almost entirely avoidable and unnecessary.

Paul G. Redington of the forestry division of the United States, in an address in California recently stated that of 20,244 forest fires caused by campers last vear 76 per cent, or over 15,000 were due to smokers’ carelessness.

Campaign of Education Must Begin at Home

It would seem that the only way to obviate these tremendous losses of life and property would be to conduct the longest possible continuous campaign of education for their elimination. Many of these losses come from people who know better, but forget the apparent trifles. For example, an eminent fire prevention engineer who has devoted his time exclusively to this cause for over fifteen years and who is considered a national authority was working on his automobile. He had an unlighted cigar in his mouth. Finishing his work, he proceeded to wash the grease from his hands by releasing gasoline from the carburetor. With his hands wet with gasoline he took from his pocket a match and lighted it for his cigar, which immediately set the gasoline fumes on fire. He escaped serious burns only by accident. During the afternoon on the same job he was on the point of repeating the act, when his common sense corrected the mistake which almost always proves fatal.

In a Western city a Fire Prevention expert engaged by a large corporation in that capacity was called to make an investigation of a condition of electrolysis which operated on the gas mains. Entering the cellar where gas had been reported as leaking he proceeded to investigate and without thinking, forgetting the flashlight in his pocket, he lighted a match to inspect the meter, The house was shattered and his lifeless body was removed besides two other individuals who were seriously injured bv the shock.

From the above it is clear that the activity of our campaign must thoroughly impress own forces first.

Safety Most Neglected in Home and School

The sections where safety has been most neglected are in the home and school. These are the places where the young and the aged, the helpless and the dependent spend 365 days of each year. It is an appalling fact that not one business man out of every 200 has ever applied the knowledge of safety he has used in his factory to his home. He has forgotten to call a “cabinet meeting” of the members of his family and servants to instruct them in the necessities of safety,—how to turn in an alarm, how to extinguish a fire in its incipiency, how to avoid danger from articles used in the home and how to use the extinguisher he has installed.

In fact the usual employer who insists on proper extinguishers in his factory with the knowledge of their use almost always forgets any of these precautions in his home. In other words financial value in production has 1,000 per cent, more care and over-sight than the priceless jewels of human life in the home, and yet the nation is only as large or as strong as its homes.

Similar negligence is shown in the care, maintenance and construction of our schools. A very small percentage of the members of our present boards of education have assumed more than the financial burden of school activities while they are equally responsible for the moral and physical safety of each child under their care. There is a very great disregard of properly established rules in the construction of new buildings and the remodeling of old structures. It has been found by experts, that over 90 per cent, of the school buildings are more unsafe either structurally or in maintenance than the Collinwood school when it burned causing the death of 173 children and three teachers. Over 5 schools burn in the United States for each day of the year. Trifles due to carelessness or through thoughtlessness are the causes of the largest percentage of fire casualties and conflagrations.

Some Great Fires from Small Beginnings

It was a static spark from a belt running untrue that ignited the dust in a large mill costing the lives of 35 workmen, injury to 78 more and a property loss, the citizens had to pay off $5,000,000.

A boy playing with a yarn ball bounced it into the fire. Me extricated it and kicked it outdoors. It was carried by the wind into a pile of shavings and from this came the great conflagration of Nashville, Tenn., with all its appalling loss of life and property.

An electric iron with the current turned on was left in the rear of a millinery store. The fire which followed spread over the city of Augusta, Ga., causing wreck and ruin, with a loss of $5,000,000 in property.

A spark on a dilapidated shingle roof from a passing engine caused the burning of Paris, Tex., with a property loss of over $7,000,000.

A cigarette butt in the Triangle Shirt Waist fire resulted in the death of 145 people. Another cigarette dropped through a bull’s eye in the sidewalk burned 80 blocks of the city of Baltimore and cost us all. $40,000,000.

These are but trifling causes such that you would think could not exist but think of the consequences.

Unprotected Openings Cause 70 per Cent, of Fires

It has been said by an eminent authority that 70 per cent, of our loss of life is due to unprotected vertical openings. I firmly believe this is true. It is the vertical opening left unprotected that allows the fire to spread through the building or to the adjoining area. Lack of proper fire windows, shutters, water curtains, open stairways and elevator shafts, lack of fire doors between divisions of or main buildings. This is what traps the workman at his bench or the clerk making her sales.

Improper Fire Exits

I he above coupled with improper fire exit facilities spells the death sentence of thousands. It is a travesty on the present high standards of mental development to note the useless sham involved in 90 per cent, of our present exit facilities. Fire escapes constructed against the sides of buildings and passing ordinary glass windows. eliminating their utility after the first puff of flame from the window below. Spiral slides erected inside of a steel enclosure, frequently found locked with a padlock at the exit door below, only prepare a more horrible death by roasting, while deluding many with a surrounding of apparent safety. I personally found three of these traps locked with Yale padlocks, whose keys were lost—even while 28 rooms of the school, they were supposed to serve, were in session. Who shoulders the enormous responsibility of this dreadful carelessness of maintenance and equipment?

All Must Assume Responsibility

It is the duty of every employer to help, every member of boards of education and every home owner to realize that he personally must assume the liabilitv and provide 100 per cent, safety to those for whom he is responsible. It is also the duty of every workman, or pupil in school to assist in the maintenance, and the thoughtful use of every device installed for public safety.

Rapid progress is now being made by all forces dealing in public safety. You have established schools for the superintendents and foremen in many cities—and in some places have been able to place a course of safety in the school curriculum under supervision of a safety man. This is the work that will count for succeeding generations. Let us prepare the young while we protect the old for a better ideal of safeguarding life and property and at the same time let us not forget to teach the necessity of safeguarding our citizenship.

(Address before the tenth annual Safety Congress of the National Safety Council held in Boston. September 26 to 30.)

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