FROM AN AMERICAN AND FROM A BRITISH STANDPOINT.
RECENT disastrous fire at the printing works of Messrs. Unwin Brothers of Chilworth, England, was briefly noted in these columns at the time. The damage caused by this fire amounted to $200,000, and the establishment burned was one of the largest and the best known in England, the work turned out by it being in keeping with its extensive and valuable plant— so extensive and valuable that we might naturally have expected to hear that, although Chilworth is of itself only a small village, the proprietors of the printing office would at least have been amply protected against fire, especially since the contents of such establishments are naturally of a very inflammable character. Yet there do not seem to have been even automatic sprinklers on the premises, nor was any means provided for fighting a fire from without—of itself, we should have thought, a sign of aberration of intellect on the part of the Unwin Brothers. Worse than that; there was not the means of sending a fire alarm to the adjacent towns of Guildford, Shere, or Godaiming, to reach which mounted messengers had to be hastily dispatched. Even supposing the fire brigades at these places were always ready for instant service—which is at least doubtful—the length of time that must necessarily have elapsed between the dispatch of the mounted messengers and the arrival of the fire apparatus, gave the flames plenty of time to do their work of destruction. We certainly do things better in America—so far as conc erns fire-protection, sending in alarms, and getting out apparatus. Not that such a disaster as the wholesale burning of a village or town or factory never occurs on this side of the Atlantic; but it is the rule rather than the exception that every large factory and every village where some big industry is located shall not only have a fire department fully equipped, but also one so organized that the minimum of time is lost in getting it to work. When such is not the case it is because a spirit of cheese – paring penuriousness exists, which needs to be (as it so often is) counteracted by a disastrous conflagration. In English villages, however, it is not so much a spirit of miscalled economy that rules as one of apathy—a take-it-for-granted idea that, because there’s never been a bad fire up to the present, there won’t be one; or else a feeling of security is engendered in the minds of the property-owners on account of their being (as they generally are) well covered by insurance. Over there they do not seem to heed the loss that must necessarily accrue to them in the way of orders not filled—impossible to be filled for some months on account of the fire. On the contrary, so conservative are many of the English merchants and tradespeople that in many instances, except in cases of the great cst emergency, they will even wait till the factory or mill or printing office is working again, rather than place their orders elsewhere with some house, equally as good, but not that with which they and their fathers before them, to a third or fourth generation back, have been accustomed to deal. There is also another reason why fire departments in England are often backward in reaching the scene of a fire, and that is the question as to how the men shall be paid for working outside the parish or district to which they are attached. In some cases they have been refused any compensation whatever; in others, one that would not even pay their expenses of horse hire, and driver hire, or fuel. To such a head, indeed, has this trouble come that some departments have had to resort to the courts in order to recover the fees to which thty are entitled by lawand even then the decisions have been so various as to afford no precedent on which others may act. Some departments have, therefore, refused to attend outside fires at all; others have made a hard and fast arrangement with the local municipal authorities, the property-owners, or the various insurance offices; while some (it is fair to say they are quite in the minority), on arriving at the scene of the fire, have insisted either on a certain sum being then and there paid them in cash or a check handed over to their chief before they will throw a stream on the flames. For this reason it is that the English National Eire Brigades Union has taken the matter up, and will endeavor to obtain a definite ruling on the subject. All of which seems very strange (to put it mildly) to American firemen, who are neither slow tn turn out to help whenever and wherever a fire may break out, nor mercenary enough to haggle over the pecuniary indemnity to be paid them for the services they render. Where life and property are in danger an American fire department is always freely at the disposition of its fellow citizens.