How One Town Held Fire Losses to $881 in Eleven Years
Woodsboro, Texas, Volunteer Fire Department Cut Fire Losses Through Consistent Education Against Fire Hazards
WOODSBORO, TEXAS, does not openly claim to have the lowest pel capita fire record in the United States. “All we know for sure,” declares Fire Chief A. F. Sommers, “is that insurance men and state officials tell us we have the best record in the country. We are a little proud of it.”
In 11 years, the incorporated town of Woodsboro has suffered a total fire loss of $881. It has a population (1940 census) of 1426. T hat is an average ot only $80.09 per year and a per capita loss per year of only 56 cents, compared to about $3.37 per capita average for the nation. Naturally Chief Sommers and his 34 volunteer firemen are a little proud of the record.
Education Basis of Program
“The secret of our record, if there is any secret.” Chief Sommers explains, between poundings of his hammer upon metal on his anvil in his blacksmith shop which he has operated in Woodsboro for 25 years, “is that w’e avoid fire losses by stopping fires before they start. We do it through education. We have carried out a consistent program for more than ten years, to make the public acutely conscious of its duty in preventing fires.”
The foundation of the program is in the public schools. Fire prevention is a regular school course. Schools devote two periods weekly to it. The fire department not only supplies the material for use in the course but provides speakers for many of the classes.
“Woodsooro kids really want to grow up to be firemen,” Chief Sommers muses, “because they’re taught the importance of fire fighting and fi.re prevention from their first year in school.”
The courses teach students to prevent fires by the careful use of matches, by keeping rubbish cleared from the yards and aheys and waste and trasn irom attics and closets in the home. The older boys are cautioned against the careless tossing of burning cigarettes, and substitutions for electric fuses. Young Woodsboro citizens grow up acutely conscious of the danger of fire and the importance of guarding against it.
The fiye department constantly develops good material for the department through the organization of a Junior Volunteer Fire Department. Nearly every boy in town aspires to belong to the junior firemen, and those between the ages of 14 and 16 are eligible, providing they take the courses at school seriously and are willing to conform to the regulations of the youngsters’ club.
The boys run their own organization, meet weekly and drill seriously, under the direction of the regular fire department. They answer fire alarms, same as the regular firemen, except that they are not allowed to ride the fire trucks.
This objection is overcome, to a degree, through the fire department’s givmg every school child a ride on the trucks during annual Fire Prevention Week.
When a member of the junior group has attained the age of 18 (17 by consent ot parents) and can qualify, he is eligible for membership in the regular department. Obviously the Woodsboro Volunteer Fire Department raises” most of its recruit firemen, and they are excellent men from the beginning, because they have learned the fundamentals of fire fighting and fire prevention in their own organization and in school.
Woodsbo.ro firemen have done such an excellent job of fire prevention that Woodsboro residents simply don’t expect fires any more. This backfired a couple of years ago when the city suffered its worst single fire loss in 11 years.
Chief Sommers w»as working on the roof of his own home, when he chanced to see smoke pouring from the attic of a home several blocks away. He scampered down and turned in the alarm. Pie raced to the fire-house, clambered aboard one of the trucks and raced to the scene. Seeing nobody around, he .rushed into the house. He startled the housewife there.
“There’s nothing to be alarmed about. Mrs. Scoggins.’ the Chief said calmly, “but your house is on fire.” It was the first the woman knew of it.
“We were caught with a heavier loss than we should have been.” Mr. Sommers apologizes, “because we bad to string 1200 teet of hose to reach water.” The loss amounted to nearly $400. the heaviest in 11 years. In fact, that loss and another residence on the edge of town, which suffered a loss of around $300, contributed most of the total for the 11 years.
Although the fire department has found that the schools represent the greatest and the fundamental opportunity to “sell” its citizens on the importance of fire prevention, it does not stop there. Naturally, a lot of the older citizens never heard about fire prevention when they went to school; so a part of the over-all program is designed to caution the older residents as well.
Frequent posters dot the town, each giving a warning against,a specific fire hazard. “Don’t —” is the key word. Don’t accumulate rags and trash in closets and the attic. Don’t throw rubbish in the backya.rd or the alley. Don’t toss away a burning cigarette without stamping it. Each poster features some “don’t” which, if obeyed, cuts down fire hazards. Because the children already are thoroughly enthusiastic about fire prevention, they help the department to sell the oldsters. Thus the whole town is acutely “fire prevention conscious”.
During Fire Prevention Week the schools hold special fire prevention programs, with the help of members of the fire department, and speakers from the department, or outsiders obtained by the fire department, talk before the various clubs in the t-xwn, stressing the value of year-round fire prevention. The low insurance rate resulting from such low losses appeals to business men and the firemen make the most of this appeal.
The enthusiasm engendered by the fire department for fire prevention extends beyond the hounds of the town. About four years ago. when Chief Sommers complained that it was dangerous to takr the department > only vehicle outside the city limits to fight fires, lartners asked what a new truck, equipped to serve the rural areas around town, would cost. Mr. Sommers told them he thought they could make out with about $3,000. In a few days a spokesman for a hastily-formed farmers’ committee presented the chief with cash and checks totalling $3,500.
He boaght a stripped-down vehicle, because the nation was in the midst of a war and the proper body and fixtures were unavailable. So, Sir. Sommers moved the new vehicle into his blacksmith shop and built it from its strippeddown condition into a highly practical fire-fighting machine. It contains a booster with a tank capacity of 30(> gallon’. and the vehicle has saved farmers serious fire loss many times since its activation. It gave the department two serviceable trucks, both triple combinations.
Chief Sommers, who has served since 1939. finds it important to make a point of having members of the local utilities organizations in the department. He thinks an executive of the gas company, a representative of public utility organization, a practical electrician and a good plumber should he members of the department at all times. They not onlyare aware of fire hazards hut can be of real service in teaching others the importance of guarding against fires and of course they make valuable technical men yy-hen a fire is being fought.
The firemen meet consistently every Monday night, for drill and study. Chief Sommers recognizes the value of providing good speakers, some entertainment and a progressive course of study, to maintain consistent interest in the meetings. Most important than any of these, however, he believes, is the personal pride taken by every member, in the excellent record of the department.
“No member wants it to be said that his negligence at any time, even indirectly through failure to attend meetings, contributed to a greater fire loss.” Chief Sommers stresses.