How the Fire Department Can Prevent Fires Through Inspections

How the Fire Department Can Prevent Fires Through Inspections

Success Depends Largely Upon the Inspector Himself—Best Results Will Come Through Courtesy, Firmness and Tact


Chief Engineer

Kansas Inspection Bureau

It Takes a Uniformed Inspector to Get Action

ONE of the most important means of “fighting fires before they occur” is by means of inspections conducted by the uniformed force of the Fire Department. The following paper makes some excellent suggestions along these lines:

No part of a fireman’s duties is of greater importance or will bring greater returns than periodical inspection of mercantile and public buildings. Perhaps careful and systematic inspection is more important than actual fire fighting for there is no way of knowing how many fires may be prevented by the removal or safeguarding of fire hazards, and certainly a fire prevented means more to the fireman and property owner than even an incipient fire extinguished.

Not only are fire hazards discovered and removed or safeguarded, thus eliminating cause for a fire to occur, but the fireman obtains valuable information about the construction and arrangement of the building and may thus apprehend what fire may be expected to do should it get a start. It is mighty essential that firemen know their battle ground, i.e., have a full knowledge of the construction of the building, the exposure from and to other buildings so that the fire’s spread may be guarded against and the arrangement of stock, furniture and fixtures as well as an understanding of exits. Often one will venture in too far and find it necessary to leave by the quickest possible way out. One’s safety should always be foremost in thought, for an injured fireman is of no assistance in fire fighting.

Whether a volunteer or a full paid fireman and regardless of an ordinance requiring regular inspections, every member of a department owes it to himself and the community he serves to make inspections. If he is not required by ordinance to inspect, he should be very observing every time he enters a building, and call the owner’s attention to any irregularity or hazardous condition he may notice and offer any suggestion that might tend to conserve life and property.

The up-to-date fire departments are very active in fire prevention, and today no such organization is putting forth its best effort unless it is doing effective work in preventing fires. It devolves upon the Chief to take the initiative in such work and formulate a plan whereby all of his men may have a knowledge of hazards and an opportunity to occasionally inspect buildings in which they might be called upon to battle a fire.

Success Depends Upon Inspector

The success and value of inspections depend upon the character, ability, intelligence, diplomacy, tact, knowledge and judgment of the inspector and the manner and thoroughness of his work. He should be familiar with all ordinances and regulations pertaining to building construction and fire hazards. He should have a broad understanding of common and special hazards so often found, and be authority on matters of this kind. He should have an observing eye, an inquisitive mind and be willing to investigate thoroughly each building he endeavors to inspect. He should be able to explain fire hazards found and above all he should have the good will and confidence of the property owners. One should not be officious, bull-dozing, nor should one ever abuse his authority, and no inspection should ever be made without the knowledge and sanction of the owner.

Technical Knowledge Helpful But Not Necessary to Inspection

While technical knowledge is helpful, its lack should not discourage the fireman. Most fires are due to very common causes with which nearly all firemen are familiar. When conditions are encountered where the degree of hazard is doubtful, it is generally an easy matter to obtain the advice and counsel of someone well-informed and trained in the business. In all cases good judgment is of first importance. Criticism should be constructive; in other words, when a hazard is pointed out call it to the attention of the owner by suggesting some practical method of safe-guarding the condition, if possible, rather than leave him in the dark as to what to do. When sure that a hazardous condtion exists, the inspector should show a gentlemanly firmness and persistance in having the needed corrections made. Owners nearly always welcome any reasonable suggestions that are made in the interest of protection against loss by fire.

Best to Wear Uniform, or at Least Badge

It is best to wear the fireman’s uniform or badge in inspection work. As the building is approached, observe carefully the type of construction, condition of walls, roof, and chimneys, exposure to and from other buildings, outside fire escapes, accessibility, location of nearest hydrant and fire alarm box. Plan how lines of defense should be laid in the event of fire and what precautions should be taken to keep it from spreading to other buildings.

Be Helpful, Firm, But Always Courteous

After receiving permission to proceed with the interior inspection, be on the lookout for all fire hazards and undesirable conditions. Discuss with the owner any suggestions you may have to offer. Avoid petty fault finding and don’t be drawn into useless arguments. Your business is to find hazards and defects and make practical and constructive recommendations for improvement.

Equip yourself with a good handbook for inspectors. When you are sure of your ground, be firm but always courteous and respectful and insist upon proper correction of defects. Never lose control of your temper regardless of what is said. Make your recommendations in the form of suggestions rather than official demands. Only after all other methods have failed should legal proceedings be taken. Don’t let any one with political influence interfere with you in doing your duty.

Be systematic in making inspections, start at the top and work down to the basement. Do not pass up the attic, closets or unused rooms; make the inspection thorough in every respect. Provide yourself with an electrical flashlight so that you may see into all corner and dark places without the risk of lighting matches.

Sketch of Each Building Should Be Made

Make a sketch of each building showing exits, stair and elevator shafts, skylights, arrangement of stock and fixtures and other detail that should be considered, and always record conditions as found in some convenient form, and afterwards discuss with other members of the department the possibility and probability of a fire, how it should be fought, what precautions should be taken to keep it from spreading and what method would be best to keep the loss from fire, smoke and water down to the minimum.

There are many causes of fire, all of which may be divided into three classes: Carelessness, Ignorance, Indifference. It is your duty to endeavor to cause people to be more careful and thoughtful and realize the danger of fire. Those ignorant of hazards that exist should he informed. The indifferent person is a poor citizen and here is where diplomacy and tact is required to change his attitude before sad and costly experience changes it for him.

Some Common Hazards Encountered

Perhaps it might be well to briefly mention a few common hazards you are likely to encounter, and also two or three features of construction of buildings.

When conditions are favorable fire will spread to other buildings through unprotected openings; therefore, it would be proper to recommend wired glass in approved metal frames or standard fire shutters on all windows that are exposed. Openings in division fire walls should be protected by approved Class “A” fire doors properly hung on each side of the wall. Fire will spread very rapidly thru open stairway, elevator and light shafts.

Approximately 15 per cent of the fires are caused by defective chimneys, many of which are not built from the ground or foundation as they should be, and only in recent years has it become the custom to line them with fire clay tile. Every few years chimneys need to be retopped. Stovepipes, when extended through combustible floors, ceilings, roofs, partitions, sides of a building and similar places, are dangerous and should always be provided with ventilation thimbles.

Practically all conflagrations may be laid to the wood shingle and the hazard is eliminated when roofs are covered with approved composition, metal, slate, tile or other incombustible material.

Electrical Hazards

The wheels of progress could no longer go round without electricity, but care should be taken in the installation of electric wiring and the rules of the National Electrical Code should always be followed. It is very unsafe to overfuse circuits and a fuse, which is the safety valve, should never be jumped with wire or otherwise tampered with. Watch out for improper use of common lamp cord; it is dangerous. Insist on pilot lights or other approved indicating device to be used in connection with electric irons, and request that they rest upon an approved stand.

Miscellaneous Precautions

It requires less effort and time to throw rubbish beneath the stairs, in a closet or into some unused room than remove it from the building. It is not very safe to burn trash in the high value district, especially in the open. Brick, stone or concrete make the best incinerators.

In machine shops, garages, and similar places, standard waste cans should be provided for oily waste and rags, and these should be emptied daily and the refuse burned.

(Continued on page 299)

This is Where the Exhibits of the I. A. F. C. Will be Held

Displays of manufacturers will be exhibited in the Minto Armory at Winnipeg, Canada, in conjunction with the annual meeting of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, September 9-12 Chief Charles Alt, of St. Louis, Mo., is chairman of the Exhibit Committee, and all interested should communicate with him. The armory has a floor area of nearly 30,000 square feet. The upper photograph shows the inside of the armory and the lower, the exterior. Bus transportation will be provided from the exhibit hall to the place where the meetings are to be held.

Preventing Fires Through Inspections

(Continued from page 276)

All parts of all heating devices should have ample clearance to combustible material. Vent pipes used in connection with gas stoves should always extend to a chimney and never be run in combustible partitions. All flexible gas connections are dangerous: stoves should be connected only with rigid iron pipe. Ashes should never be deposited in combustible receptacles and should be removed from the building frequently.

The Perils of Gasoline and Oil

Gasoline, one of the greatest and most common of fire hazards, may be found in nearly every risk, and is used extensively for cleaning garments and machinery, all of which is extremely dangerous. A gallon of gasoline will push an automobile several miles along a country road, and when conditions are right the same amount is sufficient to lift a fairly large building from its foundation. Many persons lose their life and others are frightfully burned as a result of cleaning clothes with gasoline. Small quantities should be kept in approved safety cans and, if in excess of 5 gallons, should be kept in underground tanks outside of any building. Educate people to use a non-flammable liquid for spotting clothes.

In spite of all the warnings, many tragedies occur every year as a result of using coal oil to kindle the tire.

An average of 5 school buildings burn each day of the year. The burning of school property is a set back to American progress. Retarding the education of school children is a disaster of far greater consequence than destruction of property.

Keeping Extinguishers Up to the Mark

Many different kinds of first aid appliances will be found and one should look to it that they are properly maintained and ready for instant use. Extinguishers should be recharged annually and immediately after use. It is generally not necessary to refill the carbon tetrachloride type every year, but a portion of the liquid should be pumped out to make sure that the appliance is in good order, and the container should be kept filled at all times.

Directions should be followed carefully, using only recharges recommended by the manufacturer of the extinguisher; otherwise, the extinguisher may not work when needed. A tag should always be attached, showing date of re-charging. Anti-freezing ingredients should never be mixed with solutions in the soda-acid or foam type extinguishers as this will impair the action of the appliance and cause corrosion. Water pails, sand pails and water barrels should always be kept filled. Underwriters’ Laboratories’ label on an extinguisher is a guarantee that it is effective on fires for which it is designed to be used, and this label is a protection against sub-standard devices.

Water should never be run through linen hose, except in case of fire, but it should always be noted to see if the hose is beginning to rot at the point where it is connected to the standpipe, and if its condition is generally reliable and ready for immediate use.

Inspection of buildings by members of the Fire Department is such a broad subject that time is not sufficient to go into much detail, and only a few of the important points can be taken up. Much could be said about the storage of combustible fibres, hazardous chemicals, various kinds of oils, explosives and many other hazards, all of which one should have some knowledge.

Service is the key note of the Fire Department, and by doing intelligent inspection work, in addition to the fire lighting activities, the Department will be giving the tax payers a full measure of usefulness and public service. The fireman should be as welcome on his fire prevention mission as he is when responding to a fire call, and after the public learns to have confidence in him, he may depend upon its full cooperation.

(From a paper read before the Firemen’s Short Course of the Nebraska State Firemen’s Association, at Kearney.)

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