Ignorance, Carelessness and Indifference as Fire Causes

Ignorance, Carelessness and Indifference as Fire Causes

In preparing a paper to read before this convention, I take it for granted that I may be permitted to digress to some extent from the main thought assigned me. However, I wish I possessed the faculties and knowledge to go into every detail of this important question, for at this time, when our Government and its allies are in a death struggle with an enemy that would destroy everything that is sacred to a God-fearing, peaceloving and a free people, one’s mind tries to reach into the dark recesses of every one’s thought to ascertain whether or not they are allies of the enemy. We have such people with us, and the shame of it is that they are wearing the mask of patriotism. That is why we find it difficult to single them out, but single them out we must. Many people are allies of the enemy, but do not realize the fact, and do not intend to be. When a man fails to do all within his power to assist his government, let that be work, money or life itself, he is an enemy ally. We owe all we have to our country. I might define some of these allies as follows: ignorance, carelessness, indifference and intentional. The last named, we must give no quarter when detected, but he it is that is giving the fire marshals most concern at this time. He does his work quietly and cunningly at a time when no one suspects. The other classes can be reached through education. If the people of the United States could be taught to concentrate their minds on fire prevention, to the same extent that they do along other lines, there would be little necessity for holding this convention, or for maintaining expensive fire departments. Millions of dollars annually could be diverted to other channels, thousands of precious lives would be saved, and instead of heart-aches and regrets over the loss of loved ones, happiness like patriotism, which at this time fills the hearts of the great American people, would enter our homes. The toll that is being paid fhe fire demon in this country is appalling, it is a disgrace, and most of this loss is caused by carelessness or ignorance.


To shoot fireworks at Christmas is another way of becoming an enemy ally. There is a tendency on the part of some manufacturers to have city ordinances amended or repealed on the plea that pyrotechnic displays would aid in a patriotic celebration. Only a few years ago in this State at every Christmas season scores of people were either killed or injured on account of the use of fireworks. In recent years every town or city of importance has passed ordinances either prohibiting the shooting of fireworks or restricting their use to a minimum. As a result, we have comparatively few accidents of this nature reported. The property loss from this cause, once very large, has also been greatly reduced. Every department of the Government, of State and nation, is moving under high tension to produce and conserve every resource to the end that our country and our allies may prosecute this war to a speedy and successful end. In spite of all of these efforts, millions of dollars loss of foodstuff, so indispensable to the prosecution, occurred in the United States during the past few months. When a firecracker, skyrocket or roman candle explodes it carries into the night a streak of fire and scatters sparks. Not one of them has a mechanical contrivance that controls its course. No one can determine where this streak of fire will go or what it will strike. Use what care you may, a skyrocket may carry its fire into barn, warehouse, where food is stored, or a cotton gin, compress or platform, and there smolder for a time and then burst into a conflagration, carrying with it the loss of material badly needed by our soldiers and our allies. I have issued rules and regulations for the keeping, storing, use, sale and handling of fireworks and other explosives. Last year we were, perhaps, a little lax in the enforcement of these rules because dealers had, previous to the issuing of the same, laid in a supply of fireworks, but this year the law shall be enforced to the letter.

State Fire Prevention Commissioner Ed. M. Gillenwaters, Tennessee.

Importance of Education.

Education from now on should be the watchword not only of fire marshals but of superintendents and teachers of public institutions. I have talked with many heads of departments of public instruction, but few seem to grasp the full significance of the situation. They do not realize the enormous loss of life and property annually because they are not informed. Think of the lives that are blotted out every year! Think of the vast amount of property that is destroyed! Our man power is being weakened, and our resources consumed; this at a time when all materials so necessary to win the war should be conserved. The people of this country should be awakened, for they are asleep. In almost everv issue of the daily papers we are admonished to save—save food, save materials. Public speakers are making the same appeal all over the country, but not enough publicity is given to fire prevention through the public press, not enough said by these speakers warning the people to be careful and not let the flames consume that which they are asked to save. Why is this so? I say it is for want of education. The children in the schools should be taught “fire prevention” at an impressionable age, and when this is done I venture to predict that the fire loss in this country will be reduced to a very low figure. However, I am glad to note that the national Government is preparing to take a hand. Secretary McAdoo has suggested that “Fire Prevention” Day be postponed from October 9 to November 2, at which time 60,000 four-minute men will awaken the nation to the seriousnesss of the situation. My department has concurred in the suggestion of Secretary McAdoo, and will act accordingly. Recently a fire prevention manual for the school children of America was prepared by the National Board of Fire Underwriters, and should be adopted by every school in the country as a part of the children’s education. I have recommended its use in the schools of my state, and feel sure that this will be done at the next session of the Legislature, and I am glad to state that our superintendent of public instruction is in hearty accord with this move.

Fire Departments.

There is a tendency on the part of some city officials to reduce the number of men employed in fire departments, this false step being taken in the name of economy. A well-paid and up-to-date fire department is the most valuable asset that any city can boast of, and every effort on the part of this association and its members should be exerted to the end that a full crew of men and sufficient equipment be employed. I call your attention to this, not because you are not familiar with it, but for the reason that you may offer some suggestion that can be taken back by each fire marshal to his community and carried out.


If it were not for the fact that many buildings, and especially contents, are permitted to be over-insured, there would be a wonderful reduction in the annual fire loss. I have on more than one occasion tried to impress the importance of this matter upon the minds of the insurance men, in an endeavor to persuade them to take some action, but so far have failed, especially in my own State. If men were not allowed to over-insure their stocks or building, they would take more precaution about fire. In almost every case, perhaps, the insurance agent is to blame; he is anxious to write business, and is not careful enough when making an inventory. On the other hand, when the insured knows that he is more than covered with insurance he is indifferent about keeping his premises free of rubbish and other inflammable things, and will frankly tell an inspector that he is amply protected in the event of a fire. Then there is the “fire bug,” or, perhaps. I should say the man who secures insurance with the view of selling out to the insurance company; also the man who finds himself in debt and cannot pay out. It is not the purely accidental fires that are costing the American people so much, as it is those from other causes. I wish to mention the fact that the Tennessee Inspection Bureau has furnished my department valuable assistance, and I would feel ungrateful if I did not take advantage at this time to mention and thank F. B. Quackenbose, head of this bureau, for the expert advice which he has furnished my working force.

*Excerpts from a paper read at the convention of the State Fire Marshals’ Association of North America at Sioux Falls, S. Dak.

Fire Marshal Part of Uncle Sam’s Army.

Every fire marshal is and should be a part of Uncle Sam’s army. I do not believe there is any class of men doing more to assist our Government and its allies in this great world struggle for humanity. We are sparing neither money nor energy in our endeavor to save from the flames the sinews of war. Let us not relax in our efforts, but work with a determination, always ready and anxious to do our part, let that be what it may. The great fight is on for the freedom of the world, and in order to terminate it and win, it is necessary to keep Old Glory in one hand and a sword in the other, never looking backward until the end. We, as fire marshals, are in a position to render a great service to our country, especially at this time, for that which our soldiers must have, in order to continue on the battle front, must be saved from destruction. We are depended upon to render this service, and must not fail, and when victory comes you and I shall be proud of the part we took, let that be great or small.

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