Increased Fire Prevention Efforts Are Needed
Announcement by the National Board of Fire Underwriters that estimated fire losses of more than $1,107,000,000 for the year 1960 were the highest in history may spark some speculation concerning the effectiveness of this country’s fire prevention efforts. While the dollar loss total represents a waste of our resources which in large measure can be avoided, and is therefore nothing to be proud of, the National Board itself believes the nation is winning its never-ending battle against fire. Upon announcing the figures, the Board pointed out that the record loss over the past few years was in part due to the greater volume of construction and to rise in value of new and existing buildings as a result of inflation. The key to the latter statement is the fact that each year the loss of property burned is less when contrasted with the total number of buildings and their contents at risk.
The fire insurance industry has given concrete evidence in recent months that it accepts this analysis of the situation, for in many areas it has reduced premium costs to certain property owners. During 1960, substantial rate reductions, in some instances up to 50 per cent, for one and two-family dwellings, as well as for schools, hospitals and certain other public buildings were announced in seven Far Western and Pacific Coast states. These actions followed reductions in certain risk categories in other sections of this country.
Naturally this reflects great credit on the nation’s fire protection forces and the contribution they have made toward increased safety from fire. It is also a tangible tribute to community governing bodies and other public officials who recognize the importance of fire protection and strive to support and improve this vital service. Not to be forgotten at this time are the many contributions of the fire equipment industry which provides the apparatus and tools necessary to carry out this vital function.
The fire loss record of this country is not, however, something to boast about. It is instead a national stigma that can be reduced only by continued vigilance on the part of all concerned. Modern fire prevention efforts which have proven effective must be increased in scope and participation by fire fighters themselves. The International Association of Fire Chiefs stated not long ago that home fire inspection programs have been undertaken by nearly 50 per cent of all fire departments and the results have been most gratifying. According to the record, losses in the residential category have decreased where the program is employed, yet even greater achievements can be expected if only half of the remaining departments who have not instituted such inspections will take action. The ground work for this endeavor has been firmly established by the fire service itself and is a contribution to national safety that cannot be minimized. Yet greater efforts are required.
The field of fire research is also a subject which deserves greater effort and one which can pay increasing dividends in the coming years. Many public and private agencies, including individual fire departments, have made substantial contributions to this area during 1960. Yet if greater success is to be achieved in 1961 these efforts must be redoubled. From time to time fire fighters have expressed misgivings in this direction, fearing that lack of support on the part of the general public will defeat even the most sincere effort. It is only necessary to look at the population census figures to refute any detractor and strengthen those persons who may be wavering in their resolve to forge ahead.
It is officially stated that nearly 180 million people live within the confines of this Union. Latest estimates available indicate that almost 1 per cent of these persons are volunteer and paid fire fighters or fire protection persons in some category. The influence that such a number of our total population can exert on the whole is tremendous and this significant factor should not be overlooked. Certainly among this great total there is sufficient intelligence, ingenuity and leadership available to bring this country to new levels of genuine fire safety. What is immediately required is renewed effort on the part of all fire fighters and a welldirected program of public information such as that recently proposed at the midwinter meeting of the directors of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.