Fire Underwriters Meet in Hotel Pennsylvania, New York-President Morton’s Address-Officers Re-elected

THE National Board of Fire Underwriters held its annual meeting on May 25 at the Hotel Pennsylvania, New York City, with a very large attendance. President John B. Morton delivered his annual address, the portions of which dealing with Fire Prevention matters being in part as follows:

When the National Board of Fire Underwriters completed its fiftieth year, an outside observer characterized it as a “civilizing force.” The National Board spirit is a thing apart from all of us, a thing whose beginning dates from an earlier generation, but which seems to be steadily evolving with each added year. Our work is becoming increasingly charged with public service, and the executives of our members are devoting much time and energy to the work of our committees, whose activities will be reported to you today.

When the National Board was organized in 1865, it was principally with a view of an association for the protection and preservation of our business, and I feel that these objects have never been abused. Further than that, taking into consideration the character of the service furnished to the public through the operations of its Fire Prevention, Building Construction, Public Relations and Arson Committees, it would be a disaster to the public welfare if such service were discontin ued.

Today, in 1922, the world appears to be slowly winning its way back to stability and order. There is, however, one important respect in which American prosperity and efficiency are being hampered, and that is by the waste of capital resources through preventable fires. It is contended that the fire insurance business owes its existence to the fact of fire destruction, and that every large fire is likely to stimulate the writing of fire insurance; yet, strange as it has seemed to many oeople, the fire insurance interests have for years taken the leadership in promoting fire prevention. Our own organization, the National Board of Fire Underwriters, has always waged unremitting warfare upon preventable fires. This is not, as some have affected to believe, a matter of narrow self-interest for the reasons already stated, but it is a recognition by the fire underwriters of principles that are now beginning to be recognized by other lines of business as well, and that must ultimately become universal in our social structure. These principles are, first, that every person and every organization owes more to the general welfare than mere industry and obedience to law, since there is also an obligation to render some distinct, form of public service; and, secondly, that those who profit from the existence of any condition cannot avoid the responsibility for seeking to limit its public menace.

American fire waste is excesive in amount, and disastrous in its results. It costs thousands of lives and hundreds of millions of dollars each year; it drains resources, retards industry and generally impairs prosperity; it reduces our supply of homes at a time when the housing shortage is already acute; it throws labor out of work at a time when unemployment is widespread, and, what is most deplorable, it is known to be largely preventable. The responsibility for this condition rests almost exclusively upon the American public and it can be corrected only when the American public, in a general way, is aroused to the task; but the responsibility for leadership in this direction has been assumed by the fire insurance interests upon the principle that their business has grown out of fire hazards and that this fact is the moral warrant for such leadership.

Gentlemen of the National Board of Fire Underwriters. I know that most of you have already made records of public service in this regard, but I feel that in this year 1922 there can be no such thing as over-emphasis of the importance of fire prevention work. The public must be aroused and educated as never before and all forces must be drawn into increased efficiency of operation, I say this in view of the disquieting fire losses shown by the year 1921. Our Actuarial Bureau has not yet completed the enormous task of compiling the 1921 figures, but an estimate upon the same basis as last year brings the total fire loss of this country to some $388,000,000, and to this must still be added the twenty-five per cent, that is deemed a conservative estimate for losses on unreported fires. Thus, from present indications, the 1921 fire waste will approach $485,000,000. There has been no single great conflagration, and yet out of the accumulated carelessness of the American people has grown a fire waste that is seriously retarding our national economic development.

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National Board Holds Annual Meeting

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Now, gentlemen, in a competition for trade with the nations of the word, America, suffering, as it does, an unnecessary annihilation of nearly a half billion dollars of its capital resources in a single year, may be compared to a runner starting in a race with a heavy handicap. It seems to me, therefore, that one of the lessons for the year 1922 is that of the urgent necessity for reducing this burden. America can never be efficient and prosperous in the highest degree until it learns and applies the lessons of conservation and economy.

Quite a number of important committee reports were received, those relating to Fire Prevention matters being as follows: Executive committee, incendiarism and arson, laws, construction of buildings, fire prevention and engineering standards and statistics and origin of fires. In the report of the last named committee the following table, showing per capita losses in cities exceeding $5, is significant:

All of the officers were reelected as follows: President, John B. Morton, vice-president of the Fire Association; vicepresident, W. H. Stevens, president of the Agricultural; treasurer. R. Emory Warfield, president of the Hanover, secretary, Sumner Ballard, president of the International. The following were elected members of the executive committee to serve three years: James Wypr, vice-president of the Hartford; J. B. Levison, president of the Firemen’s Fund; Percival Beresford, United States manager of the Phoenix of London; D. H. Dunham, president of the Firemen’s of Newark; Wilfred Kurth, vice-president of the Home.

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