Necessity for Fire Prevention and Inspection Bureaus*

Necessity for Fire Prevention and Inspection Bureaus*

General News Articles

What is the best method of installing and organizing a fire-prevention and inspection bureau in cities where there is no such bureau, nor a separate fund set aside for such work? What ordinances should be enacted to enable inspectors to do efficient work and have their orders carried out? That there is a necessity for a fireprevention and inspection bureau in any city which has an organized fire department is no longer questioned, but for the benefit of all concerned we are giving below a comparative report showing the number of fire alarms and the property loss by fire for the first six months of 1912 and 1913 in the city of Milwaukee. In 1912 the inspection work in Milwaukee was the same as that which had been in force for a number of years. The inspection was done by captains and lieutenants, who went out several days each week and covered their respective districts. The inspection was carried out throughout the city in general without any particular stress being laid on any part of it. However, in 1913, in addition to the regular inspection by captains and lieutenants, there has been a force of men who have been doing inspection work only. This inspection force has directed its efforts towards inspecting the congested store and factory districts in the “downtown” part of the city. The comparative reports for the first six months of 1912 and 1913, given separately for each month, are as follows:

Property loss for June, 1913, incomplete; total loss for this month will probably be less than for any preceding month in 1913.

The number of alarms are reported in full, but the property loss for June, 1913, is given in part only, as the full reports have not as yet been received. However, we believe that the loss in property for this month will be less than for any of the preceding months in 1913. As the report above shows, there were 170 alarms fewer in 1913 than in 1912 (for the first six months), and there was a saving in property of approximately $269,110.99. It should be kept in mind that the city has been growing right along, so that the difference is even greater in favor of the 1913 report than the figures show. Had it been possible to obtain comparative figures showing the number of alarms and the property loss in 1912 and 1913 for that particular district upon which the inspection force has been concentrating its efforts, the results would have appeared even more gratifying than they are. As a matter of fact, for the past several months there have been very few alarms or fires in this downtown district that is receiving attention in particular, most of the alarms having come from the outlying districts. We are well satisfied that the reduction in alarms and loss of property is the result of efficient inspection. Now that it has been shown that inspection is necessary, the question is, what is the best method of installing and organizing a fire-prevention and inspection bureau in cities where there is no such bureau, nor a separate fund set aside for such work? We believe that the chief engineer of the fire department should select from the oldest and most experienced firemen in his department one man who will direct the work of inspection. The chief engineer must also select one, two, three, or as many assistants as the size of the city warrants and demands, who will report to the chief inspector and work under his directions. This brings up the question, how can the chief engineer appoint such men from his department and put them on inspection work when there is no fund provided for it? The answer to this is, that men will remain on the regular pay roll of their respective companies. Of course, this will necessitate vacancies in various companies, but it must be so arranged that the vacancies occur in companies located in the thinly populated districts, for under no circumstances should the companies in congested districts be shorthanded. The result of thorough and efficient inspection will tend to eliminate the cause for a great many alarms and will bring about a great reduction in the number of fires. Moreover, the likelihood of fires getting beyond control will be lessened, owing to the fact that dangerous accumulations of rubbish in congested districts will be removed, and time and experience will show that it is far better to have a few men partolling the city preventing fires than it is to have these same men in their respective companies waiting for fires to be put out. The best means for organizing a bureau is, of course, to select experienced men from the ranks of the department, and then fill their places with new men. But this would require a separate fund for the inspection bureau, and where there is no such fund the next best thing to do is to choose the men from the department and distribute the vacancies in the various companies as evenly as possible. Now, after the choice of men has been decided upon, how shall the bureau be organized and begin work? The chief engineer has appointed one man, a captain, for instance, as chief inspector. The remaining men on the bureau will be his assistants. The chief engineer will outline the work of inspection for the bureau and the chief inspector will proceed to carry out the plans. Having received his orders or suggestions from the chief engineer, the chief inspector will give his orders to his assistants, and he will personally supervise the work of inspection. The most dangerous and congested districts will be inspected first, then the downtown sections in general, and finally the outskirts of the city. Complete records of existing conditions must be kept by the assistant inspectors, and after each day’s work they will hand in their reports to the chief inspector, who will keep a permanent record of all inspections. The method of procedure is important to get the best results. The first step necessary is to interview the owner or occupant of a building or premises and request him to conduct the men throughout the place. The object of the inspection is first made known to him, and then the work of inspection can proceed. The inspector looks for anything and everything which may cause fire or endanger lives and property by fire. This may include rubbish, defective wiring, defective gas piping, defective furnace piping, defective chimneys, roofs, lighting systems, heating systems and appliances, storage of volatile liquids, acids, explosives, oily waste, defective doors, fire escapes, halls, aisles, etc. In fact, any condition that the inspector feels is a danger to the premises or to adjoining buildings or premises will be noted, and the owner or occupant, or whoever is responsible for the building or premises, will be requested to make suitable alterations. There are so many types and kinds of defects and conditions that are dangerous to buildings or districts where buildings are congested, from a fireman’s point of view, that it will not be attempted to enumerate them. It is sufficient to say that it should be left to the judgment of the fire department inspection bureau to determine whether or not danger exists, and if, in the opinion of the bureau, a particular building or premises is thought to be dangerous, that should settle any controversy on that point. The object of the inspection is to prevent fires and thereby save lives and property and is a great benefit to the community at large, and when it is deemed necessary by the bureau of inspection to have changes made they should be made at once. This, of course, must be done by the occupants, proprietors or owners of buildings or premises. The chief inspector will notify the proper party or parties of the changes that are necessary and they should be made without delay. After sufficient time has been allowed for suggested changes to be made, a second inspection will be necessary to see if the instructions have been carried out We now come to the second part of the topic, namely. What ordinances should be enacted to enable inspectors to do efficient work and have their orders carried out? It can readily be seen that all the inspecting in the world would be useless if the ideas of the inspection bureau were not carried out to completion. If the inspection bureau made a thorough inspection of a particularly dangerous building, for instance, and left explicit instruction as to what changes were to be made, and returned after a reasonable length of time had been allowed for the needed changes to be made to find conditions not a bit different than thev were at first, the bureau would be doing useless work. This is a condition that inspectors sometimes bump up against, and unless they are invested by law with authority to enforce their instructions there might as well be no inspection bureau. Therefore, in order to enable the inspectors to carry out their orders, ordinances should be passed giving them the authority necessary to have these instructions obeyed. Every member of the bureau should be invested with the power to serve a notice of complete instructions for changes or alterations to property owners, accupants of buildings, or premises, or whoever has charge of same. They should have the right and power to be allowed to inspect any and every building or premises within the city limits, should be empowered to give instructions for correction of faults, and should have the power to serve warrants for arrest of anyone who fails to recognize the orders of the bureau. This will enable the work of inspection to go right along with full assurance that the bureau’s orders will be carried out. Efficiency in the inspection bureau is “as desirable, if not more so, as it is in any other municipal department, and the higher the efficiency the greater the saving to the city and its people. For high efficiency in the inspection bureau every member of the bureau must have a thorough knowledge of all appliances for fire protection in buildings and premises, such as automatic sprinklers, standpipes and hose reel attachments, portable chemicals, automatic fire doors, etc. He must be sufficiently acquainted with heating, lighting and power systems to enable him to determine if there are any defects, such as defective wiring, for instance. Another important feature of the work of inspection is the manner of approaching the parties with whom it is necessary to transact the business of inspection and carrying out of orders. The inspectors must use all possible tact when interviewing people; they must be polite, and must live up to the dignity of their office. All men are not alike when it comes to being interviewed on a subject like this, and much more can be accomplished if the inspectors use tact than if they stalk into a man’s office, show their badges, and demand recognition. The inspectors must bear in mind that their chief aim is to determine whether a building is in safe condition as regards fire, and to have necessary changes made, and if -they are careful and considerate in their manner of approaching people they will get the quickest and best results. The chief inspector must be the man to direct the work of inspection, and upon him will fall the responsibility of seeing that the inspection is carried out with efficiency. He must carefully review the conditions and then map out his plan of attack. The congested business and manufacturing districts will come first. After these districts have been disposed of and the city thereby rid of the largest number of dangerous places for breeding of fire, the chief inspector will figure out the next district to be inspected. Of course, a uniform inspection of the city in general will be gong on at all times, but the concentrated inspection will have special attention. Owing to the great loss of life that usually accompanies a fire in a theater, special attention should be given to the inspection of every theater in a city. The chief inspector must keep his records complete in every detail, so that if there is any doubt as to any building having been inspected he will refer to his records and there he can find exactly when the inspection was done and how conditions were when first inspected, whether or not the suggested changes or corrections were made, and any other information that may have been recorded. If a property owner or occupant refuses absolutely to recognize the inspection bureau, the inspectors will proceed to have the man arrested and thus enforce the carrying out of their instructions. The work of inspection can, of course, never be completed. It stands to reason that a building must be inspected from time to time. The fact that it was inspected and found to be in proper condition at any stated time does not mean that it will always be so, and the inspection bureau will have to come back from time to time to see that everything is all right. Thus, by inspecting the worst places first, then going to the more thinly built up localities, then to the outskirts of the city, and beginning all over again and continuing this cycle of inspection, the city will have the benefit of the highest possible efficiency from its inspection bureau.

*Paper read at Convention of Wisconsin Paid Firemen’s Association, July 24.

No posts to display