NEW FIRE PREVENTION LAW IN MASSACHUSETTS

NEW FIRE PREVENTION LAW IN MASSACHUSETTS

The Salem, Mass., conflagration was hastening fire regulation while it was yet burning. On June 26, before the fire was wholly extinguished, the state legislature passed the fire prevention bill for the Boston metropolitan district, which had been in the hands of a committee of the legislature since January 30 and on which a public hearing was held February 10. The bill, which had passed two readings would probably have become a law in due time if the Salem fire had not occurred, but that fire hastened its passage and made its adoption sure. This bill was first presented to the legislature by the Fire Hazard Commission last year and then defeatted by a considerable majority. It was again presented to the legislature this year by the Boston Chamber of Commerce and referred to the Committee on Metropolitan Affairs, which, after considering it for four months and eliminating much of the original bill, especially that which placed much of the control and management of the fire departments of 37 cities and towns in the hands of the fire prevention commissioners, presented the bill which has been adopted, and which applies to the 22 cities and towns of Arlington, Belmont, Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Lynn, Malden, Medford, Melrose, Milton, Newton, Quincy, Revere, Saugus, Somerville, Waltham, Watertown, Winchester, Winthrop and Woburn and others outside of the district which may vote to adopt it.

Provisions of the Law

The law provides that the governor shall appoint a fire prevention commissioner and a deputy commissioner for three-year terms, commencing August 1, 1914, who shall receive salaries of $3,500 and $2,500 respectively. The commission shall have the power now held in the cities and towns mentioned which by referendum vote shall accept this act by city councils, bodies, boards or persons, other than the general court and the judicial courts of the commonwealth they may be vested, to license persons or premises, or to grant permits for or to inspect or regulate or’ restrain the keeping, storage, use, manufacture, sale, handling, transportation or other disposition of gunpowder, dynamite, nitroglycerine, camphine or any similar fluids or compounds, crude petroleum or any of its products, or any explosive or inflammable fluids or compounds, tablets, torpedoes, rockets, toy pistols, fireworks, firecrackers, or any other explosives; and the use of engines and furnaces described in section 73 of chapter 102 of the Revised Laws. He shall also issue licenses or permits for the carrying out of any lawful rule, order or regulation or any inspection required under this act to the head of the fire department or to any other designated officer in any city or town in the metropolitan district. He shall have all the powers and duties of mavors, aldermen, city or town clerks and other officers within the metropolitan district under sections 73 to 77 of chapter 102 of the Revised Laws. The laws also provides that no paint, oil. benzine, naphtha or other inflammable fluid shall he kept or stored in bulk or barrel other than in the tank of an automobile nr motor boat or stationary engine in total quantity exceeding 10 gallons in any part of any building used for habitation or within 50 feet of any building used for dwelling purposes, unless it is enclosed within a fireproof room or structure, constructed and arranged to the satisfaction of the commissioner, and no paint, oil, benzine, naphtha or other inflammable fluid, except for domestic purposes, shall be kept, used, stored or sold in any part of any building used for habitation, unless a permit has been obtained from the commissioner under such terms and conditions as he may prescribe. No part of any building used for habitation, nor that part of any lot within 50 feet of any building so used, shall be used for the storage, keeping or handling of any combustible article for other than domestic purposes, or of any article or material that may be dangerous to the public safety as a fire menace, unless a permit has been obtained therefor from the commissioner. No part ot any such building shall be used as a carpenter’s shop nor for the storage, keeping or handling of feed, hay, straw, excelsior, shavings, sawdust, cotton, paper stock, feathers, or rags, except under such terms and conditions as the commissioner may prescribe. The regulating of heaps or collections of refuse considered a fire menace, stores for drying plaster, etc., is also provided for. Any building used in whole or in part for wood-working, or manufacturing or working upon wooden, basket, rattan or cane goods or articles, or tow, shavings, excelsior, oakum, rope, twine, string, thread, bagging, paper, paper stock, cardboard, rags, cotton or linen, or cotton or linen garments or goods, or rubber, feathers, paint, grease, soap, oil, varnish, petroleum, gasoline, kerosene, benzine, naphtha, or other inflammable fluids, and any building in the metropolitan district used in whole or in part for the business of keeping or storing any of such goods or articles, except in such small quantities as are usual for domestic use or for use in connection with and as incident to some business other than such keeping or storing, shall upon the order of the commissioner be equipped with automatic sprinklers: provided, however, that no such order shall apply to any building unless four or more persons live or are usually employed therein above the second floor. The basements of any buildings within the limits of the metropolitan district shall, upon notice in writing by the commissioner to the owners of the buildings, be equipped with such dry pipes with outside connections as the commission may prescribe. In addition, the commissioner has power to make orders and rules relating to fires, fire protection and fire hazard binding throughout the district, or any part of it, or binding upon any person or class of persons within said district, limited, however, to the following subjects: Requiring the keeping of portable fire extinguishers, buckets of water or other portable fire extinguishing devices on any premises by the occupant thereof, and prescribing the number and situation of such devices; prohibiting or regulating the accumulation, and reauiring the removal, of combustible rubbish, including waste paper, cardboard, string packing material, sawdust, shavings, sticks, rags, waste leather and rubber, boxes, barrels, broken furniture and o’her similar light or combustible refuse; prohibiting or regulating the setting or burning of fires out of doors; causing obstacles that may interfere with the means of exit to be removed from floors, halls, stairways and fire escapes; ordering the remedying of any conditions found to exist in or about any building or other premises, or any ship or vessel in violation of any law or ordinance, by-law, rule or order in respect to fires and the prevention of fire; causing any vessel moored to or anchored near any dock or pier to be removed and secured in some designated place: provided, such vessel shall be on fire or in danger of catching fire, or is by reason of its condition or the nature of its cargo a menace to shipping or other property ; reauiring and regulating fire drills in theatres. public places of amusement, and public and private schools; requiring the cleaning of chimney flues and vent pipes; requiring proper safeguards to be placed and maintained about or over roof skylights; prohibiting or regulating smoking in factories, workshops or mercantile establishments; requiring that all signs and advertising devices erected on buildings shall be approved by said commissioner; causing to be made public all violations of fire prevention laws bv posting placards on buildings or premises, and by publishing in the daily newspapers the names of the owners and specifying the buildings in which the violation occurs; defining the classes of buildings to be equipped with sprinkler protection under the authority of this act. The commissioner can order the heads of fire departments tc investigate, observe and report all matters relating to fire hazard and fire prevention that he may designate, especially all violations occurring within their respective cities or towns of laws, ordinances, by-laws, rules or orders now in force or hereafter enacted by the legislature or by the various cities and towns or by the commissioner relating to fires, fire hazard and fire protection. If any city or town or any head of a fire department or any officer, servant or agent of the commonwealth or of any city or town refuses or unreasonably neglects to obey any lawful rule, order or regulation of the commissioner such city or town, upon information presented by the commissioner, shall be liable to a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars, and shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and liable to a fine not exceeding fifty dollars for each offence. Violation or unreasonable neglect of such rules or orders by any person, firm or corporation shall be a misdemeanor and shall be punished by a fine not exceeding ten dollars for each day of the period during which such violation continues after notice. The commissioner shall hear and determine all appeals from the acts and decisions of the heads of fire departments and other persons, acting or purporting to act under authority of the commissioner. The heads of fire departments shall investigate or cause to be investigated the cause, origin and circumstances of every fire occurring in their respective cities, towns or fire districts by which property has been destroyed or damaged, and, so far as is possible, determine whether the fire was the result of carelessness or design. Such investigation shall be begun immediately upon the occurrence of the fire, and if after making such investigation it appears that the fire is of suspicious origin, he shall immediately notify the commissioner of the fact. Every fire occurring in the district shall be reported in writing to the commissioner within three days after its occurrence; such report shall contain a statement of all facts relating to the cause and origin of such fire, the extent of damage thereof and the insurance upon the property damaged, and such other information as may be required. The commissioner may require every fire insurance company to report to the commissioner all fire losses on property insured in such company, giving the date and location of the fire. Such report shall be mailed to the commissioner within three days after loss on each fire and the character of property destroyed or damaged, and the supposed cause of the fire shall be reported within ten days after adjustment is made. Other laws, such as are to be found in the code of laws relative to fire inspection, etc., of state fire marshal bureaus are in this law. It is the duty of the commissioner to study fire hazard and fire prevention and all matters relating thereto, to hear suggestions and complaints from all persons and from all cities and towns in the district, to advise with the officers of such cities and towns, and from time to time make suggestions to the legislature and to the cities and towns looking to the improvement of the laws, ordinances and by-laws, relating to fire departments, construction of buildings, building or fire limits, use and occupation of buildings and other premises, safeguarding of existing buildings, fire escapes. The provisions of the act apply and extend to any and all such cities and towns in the state as, in the case of a city by a two-thirds vote of its city council present and voting, and in the case of a town at any regular or special meeting called for that purpose, by a majority of its voters present and voting, mayvote to accept the provisions hereof: and the words “metropolitan district” wherever they may occur in the act shall apply to and include every such city and town so voting.

Features That Were Eliminated

The parts of the original bill which referred to fire departments which were eliminated in the bill as passed provided that there should be one fireman for every 750 inhabitants, one fire company for every 7,500 inhabitants; that the chiefs and every fireman who performed fire preventive duties should take a special civil service examination therefor; that the fire commissioners of Boston and Cambridge be exempt from civil service, while all the chiefs of other cities and towns be compelled to take a civil service examination to perform the same duties; that only those who had been permanent firemen five years could perform fire prevention duties, prescribe the sizes and strength of hose and hose couplings, to order fire alarm headquarters to be isolated and made fireproof, to install a mutual aid system throughout the district, and to standardize fire alarm signals, to order increase of number of permanent firemen, to compel all fire stations, in both paid and call force departments, to maintain a night and day house patrol, to order the establishment of schools for instruction of firemen, and to practically place the entire control of the ?7 fire departments in the original bill under the control of the Fire Prevention Commission. All of which the legislative committee considered inexpedient and it was all stricken from the bill that became a law. There is already much opposition to the bill as passed in different places, especially at Lynn, where it is severely condemned, as a whole, by the mayor, city officials and the chief of the fire department.

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