No Time to Waste
THE dreadful devastation of European cities by bombing from the air is now a matter of common knowledge. Whole blocks and entire districts have been left in ruins by incendiary bombs in cities built of brick and stone. Fire resistive roofing, exclusively used in those cities, and numerous fire walls have not prevented this ruin, although they served to limit its extent.
What bombing raids would do to the vast frame and shingle-roof districts in American cities, is a horrible thought to contemplate.
United States Has High Losses
Americans have built to burn. Compared with normal conditions in Europe, the United States has had a bad fire record for decades. Our official fire loss statistics are witness to our vulnerability from fire.
Conflagrations have occurred, on the average, in three cities every year in the United States.
Flimsy frame buildings and wooden shingle roofs are still prevalent in American cities and supply the powder keg which turns many of our small fires into sweeping holocasts. To avoid these destructive conflagrations, we have been keeping three times as large fire departments as were maintained in European cities before the war.
In spite of creditable fire prevention work in recent years, our fire losses are still two or three times as high as they were in pre-war Europe. Fire chiefs and insurance authorities in America live constantly with the fear of impending sweeping fires for which adequate defense must be provided.
A major war is now threatening this continent, whether or not the United States joins the conflict as a belligerent. Arson, fires and sabotage in war industries are already rampant throughout the country, just ns they came at the time of World War Number I.
Elimination of Waste
A forceful call for adequate preparedness to meet this danger has been sounded by the President. All Americans who wish to protect their heritage are alive to the warning. There is no time to waste!
The fire problem now, more than ever before, is in the forefront of national defense. It embraces greater vigilance on the part of fire prevention authorities. It necessitates greater efficiency on the part of the fire departments so that they may cope with probable simultaneous large fires which may be set by saboteurs. And last but not least, a plan for coordinated defense of our industries and cities in case of bombing raids. Though actual bombing of American cities by enemy planes may still seem remote, the lesson from Europe’s plight must not be forgotten. One square mile of Rotterdam was levelled in less than three hours! And Rotterdam houses were built of stone!
Need for Men and Apparatus
There are few if any American fire chiefs today who can deny that their fire departments are undermanned. There is an absolute necessity for more men, as well as for modern apparatus to replace obsolete equipment which has seen service for more than twenty years. Even under normal conditions additional men and engines arc badly needed. Certainly, a vastly greater number of them will be required for adequate protection in case of war. But men cannot be trained, nor new engines acquired overnight after an emergency.
Unity of command and standard fire methods are essential for national defense. There must not be conflicting jurisdiction of adjacent municipalities, especially where there is no interruption in building construction near the boundary lines.
Definite plans for coordination and expansion of our fire fighting services must be laid now to be effective in national defense.
London Planned in Advance
London rapidly expanded its fire brigade when the war started, but plans for this expansion were laid well in advance. The London Fire Brigade has grown from a peace time force of 2,200 firemen and sixty-two stations to a huge organization of nearly 30,000 men and 420 fire stations (permanent and auxiliary). It is obvious to any fire protection expert that such an expansion could not be accomplished by mere decree.
Plans were perfected years ago for coordination of fire forces throughout the London metropolitan area. In fact, the first plan for coordination and unified command of all metropolitan fire brigades in London was put into effect during World War Number I when London suffered twenty five air raids. Six of these caused serious fires. Approximately 200 pieces of fire apparatus, the normal number in London, have now been increased more than ten times, principally by the addition of trailer pumps and pumping units mounted on commercial trucks. Only through adequate coordination has London been able to cope rather successfully with the tremendous problem of simultaneous fires started by fire bombs.
Germany Well Prepared
A glance at the preparations against air raids made by Germany before the war reveals the reason why repeated assaults by the British air force have so far failed to destroy German cities. Plans for air raid defense were made in Germany as far back as 1926. As seen from German technical publications of that time fire department preparedness included unification of fire command in all metropolitan areas, standardization of apparatus and fire methods, placing of civilian protection under fire department supervision, and constant and elaborate training of fire departments in general fire practices, relay pumping, plugging of broken gas mains, clearing of wreckage, and radio signaling. By the time the present war started, a large force of competent unit commanders, capable of leading the expanded fire forces, was built up from the regular fire department staff. Large numbers of trailer pumps and other emergency equipment were available to the peace time fire departments in that country and were extensively used in training.
WAR VIEWS from LONDON
These facts should serve to point the way in our efforts toward fire defense.
Work for Communities
Foreign nations have solved the problem of preparedness by acquiescing to government interference and by prescribing the standards to which every community must conform in the matter of fire protection. In the United States, mutual aid arrangements between fire departments in certain adjacent cities have already demonstrated the value of such plans and the feasibility of perfecting them. Therefore, if adequate protection is achieved by our communities in proper coordination and expansion of their fire forces, federal interference with fire protection will not be necessary in the event of a national emergency.
The problem is manifold of coordinating fire apparatus belonging to different political jurisdictions in a closely built metropolitan area. It involves determination of commanding authority at fires, distribution of fire companies for best possible coverage, standardizing of couplings and other equipment, establishment of uniform operating methods at fires to avoid confusion in carrying out orders, and many other problems which can be settled by mutual agreement between neighboring communities.
Uniform Training for Firemen
These plans should provide for uniform training of all firemen in metropolitan areas in standard company evolutions, in relay pumping (as partial substitute for interrupted water mains), in dealing with broken gas mains, and in the rescue of civilians from wreckage. Plans should also be perfected for the transmission of
alarms and department orders in case of total or partial breakdown of the municipal fire alarm system. Auxiliary services should BE. carefully planned and placed under proper fire department supervision. They should assist in spotting and extinguishing fire bombs, in directing civilians to shelters, and conducting rescue operations.
All such plans should be tested in actual operation to determine the efficacy of the methods employed. Frequent drills should follow the original tests to give the entire fire department personnel a thorough understanding of their broadened duties, and to make them fit as unit commanders of auxiliary forces when such are later organized.
The suggestion has many times been made publicly relative to an immediate purchase of new apparatus, both as replacements and as additions to the present equipment of fire departments. Industrial bottlenecks caused by war orders will soon make prompt acquisition of fire apparatus by cities almost impossible. If cities are to be supplied with enough apparatus for adequate defense, they should place their orders now.
Destruction of entire communities may he the price of neglect in preparing adequate plans for defense from fire. Municipal and county fire departments stand face to face with a sudden demand for expansion on an unprecedented scale. They should lays their plans and train now, before it is too late !