Other States Join Move Inspired by Farm Bureau Insurance Companies and Volunteers

A Special Report to FIRE ENGINEERING

Editor’s Note: This is a special report of a venture that panned out, and is paying dividends; of faith in an idea, and in the men to carry it out; and of a program of fire prevention launched in a field hitherto practically unexplored— the rural and farm area.

Harry Pontious is Director of Safety of the Farm Bureau Insurance Companies. He long has been cognizant of the growing hazards and expansion in the rural areas, and of the need of preventing fires in these areas as well as in the urban areas. And he has had the firm conviction that one way to bring this about was by means of farm inspections.

So firm was this conviction, that Mr. Pontious offered the services of one of his staff experts, L. E. Shingledecker, a specialist in fire safety, for one year for the purpose of developing and proving or disproving the possibilities of the inspection approach through members of volunteer fire departments.

The Ohio Rural Fire Safety Commitice accepted the offer, and Mr. Shingledecker devoted three months to travel, studying conditions and contacting leaders throughout the United States in preparation of the Rural Fire Safety Survey Program.

Mr. Shingledecker’s 7-point Program was accepted by the Committee, a group comprising representatives from stock and mutual insurance companies, the Ohio Fire Marshal’s Office, the Inspection Bureau, State fire organization and interested farm groups.

His services went with the Program, which was launched as pilot project in Ohio. Success of initial efforts encouraged the Ohio State Fire Marshal to employ a full-time man to carry forward the activity. Its acceptance in Ohio led to its adoption in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and West Virginia.

In publishing this report, the editors gratefully acknowledged the assistance of Mr. Pontious and Mr. Shingledecker and the Ohio Farm Bureau Insurance Companies; the encouragement of the Ohio Rural Fire Safety Committee and the Ohio Fire Marshal’s Office in the enterprise; also, the follow-through Program developed by the foregoing in cooperation with the Greene County Firemen’s Association, known as the “Year Round Activity Program.”

NO ONE has a mortgage on fire prevention. It should be practiced wherever fire threatens the lives and property of people but, unfortunately, in the past, it has not been so practiced, at least in most of the nation’s rural and farm areas.

It is no secret that farm fire losses have been holding up generally throughout the country, in some places showing persistent gains. It is no secret, also, that farm fire hazards have been increasing with modern farming, the introduction of machinery, bottled gas, electricity, storages of gasoline and other volatiles. Nor is it any secret that volunteers who, for the most part, do our rural fire fighting, have been, and are, faced with other serious handicaps in suppressing farm fires—handicaps in communications, location identification, water supplies, personnel and, worst of all, perhaps, finances.

The rurel fire poses a severe problem—especially where water supply is defident.

This situation has been known to many fire prevention and protection engineers for some years. But thus far there have been few comprehensive efforts to hurdle the handicaps and to come up with a program tailored to fit the particular problems. Mailing the farmer the orthodox impersonal fire prevention bulletins and other literature, while helpful, has constituted no real warning. To succeed on the farm, as in the city, the warning must be personalized, brought right to the attention of each property owner, and tenant, and related to his own property.

This means, personal contact, which, in turn, calls for personal inspection service by members of the local fire department, preferably on a broad scale, such as throughout an entire township at a time.

Acting upon this premise, the Ohio Rural Fire Safety Committee set out to develop a program having for its chief objectives, farm inspections by local volunteer fire departments, so that existing fire hazards could be pointed out to the farmer first hand, together with recommended ways of eliminating them or, if this could not be done, of minimizing and containing them. Another important and related objective was to familiarize firemen with the farm, its hazards and its potential fire protection.

Fireman Cooley, of the Cedarville Volunteer Fire Department, finds defectively-grounded lightning rod during a farm inspection.

All-too-often it happens that the volunteers never have an opportunity to learn about farm hazards, for instance where gasoline is stored, and where emergency water supplies are located, and other essentials that might give them a fast start in attacking a fire, until they arc called to face a rip-roaring blaze.

A key figure in the developing program eventually adopted by the Ohio Rural Fire Safety Committee is L. E. Shingledecker, an industrial safety man, and organizer of the Ohio Fire Brigade Association. His services were gladly given by the Farm Bureau Insurance Companies headed by Harry Pontious, another prominent figure in fire prevention. Choice of Shingledecker was explained on the grounds that modern farming has taken on the material aspects of small industry.

The Rural Fire Protection Planning Committee (left to right): Bud Warner, Fire Chief, Fairborn Fire Department and past President of the Greene County Firemen’s Association; James Hoover, Fire Chief, Knollwood Fire Department and President of the Greene County Firemen's Association; Bob Porter, a representative of the Yellow Springs Fire Department and L. E. Shingledecker, Supervisor of Fire Safety, Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Companies.

Shingledecker was given a year and a minimum of three completed survey programs to prove the worth of the Rural Fire Safety Survey. The response to his first call for pilot townships in Ohio was so great that he completed 27 survey programs in his given year.

The Fire Safety Program as finally accepted was threefold. It covered prevention, protection and education. Featured in the protection approach was a simple file card, on which information would be kept for the purpose of enabling the fire departments concerned to do a better job of fire fighting. A leading factor in the prevention approach was a survey sheet, which was used for finding and pointing out hazards, with suggestions on how to correct, or to live with the hazards. The educational phase would include preparing the volunteer fire departments on the best procedures for conducting the survey.

The seven fundamentals to be considered in the approach to the Program were as follows:

  1. The Program should be presented at a county association meeting at which time it would be explained, and interested parties invited to contact Mr. Shingledecker for further information.
  2. Mr. Shingledecker would appear before individual departments again, explaining the program and gaining from them definite information concerning their desire to participate; he would emphasize the fact that it is a department project and that 75% of the membership must participate.
  3. An instruction night would be conducted, preceding the kick-off of the Program, at which time the members participating would receive additional training in the proper approach to follow in making the survey.
  4. A Planning Committee would be selected by the fire department, normally consisting of the Chief, President and four other members. This committee would develop the pattern that their department intended to follow in conducting the survey, with Shingledecker acting in an advisory capacity.
  5. A kick-off date, and a deadline date would be selected for starting and completing the Program.
  6. Three days preceding the kick-off, publicity would be released to the newspapers, radio and TV stations, announcing the public service that was to be rendered by the individual volunteer fire departments.
  7. After completion of the Program, the material would be accumulated, duplicate file cards made, and the information would be studied for further use in promoting fire prevention activities in the community.

This was the 7-step program which the Ohio Rural Fire Safety Committee accepted, and which was launched in pilot areas in Ohio, and eventually lapped over into West Virginia and Pennsylvania. And it is still lapping!

Most of the facts unearthed by Shingledecker are pretty generally known among firemen serving rural areas. But only a small percentage of fire departments made any serious attempt to use the information they possessed. For example, only about 10 per cent of the volunteer fire departments contacted by Shingledecker had a cardfile system which listed the vital information needed by firemen in fighting a farm fire.

In the field of fire prevention, Shingledecker found that seemingly far-sighted preventive measures had gone woefully awry. Many lightning rods were ungrounded, inviting instead of preventing fire; fuse boxes were overloaded with milkers, hammer mills, power tools, new household appliances. There were leaking fire extinguishers, and many extinguishers of the wrong type to combat the type of fire most likely to occur in that area of the farm.

It was surprising how little truly basic information was found available for firemen in some areas. Data on such simple things as the most direct route to the farm from the firehouse; location of the nearest water supplies, etc., were either not in evidence, or if so, were in many cases badly garbled and not easily understandable. In Shingledccker’s Program, file cards made collecting and recording such data easy. One set of file cards was planned to ride the truck, and the other to remain in the firehouse.

Typical district map showing all property locations. This map is in Centerburg V. F. D. firehouse.Ohio Rural Fire Safety Committee in session.

Roads and farms were given numbers so that a farmer reporting a fire had only to read off the location as it was written on a telephone sticker, supplied by the volunteer fire department; a master map in the firehouse identified the location, such as “Farm 10, Road 3,” and the most direct route to it. Old stuff? It would seem so, but it is surprising how few rural fire departments have adopted these simple fundamentals to successful rural fire prevention and protection.

The Program’s educational value works two ways, on the farmer and on the fireman, with profit to both.

The Follow-Through Program

A follow-through program has been completed and tried on an experimental basis in Greene County, Ohio, with 17 volunteer fire departments participating. The net result was the conviction that a year-round “packet program” could be conducted if the material was made available and presented properly to the volunteer fire departments.

This “Year-Round Activity” effort had two purposes:

  1. To keep the volunteer fire departments active in the prevention field without placing too large a burden on the departments or their members.
  2. To keep fire prevention before the public and in the minds of volunteer fire department members on a monthly basis rather than on a once-a-year basis.

The idea was to undertake a small project of the complete program each month. It might concern a seasonal hazard, or a seasonal operation. Listed below is an example of a 10 month program:

January—Conduct fire safety programs in conjunction with youth groups in their areas, such as Boy Scouts, FFA, Granges, etc.

FEBRUARY—Inspect churches.

MARCH—Inspect gasoline stations.

APRIL—Inspect business and mercantile locations in the rural area.

MAY—Inspect mills and elevators.

JUNE—Check further on rural fire safety card index systems and bring up-todate.

JULY or AUGUST—Each department to actively participate in some manner in their County Fair for the purpose of acquainting county residents with their organizations.

SEPTEMBER—Inspect country schools and conduct fire drills therein.

OCTOBER—Use material prepared for the purpose of developing talks before safety groups and others in their areas.

File card catalogs Ohio rural hazards and fire protection fundamentals.

NOVEMBER—Pass out material pertaining to brooder lamps, lightning rods, electric and TV installations.

DECEMBER—Pass out material pertaining to Christmas safety.

Final reports on the trial program, as outlined are encouraging. Every department participating in the project stated that in their areas the number of fires shows a reduction from previous years. Also, the dollars-and-cents fire loss is smaller in their areas than ever before.

Ten departments stated they definitely felt that the Rural Fire Safety Survey Program and the Year-Round Activity Program were responsible for the above results. Six departments reported they thought these two programs influenced the results. One department did not state one way or the other.

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