Preventing Fires in the Small Town

Preventing Fires in the Small Town


Some Peculiar Results of a Fire Prevention Campaign—Chief Needs Diplomacy to Succeed—Troublesome Hazards Encountered

SOME peculiar problems and experiences are met with by the chief of the small town fire department. The author, who has had much experience along this line, writes feelingly of the matter:

The problems of operating a small town or village fire department are at times very similar to those of a large city department, on a correspondingly smaller scale. In like proportion will the small town fire officer find the practice and enforcement of fire prevention to be of value to him in the same ratio that it is valuable and even indispensable to his brother officer in a larger organization.

Chief W. W. Stephen

On the other hand it seems often the case that carrying out fire prevention practices in a small town is more difficult than in a larger one. The personal equation is greater in a community of limited size, where one must necessarily know everyone else, the people are less accustomed to the idea of having their affairs regulated by public safety departments and the average small town property owner is apt to interpret the enforcement of any fire prevention ordinance, whether it is relative to construction or housekeeping, as an attempt to interfere with his own personal affairs.

Small Town Fire Chief Needs Diplomacy

The path of a well meaning small town fire chief is not likely to be one strewn with roses. It is generally one that requires the guile of a serpent and the exercise of diplomacy as well as authority.

The writer once had the experience, while administrating the affairs of a small town fire department, of carrying on a fire prevention campaign that was so successful in its results that instead of having fifteen or twenty working fires during this time it was not necessary to run water through a section of 2 1/2-inch hose for fifteen months, although dry lines were laid to back up chemical lines several times.

Peculiar Result of Fire Prevention Campaign

The result of this record was that instead of impressing the value of fire prevention measures on the people of this town it lessened the regard of many of them for the department because they did not have any “good” fires and they considered that with fewer fires less lighting facilities were needed.

The small town chief, although not having an extensive high value district, will frequently have quite an assortment of down-town risks.

Some Troublesome Hazards

Ordinary buildings, with people rooming upstairs over them and other flimsy exposures closely adjoining them are frequently used as garages, and the open stove is a common way of heating them.

In small town restaurants the cooking is often done on kerosene or even gasoline stoves, which is a prolific source of trouble.

In the case of drug stores, hardware, dry goods and other kinds of stores, good housekeeping is the secret of safety. Too often there will be, unless this is prevented, a back room used for storage and piled with old packing cases, excelsior and waste paper. Also many small town emporiums will carry a large stock of matches, which may be the source of grief.

The Problem of “Pressing Clubs’’

In so called “pressing clubs,” generally allied with barber shops, the free and open use of gasoline as a cleaning fluid occasionally brings disaster and sometimes death. The writer on an inspection once found a pressing and cleaning establishment operating in the rear of its premises, a steam boiler, very dangerous both from fire and safety standpoints.

The proprietor, upon being appraised of this, readily agreed to stop its operation within ten days. He did stop operating it himself, but he promptly sold it to a trusting purchaser who was unaware of its condition and was merrily operating the outfit when another inspection was made.

This individual, when notified of the matter, promptly sold his business to another delighted and uninformed buyer, who at once began using the defective apparatus at full pressure.

The writer, confronted with the prospect of having to do the whole thing over again indefinitely, sought reinforcement from the Chief of Police, who promptly closed up the offending business as far as the dangerous boiler was concerned, and the writer had the experience of being referred to by the unfortunate pressing club owner as the “meanest man in town.”

THE path of the well-meaning small town fire chief is not likely to be one strewn with roses. It is generally one that requires the guile of a serpent and the exercise of diplomacy as well as authority.”

Danger From Careless Use of Gasoline

The following is another personal experience in a small town department, illustrating the danger from the careless use of gasoline. A negro working in a pressing club, in the rear room of a barber shop, broke a quart bottle of gasoline which became ignited from a bad lamp cord on a pressing iron, starting a fire that immediately involved part of the room and forced the barbers and their half shaved patrons to flee for their lives. Two occupants of bath tubs in another rear room also further entertained the crowd in the street by running out attired in bath towels.

Some one pulled an alarm box across the street which blew the fire siren at the engine house a block away. The department responded immediately, laying a 2 1/2inch line and having a stream through a l-inch controlling nozzle in two minutes. A quick sweeping dash or two of the stream killed most of the fire in the back room immediately and it was finished and overhauled with a chemical line to prevent further water damage.

Such occurrences as these are commonplace in every fire officer’s experience, and are only given to mention this particular kind of risk.


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