Preventing Fires

Preventing Fires

Discussion of this Question from a Fire Marshal’s Viewpoint

THE per capita fire tax for Ohio last year was $2.40. It should have been 36 cents or less, since over 85 per cent of all our fires are avoidable.

The question naturally arises “how are you going to prevent fires, and thus automatically reduce the fire loss?” The answer is through thorough inspection by experts and the proper teaching of fire prevention.

I am not sanguine enough to believe that we will ever be able to stop all fires but, with all our forces pulling together, we can certainly prevent a lot of them.

“But,” cries the layman, “if we have no fires, then we will have no fire department, and no sale for fire apparatus; no jobs for the men who now take their lives in their hands every time the gong taps!”

Is this statement so? Assuredly not, for even though a piece of apparatus does not turn a wheel for a week, the time is certain to come when it will.

If we knew when and where a fire was to break out our troubles would be over, but—you never can tell! Fire picks neither time, place nor season!

Just as Important

It being the case that it is just as important to prevent fires as it is to fight them, it is obvious to me that a fire department should have a twofold force, members of one element of which should do the inspection and corrective work, backed by the full power of the State Fire Marshal, the city council and the mayor of any given municipality, while the other element should fight and subdue the fires that occur in spite of everything that we can do to prevent them.

If a fireman-inspector has to leave his vital work and take his place on the running card we do not get the peak efficiency from his efforts, nor can we expect it. True, there may be an emergency that will take every man to the scene of a conflagration, but such instances are rare, and would be rarer still if the inspection work should be amplified.

I take the position that a fireman might willingly take the extra work of inspection upon his shoulders, for the reason that he would rather correct a hazard even if he has to put in some extra time, than to be called out at midnight in zero weather to fight a fire due to an uncorrected menace that might easily have been taken care of during the day.

In Columbus they have tried out a “once-a-monthday off, inspection plan. The Columbus delegates can tell you how successful it has been.

Another thought that comes to me is, that there are too few expert fire inspectors in the country, and that a fireman’s opportunities for the future might be greater if he puts his brain and energy into thoroughly learning the inspection work. If a city cannot adequately pay a man who cannot only fight fires, but who can prevent them, there are jobs open with big local agencies, with insurance companies, rating bureaus and possibly with the National Board of Fire Underwriters itself.

One element that can either simplify or make more strenuous your work as fire chiefs and my work as State Fire Marshal is the local agent. If he is on the square with himself and with his companies, he will carefully inspect a risk before writing a dollar’s worth of insurance, and point out to his client the changes he must make in order to get his insurance credits.

Many of the best agencies have already taken this matter to heart, and are employing skilled inspectors as part of their working force. Their inspectors might become important factors in fire reduction by reporting certain conditions either to the fire chief or to the State Fire Marshal.

No matter what care is put into inspection, and no matter how clean a risk may be just after inspection, remember that it may not be clean the next week or the next day and, therefore, only a reinspection at an early date would catch the new conditions.

Under the inspection-fire-fighting dual rule such reinspection would be impossible for some time. Meanwhile the building may burn.

*Paper presented at meeting of Fire Chiefs’ Club of Ohio.

Must Keep Studying

An inspector must keep studying all the time. He must know had wiring, faulty construction, special and inherent hazards and the like. He is the scout of the department and on his reports as to roof and other openings, cellar and window conditions, fire stops, stairways, exits, elevators and fire walls and interior arrangement of stocks, etc., depends the safety of the fire fighters and often the fate of the building.

In many instances inspectors are interfered with by the rental agency having charge of the building, the agent not being far-sighted enough to see that a clean and safe building is never tenantless. The agent takes the position that the visit of a uniformed inspector is a detriment and that such visits tend to frighten the renter and cast suspicion upon the building.

Most manufacturers welcome the inspector. Men with an honest fortune tied up in business do not burn out if they can help it!

The manufacturers of Ohio are among the strongest fire preventionists we have.

At present home inspections present the most serious phase of the problem, especially among the foreign population. These people coming to the “home of the free” wonder why their domiciles must be inspected and they cannot understand that building, heating and lighting conditions are different here from the stone hut and the heavy oil lamp of their native countries. They are naturally suspicious of strangers anyway; and when an inspector visits the home, they have visions of the secret police and the tax collector.

It takes the utmost tact and diplomacy, not only to get into the houses, but to impress fire prevention facts upon their minds.

Woman’s Part

Possibly the best solution of the difficulty lies in the large part that Women’s organizations are to play in the tragedy of fire.

Of course the foreign children will get fire prevention education in the schools, and it will filter to the homes through this channel, thus making the way easier for women of tact to put over the “clean house does not burn” idea the more readily.

After home and community interest is aroused, family pride will come to the aid of eliminating fire hazards.

We are often asked if clean-up campaigns pay. Certainly they do, as reports from 618 towns (exclusive of big cities) showed this year. These campaigns do two things. First, they arouse public interest in removing fire hazards and thus prevent fires, and, second, in many instances they lead to home self-inspections and permanent fire prevention organizations. If we all become expert in cleaning up and keeping clean our own property and homes, it necessarily follows that we prove ourselves good inspectors.

The strongest ally fire prevention has outside of rigid and continued inspection, is education. This may come from several sources, i. e., from literature issued by the State Fire Marshal, the National Board of Fire Underwriters, the National Fire Prevention Association, the fire chiefs and their men, the school teachers, the speakers from the insurance companies and the newspapers.

The aid of the latter is invaluable, but perhaps first the chief may have to educate the newsman and then through his appeal, reach the public.

It is not the child alone who needs this education. The man who makes the money that buys the home and its comforts; the woman who presides as mistress of the home; the man who owns the factories—all have to understand the warfare on needless fires; and only continued and intelligent effort can make fire prevention graduates of the masses.

The Endley Law

The Ohio Legislature has passed, and the Governor has signed an amendment to the Reed Law that will greatly assist us in reaching the children and through them the homes and mothers.

Briefly, this law as it stands now provides that a principal or person in charge of a public or private school or educational institution having an average daily attendance of 50 or more pupils; or the person being in charge of any children’s home or orphanage housing 20 or more minor persons, mut conduct a fire drill at least once a month, and all exits must be kept unlocked. There is a penalty of from $5 to $20 for each offense or neglect, and the State Fire Marshal is empowered to order the immediate installation of the necessary fire gongs or signals.

It is further provided that the State Fire Marshal and the Superintendent of Public Instruction must jointly provide a course of study in Fire Prevention for use in the public, private and parochial schools of* the state, dealing with the protection of lives and property against loss or damage as the result of pre ventable fires. It is the duty of Boards of Education or persons in charge of the schools to compel the use of such study in their schools. At least 15 minutes each week must be devoted to Fire Prevention Education and a penalty from $5 to $20 is provided for failure to comply.

After September 1st of this year all teachers must use the course of study, and the book ordered as above must be supplied by the Superintendent of Public Instruction, through the county superintendents.

Must Have 50,000 Copies

Provision is made for the printing of the book and 50,000 copies and an additional number for future needs ordered. The amendment does not cover colleges and universities.

The book is to be a sort of an encyclopedia for the teachers, but, in addition, they are asked to have firemen talk to the children and use local fires, their causes and results as guide lines for the lesson of the day, for we do not believe that Fire Prevention can be taught by stated lessons alone, but rather it must be driven home by local illustrations. You cannot teach geography without maps and pictures; neither can you teach Fire Prevention with nothing but dry text and statistics.

Now let us all pull together and reduce this great loss of life and property.

It will be a slow and laborious task, but


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