Providence, R. I., Reduces Fire Hazard Through Firemen Making Systematic House Inspections

Providence, R. I., Reduces Fire Hazard Through Firemen Making Systematic House Inspections

IN the fortnight prior to Fire Prevention Week the Providence, R. I., Fire Department, under the direction Chief Frank Charlesworth, began the systematic inspection of all dwellings in the city, with the object of eliminating fire hazards and in preliminary preparation for the observance of the week devoted to the reduction of the national fire loss. This was not the first campaign of the kind that the department has undertaken. In the fall of 1930 the firemen made their first systematic canvass of the residential sections of the city and the results were alike so astonishing and so successful that Chief Charlesworth decided to try the plan again this year.

Chief Frank Charlesworth

In the 1930 campaign some of the results cited by Chief Charlesworth were startling, to say the least. Cellars were clogged with papers, boxes, Christmas trees, discarded mattresses, paint cans and all manner of inflammable objects only awaiting a chance spark from the furnace or hot cinders before igniting a fire that might well have destroyed the dwellings which contained them.

After the campaign of inspection, the city incinerator handled 35 extra tons of rubbish and the next week 22 tons more than usual. The rubbish cleared out of cellars included 2,800 Christmas trees that had remained in the cellars for about nine months, ever since Christmas. 1929.

There were 3,500 old mattresses. potential “tinderboxes,’’ easily ignited by chance sparks or hot coals.

There were old paint cans, partly filled, old upholstered furniture, excelsior, about as safe as dynamite when lying near a furnace, and almost everything conceivable that would form fine kindling for a dwelling fire.

inspecting Firemen Detect Cellar Fire Menaces Privates of Ladder 6 found these dangerous conditions in the first cellar they inspected in the drive to eliminate fire hazards in dwelling house cellars in Providence The scene, showing the firemen pointing out the fire danger in this congested cellar, filled with inflammable material, was not arranged for the news photographer, but was snapped exactly as it appeared upon the firemen’s entrance. It was taken in the cellar of an old wooden Providence dwelling.

Illustrations Courtesy Prozddcnce Journal and Evening Bulletin

The intentions of the householders, according to their own stories, would have provided excellent paving materials for the nether regions. They fully intended to clear away the rubbish, but did not get at it until the visit of the firemen showed them the conditions whjch their neglect had produced and the attendant dangers. The Chief believed that many a house fire in 1930 and 1931 had been prevented by the removal of the rubbish.

Firemen Devote Off-Duty Time to Work

The inspection this year began on Monday, September 26, and continued through to Fire Prevention Week. The firemen, numbering about 160, made the visits in pairs and performed this work in their off time. The men had been well schooled in the inspection work, and most of them also had the advantage of their experiences in the last inspection. The consequence was that they used excellent tact in making the visits, were careful not to force themselves upon the property holders, and made it clear that they were calling with a view to help in the avoidance of danger and to give advice needed as to removal of all fire hazards.

Visits Heralded by Newspaper Articles

In the meantime the daily press of the city had given the Fire Department excellent assistance. For some days previous to the beginning of the campaign, the papers had contained articles setting forth the objects of the firemen’s visits, and appealing to the citizens to give the city’s fire fighters the fullest cooperation in their efforts to rid the homes of the menace of fire. The consequence was that the men found the way prepared for them. In many cases, harking back to the campaign of two years ago, the citizens had forestalled the efforts of the firemen and voluntarily cleared away the accumulations of rubbish since the last inspection.

Where the men found inflammable matter in cellars and attics, the citizens promised to remove the hazards at once and that most of them kept their promises were proved by the overworked incinerators of the city during the three weeks which followed.

Visits to Residences Made at Convenient Hours

It was the object of the Fire Department to make the inspection visits as convenient as possible for the housewives, who were, of course, the persons most often interviewed by the firemen—the master of the house being generally away at business. For this reason, the calls were made morning hours, as many housewives take advantage of the afternoon for social duties and pleasure. Not only did the firemen watch out for rubbish accumulations—other hazards were also noted and the attention of householders was called to them. Among these were the condition of furnace pipes and chimney flues. If the pipes were not properly insulated or if corroded or worn too thin for safety, so that sparks might escape through tiny holes and fall on inflammable rubbish, this was called to the attention of the occupant of the house. If chimney flues were dangerously dirty or clogged, cleaning of the chimneys was advised.

A Cartoon Appearing in the Providence Journal and Evening Bulletin During the CampaignAnother Providence Journal Cartoon

Proper metal receptacles for hot ashes were urged where not provided, and so on.

Result of the First Day’s Inspection

In the first day of the Fire Department inspection 4,449 visits were made by the firemen. In this tour of duty the men only met with eight refusals of entry. In commenting on this result, Chief Charlesworth said:

“A large percentage of the cellars were in satisfactory condition and a very small proportion presented fire hazards. The householders whose cellars showed dangerous conditions that might lead to fires this winter were advised by men as to what should be done to eliminate the danger and, in all cases, seemed ready to take this advice.

“It is unfortunate that even eight persons should refuse to allowthe firemen to help safeguard their property by inspecting their cellars to see whether there were fire hazards. My firemen are giving their own off-duty hours to this work, voluntarily, and the householders receive free expert advice at no cost whatsoever. It seems as though everyone should be glad to have free services that might save him from having a fire in his house this winter. We hope there will be no more refusals.

“We are always ready to put out fires as quickly as possible, but we would much rather, and I think the dw-ellers would much rather, prevent a fire rather than to have one put out after it has damaged his house and endangered his family.”

Much Rubbish Removed

Later on, Chief Charlesworth wrote FIRE ENGINEERING as follows:

“During the inspection period there were 73,621 inspections made; refusals, 76; unusual hazards, 33. The unusual hazards were followed up by the Battalion Chiefs and thoroughly cleaned out.

“During the first week of the campaign there were 50 3/10 additional tons of flammable material delivered at the incinerator; the second week, 38 1/10 tons; third week, 52 2/10 tons. Among this were 866 old mattresses, 277 old Christmas trees, 323 old chairs, 97 old couches, 92 trunks, 146 pillows, 74 tables and 40 wooden bedsteads. There is a very noticeable reduction in dwelling house fires. I may quote to you the number of fires during Fire Prevention Week in the following: 1926-18; 1927-24; 1928-16; 1929-38: 1930-72; 1931-41; 1932-7. This goes to show that marvellous results have been accomplished by this dwelling house inspection. We have the confidence of all the people in Providence in this campaign. My idea was to conduct it every two years but the people want it biatinually. That is the majority of them. I feel highly elated over this campaign and personally consider that it should be nation wide.

Form Used by Providence Firemen in Malting Their House to House Inspection

“The newspapers were 100% behind me together with all our clubs, and I feel quite proud of the reduction in the number of fires in the city of Providence.”

Safety Council Endorses Drive

The Providence Safety Council, through its manager, H. K. Bennett, endorsed the work of the Fire Department in no uncertain terms and urged the citizens to cooperate with Chief Charlesworth in his endeavor to make a new low record for the 1932 Fire Prevention Week. Mr. Bennett said in a newspaper interview:

“The Safety Council heartily endorses the second cellar inspection campaign by the Fire Department. Two years ago, when Chief Charlesworth proposed the scheme to the fire prevention committee of the council, it was immediately endorsed and, with the co-operation of the Insurance Association of Providence, the council financed the literature and window card which were left at each home visited.

“Coming as it does prior to Fire Prevention Week, Oct. 9 to 15, the campaign should prove effective in reducing fires, not only during that week but for a considerable period afterward.”

Importance of Taking Care of the Heating Plant

Inspired by the excellent work of the Fire Department in reducing fire hazards, a writer in a recent issue of a Providence daily gave the following advice to householders on the care and maintenance of the heating plant, which might well be promulgated by Chiefs in other municipalities:

“Now that the Providence firemen’s campaign for clean cellars has been successfully waged, just at a time when it is necessary to look to the building of fires in heating plants, would it not be wise for everyone to devote a little time to removing fire hazards from the heating plant itself ?

“Records show that the overwhelming majority of fires in residences are chimney fires. Chimney fires are almost invariably caused by an excessive accumulation of soot. If there were not such a collection of soot within a chimney or pipe leading to it, a fire could not start in the chimney. That the chimney may be defective and have one or more openings through which the fire, once started, can work into the house itself, merely affects the amount of damage—not the fact that soot caused the fire.

“In spite of this fact the average householder continues to neglect his chimney. I will wager that very few of those who most conscientiously cleaned up cellars ever gave a thought to removing soot from the pipe leading from the heater to the chimney, or from the bottom of the chimney.

“As a matter of fact it is well known that the average householder not only neglects to clean out his chimney, but he usually fails to clean out the heater. Coal merchants chuckle over the fact that the average householder expects his heater to work in spite of a thick incrustation of soot and other dirt, baked hard, on the inside of the heater.

“This coating acts as insulation and prevents much of the heat from reaching the water and thus forming steam.

“So while thinking of cleaning out the heater pipe and the chimney, it will be well to clean out the heater itself at the same time.

(Continued on page 491)

Some of the Tons of Rubbish Collected by the Providence Firemen in Their Fire Prevention Campaign Views show scenes at the Providence incinerator. Fifty-two more tons more rubbish were collected in the first week of the campaign than in corresponding week of the similar movement in 1930.

Systematic House Inspections

(Continued from page 466)

“Those who do this will not only be safeguarding their homes against the most likely cause of fire, but will also be reducing their coal or oil consumption.

“It is surprising that more emphasis was not placed on the necessity of cleaning out the chimney at the same time the cellar was cleaned.

“Cleaning out the chimney is not as difficult as many who have never attempted it may believe. In every modern house each flue in the chimney may be reached at the bottom through a small iron door. All one has to do is reach in with a small shovel, or the hoe-like rake which comes with most heaters, and draw the accumulation of soot out.

“It is often found, when cleaning out the pipe connecting the heater to the chimney, that it has so rusted through that little more than a coating of rust holds it together. If so, an extremely hazardous condition exists. A little extra heat may cause the entire pipe to collapse just at a time when the fire in the heater is hottest and the entire cellar may be ablaze before the fire is discovered.

“It is worth noting that many people setting about the task of cleaning out the heater pipe have discovered that the asbestoscement or whatever has been used to plug the holes around the pipe and between it and the chimney, has dropped out. This is not only dangerous, but is a most effective way to spoil a draught. Many a householder has struggled all winter to get heat out of a recalcitrant heater only to discover in the spring that a little attention to the chimney pipe, and a handful of asbestos-cement, would have ended his difficulties.

“So it would appear that some attention to the heating plant at this time would be decidedy worth while. The entire job will probably not take more than 10 minutes. It will be the most effective fire prevention measure that can be taken—and one of the best investments of a little time that any householder can make.

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