Population is estimated to be 68,000; the 1920 United States census showed 65,857, an increase of 47 per cent in the past decade. The city is the State capital and the mercantile center of a rich agricultural and fruit growing district. The leading industries are in railroad shops, and packing and canning. Oil is the principal fuel, bituminous coal, wood and manufactured gas being also used. The Sacramento river, two trans-continetal railroads and three interurban electric lines afford good shipping facilities.
The gross fire loss for the past 5 years, as given in the fire department records, amounted to $2,206,532; the annual loss ranged from $70,989 in 1918 to $1,372,956 in 1920. The average annual number of actual fires was 335, ranging between 272 in 1916 and 385 in 1919, with a loss per fire of $1,327, a very high figure. Based on an average population of 62,000, the average annual number of fires per 1,000 population was 5.32, a high figure, and the average loss per capita $7.05, a very high figure.
In the principal mercantile district, construction lacking in fire-resistive features and an inadequate quantity of water during periods of high consumption makes serious group and block fires probable. The low height of buildings, good accessibility, strong fire department and the fair width of streets are valuable mitigating features, so that the probability of fires crossing the streets is normally small; and a general conflagration is unlikely.
The minor mercantile sections, lumber yards, manufacturing plans and railroad car shops present mainly local hazards. The more congested groups of frame, shingle-roof dwellings present a serious conflagration hazard in the residential districts.
The fire department is on a full paid basis under satisfactory supervision and commanded by competent and experienced chief officers. Financial support is fair. Methods of appointment and promotion are satisfactory, except for chief officers, their tenure of office being insecure. Pension and retirement provisions are good. Engine and one of the ladder companies are 1 to 3 men deficient in their night strength but the 4 chemical companies in service and the arrangement for the response of off-shift men to serious fires gives a well manned department.
The number of engine companies and engine capacity in service is insufficient and another company is needed in the northeastern part of the city. Chemical service is good. An additional ladder company is needed for the Oak Park section. Apparatus, in general, appears in fair to good condition but the trouble that developed during engine tests show the desirability of regular tests similar to those conducted by the National Board. Minor equipment is fairly uniform but deficient in a few essential pieces. Turret pipes are well provided but more deluge sets would be of material advantage at large fires. Hose is well cared for and is regularly tested; the present supply is somewhat deficient as all companies are not supplied with a complete spare shift. Fire methods are good and the increased use of chemicals indicates that the importance of reducing water damage is well understood. Repair work is well taken care of, bub the department shop has no power equipment and is poorly housed in a small dilapidated frame dwelling.
Discipline appears fair. The department drill tower has been used very little in the past two years and is in need of repairs; it should be equipped with the appliances now in use in the department, a standpipe, a sample sprinkler equipment and a smoke room, so that conditions as near as possible to those met with in service can be similated. A regular drill course is necessary to maintain an efficient department. Response to box alarms is adequate, but the practice of only one company responding on telephone and verbal alarms is apt to cause serious delays in getting an adequate force promptly at work, and should be discontinued. Building inspections have not in the past been of much benefit, but an approved system is about to be adopted. Fire records are well kept.
Fire Alarm System
The system is under satisfactory supervision and is well maintained. The city has far outgrown the present automatic fire alarm system; and central office equipment having provisions for manual operation, and separate alarm circuits are needed, particularly as so many alarms are received by telephone and should be transmitted over the telegraph system. Headquarters is fairly well located in a building of fireproof construction and the apparatus is in good condition. Batteries are of satisfactory type and well mounted and maintained. Wiring both in headquarters and fire stations is generally good. Boxes are of satisfactory type and properly located, with key attached, but many are dingy, their supports are not distinctively marked, and they are frequently inconspicuous. Visual indicators in fire stations should be replaced by punch registers as the former are unreliable and slow-acting; on this account the system operates slowly. Boxes and circuits are in good condition. The installation of underground circuits has greatly improved the system but the aerial cable connecting the underground cable with headquarters greatly reduces the value of this construction. The fire department telephone system is incomplete, and the clumsy method now employed in handling telephone alarms is liable to be attended with confusion and serious delays. Tests and inspections are regular and effective. Records except of tests are mainly good.