Its Origin and What Has Been Accomplished by
Kansas City, Mo., Fire
I SHALL not attempt to give a full chronological description of the growth of salvage work, but treat it more from observations of its growing importance and the results produced thereby. The operation of fire patrols, or salvage corps, by insurance companies is an inheritance from England, the birthplace of insurance.
In 1708 Charles Povey, of London, England, organized the Exchange House Fire Office which later became the Sun Fire Office. He also organized Povey’s Salvage Corps to protect subscribers of this insurance company against losses by fire and water. From a book, “History of the World’s Greatest Fires,” by George C. Hale, a former Kansas City Fire Chief, and the President of the I. A. F. C. in 1889, I find that the first attempt to perform salvage work in this country was during the fire at Smith’s tea warehouse, in Water Street, between Dover and Roosevelt Streets, in New York City in 1839, when a hand-drawn cart for salvage purposes responded at the fire. This unit operated under the volunteer system. It was on May 16, 1867, that the New York Board of Fire Underwriters was chartered, and this date, in reality, marks the inception of the New York Fire Patrol as it is today, the “granddaddy” of all salvage corps.
Great Interest in Salvage Operations
At no time during the history of the International Association of Fire Chiefs has as much interest been apparent in salvage operations. The advice of experienced Fire Insurance Patrol Chiefs is being sought and the modern methods of operation are under constant observance by Fire Chiefs and others interested in reducing the enormous fire waste of both the United States and Canada. The most evident way the members of the I. A. F. C. can aid and actively participate in reducing the fire loss is by promoting scientific methods of limiting the damage at a fire. Fire losses for the United States during 1931 are estimated by the National Board of Fire Underwriters at $464,633,265. Apparently the field for salvage work is large and its universal practice will naturally bring about a diminution of this nation’s fire waste.
Insurance Fire Patrols in Twenty-One Cities
In twenty-one American cities fire patrols, or salvage corps, are operated and maintained by the insurance companies under the control of local boards of underwriters, and general supervision rests with the National Board of Fire Underwriters, but the insurance organizations do not plan forming any more salvage corps in the future. They contend that in cities having fire patrols operated by insurance companies, the cost of installation and maintenance is charged to the insuring public, while the uninsured derive equal benefits from the service.
Salvage Work Function of Fire Department
Fundamentally salvage work is a function of the Fire Department. It is just as important for the Fire Department to save property by preventing water damage, as it is to save property by preventing its being involved by fire. This conclusion is now generally appreciated in fire circles with the result that salvage work is gaining in popularity in Fire Departments throughout the country. From this brief historical review of salvage corps let us pass to the subject of operations.
Los Angeles and Pittsburgh Among First to Install Corps
After the National Board of Fire Underwriters had decreed several years ago that no additional patrols would be installed by the insurance companies, Chief Ralph J. Scott of Los Angeles was one of the first, if not the first Fire Chief, to recognize the advantages of salvage work as it is now practiced in municipal Fire Departments. With the assistance of the late Captain John J. Conway, of the Cincinnati Salvage Corps, who was considered the best authority on salvage work at that time, Chief Scott succeeded in organizing two salvage companies in the Los Angeles Fire Department in February 1924. At present, I am informed, eight companies are in operation in that city. Salvage work is now a part of the Fire Department activity in San Diego, Fresno, and other cities along the Pacific coast.
Chief Richard L. Smith, of the Pittsburgh Fire Department, realizing the growing and vital need of salvage work as part of the Fire Department activity, appealed to Chief Frank C. McAuliffe, of the Chicago Fire Insurance Patrols, for help, asking him to make provision for the training of the officers and men of the salvage unit. After a course of training Chief Smith and his men started immediately to reduce the fire loss in the city of Pittsburgh. This he attributes to efficient salvage work carried on by the members of his department.
Growth Has Been Gradual One
The growth of salvage work has been a gradual one. Many of our larger cities, too numerous to mention, have installed municipally owned salvage companies such as previously described. Some of the smaller cities, not having need for an exclusive unit, have equipped their trucks with salvage equipment and tarpaulins, and are performing salvage work on a scale fitting their needs.
Nearly every Fire Department in the United States has set in operation salvage work to some degree. This has accordingly developed a code of practice. I know of no text or summary of this code, better than the 48 page booklet, “Salvage,” by Chief Frank C. McAuliffe, of the Chicago Fire Insurance Patrols. This has been published by the National Board of Fire Underwriters, and carries the endorsement of the National Fire Protection Association. It is a portrayal of salvage work in all its branches and brings out clearly the fact that proper and efficient salvage operations are of enormous value to communities where such facilities have been provided. It can be read with profit by every Fire Chief interested in salvage work.
In the localities where the insurance companies still maintain fire patrols or salvage corps, there will be found all of the necessary facilities for the proper training of firemen in salvage operations. Before a Fire Chief can inaugurate salvage work in his department he must first assume the necessary preparations for the proper training of his men, therefore, it is quite natural that he will consult a Fire Patrol Chief regarding the training requirements and inquire regarding the necessary equipment needed to efficiently perform salvage work.
Some Available Educational Advantages
I know that Chief McAuliffe, of Chicago, has established a school for the training and education of patrol officers and men in this important work. This school is considered to be the best of its kind in this country and municipal firemen are permitted to enroll for training.
Chief Edward H. Warr, of the Baltimore Salvage Corps, also conducts a salvage training school. Chief James T. O’Donnell, of the St. Louis Salvage Corps, for many years has devoted his personal time to the training of firemen from other cities in salvage operations.
The Kansas City Fire Insurance Patrol has been called upon by Fire Chiefs in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma to assist them in the establishment of salvage work in their Fire Departments. Occasionally firemen from other cities are sent to us for training. At times our Captains are permitted to go to other cities for the purpose of training firemen in the handling of covers; making chutes; catchalls; stretchers; roof covering; proper arrangement of stocks and furniture for proper covering; sprinkler system operation, and the application of first aid as practiced in our department.
Great Saving by Use of Waterproof Tarpaulins
It is well known that the chief weapon of the Fire Department against large fires is water, consequently the greatest part of the national fire loss has been from damage caused by water used in the extinguishment of fires. Prompt and efficient salvage work at and directly after the fire results therefore in substantial savings to all parties concerned.
Here is a question frequently propounded by some of our leading business men, “What Is the Service Value of a Waterproof Tarpaulin?”
At one fire it will be found protecting from water damage merchandise and furniture of small value. Again the same cover may become the protector for a baby grand piano worth several thousand dollars, and at another fire, the same tarpaulin will be found furnishing security and shelter from water for costly machinery or electrical equipment. It would be valuable to ascertain, if the undertaking were not obviously impossible, how many actual dollars are saved annually by each tarpaulin used in salvage work.
Good Results from Effective Salvage Operations
Due to the fact that so many distinct classes of articles are affected differently by fire, water and smoke I shall not attempt to discuss the value that remains in salvage after fires, because that is a debatable subject at any time, considering that values change with styles and prices in the trading market. But in order to show some evidence of the excellent results produced by efficient salvage operations permit me to disclose the following true story:
A few months ago fire originated from an unknown cause on the top floor of a large cap factory in Kansas City. Upon the arrival of the Fire Department and Fire Patrol they found the local alarm sprinkler bell ringing and four sprinkler heads in full operation in the section where the fire started. From the vast amount of water found on the top floor it was quite evident that the heads had been in operation approximately thirty minutes before the fire alarm was received by the Fire Department.
On the two floors below was a wholesale garment factory. The stock was all new. The loss to this factory, mark you, was entirely from water. The spreading of tarpaulins saved $15,000 worth of finished dresses and bolt goods according to the settled and paid loss as determined by fire insurance adjusters. The sound value of this merchandise amounted to $16,600, and the insurance company paid the assured $1,048. The sound value of the entire stock and machinery of the factory amounted to $37,422, and the paid loss was $12,500. Sixty-six and two-thirds per cent of the total value was saved by the Fire Patrol spreading 172 tarpaulins, making good use of 39 sacks of sawdust and the efforts of ten men for three hours at and after the fire. Suppose that salvage operations had not been available. It is easy to see what the result would have been in this factory.
If this shows a true saving at one fire, how much more must be true of the thousands of fires that occur in the communities and cities where salvage work has been inaugurated. As fires will probably continue to occur until the end of the next century, I am of the opinion that the Fire Chiefs of the United States and Canada should try to do everything possible to reduce losses by smoke and water, as well as by fire.
(Front a paper read before the annual convention of the International Association of Fire Chiefs at San Diego, Cal.)