State Associations Should Urge Fire Prevention
Spreading Knowledge of This Important Science Benefits Not only Members but Every Citizen—Two Classes of Methods: Legislative and Educational
THE following paper originally read before the state convention of the Indiana Firemen’s Association, written as it is by one who is considered an authority on the subject of Fire Prevention, will be found to contain many excellent practical suggestions in the everyday application of this important science:
An organization which benefits only its members and those most intimately connected with it can not perform the duties which any real organization should perform. The Indiana Firemen’s Association benefits its members. It gives the firemen new and better views and improved methods of accomplishing their work. In doing this the association benefits not only the members, but it aids directly or indirectly every person in the state of Indiana. That aid to the public—the good to the world— should be the chief aim of any organization which is to grow and continue to function. The benefits to the members should invariably mean a similar benefit to the public at large.
State Organization and Fire Prevention
For this reason, the state organization of firemenshould interest itself more in Fire Prevention. The firemen of Indiana are the guards posted for the protection of the billions of dollars worth of property in the state. The position could hold no more responsibility nor a deeper trust if the wealth of the state in actual money was in the keeping of the firemen. The firemen, and their Indiana organization, owe it to themselves and the people of the state to learn Fire Prevention.
It has been estimated that more than seventy-five per cent, of the annual fire loss in Indiana is preventable. Every member of this body knows that fact in a superficial way, and yet there are few who realize its significance. If the firemen, the public, the industries, and every person forming an integral part of any of our commercial and domestic units knew and applied commonsense fire prevention methods in his sphere, the fire cost in Indiana would be less than twenty five per cent, of what is now recorded annually.
People Beginning to Realize Importance
People, always prone to neglect and not take seriously any instruction given free for the good of the public, have been awakened to the possibilities and liabilities in the Indiana fire loss. The people are beginning to realize the importance of saving their own money which has in past years been burned. They are turning to the fire departments for accurate and dependable knowledge on this subject.
Member Should be Ready to Answer Questions
It is the duty of each member of each unit of each city fire department in Indiana to learn the basic principles of fire fighting. It is an equal duty to learn the basic principles of fire Causes and prevention and to apply that knowledge. The fireman should be able to tell any citizen, any housekeeper, Boy Scout or other person wanting information on the subject exactly what he wants to know or where it may be found.
The one greatest factor in Fire Prevention is the reduction of the number of fire hazards. There are thousands of means which are tributary to this one end, and as many should be applied in each city as conditions will permit, but it is solely through the reduction of hazards that any great progress may be made. The work of reducing the fire hazards will devolve, in the last analysis, upon the firemen. They, acting under the supervision and at the direction of their officers, are the custodians of the property of the public, and on them will invariably fall the actual work in reducing hazards. Theirs will be the knowledge that the people have received something from them that is worth while.
Two Classes—Legislative and Educational
The methods tributary to the reduction of fire hazards might be roughly divided into two classes: educational and legislative. In reducing fire hazards by methods grouped under our class of educational work, the firemen and the public at large may be taught to recognize and eliminate visible fire hazards and may be made to see through intelligent reasoning the value of the work to the people.
Under the heading of legislative action, I would group all work toward Fire Prevention which is done regardless of public favor or condemnation through the power of duly constituted authority. The two classes must give support one to the other; there must be mutual bonds which will make the two inseparable in actual practice, but for this general discussion we will first consider the legislative processes.
Importance of City Ordinances
One of the surest and most thorough ways of reducing hazards is through the adoption and execution of city ordinances prohibiting specific conditions which are hazardous. We are familiar with ordinances prohibiting the shingle roof. With the passage of such an ordinance a large per cent, of the fire risks of a city is eliminated. Many cities, and some of them are in Indiana, have ordinances prohibiting shingle roofs within small and relatively unimportant fire limits while the greater part of the cities are covered with one of the most menacing producers of hazards. Regulations against imflammable roofing should be made effective throughout the city limits.
Other ordinances regulate the construction of buildings, the removal and disposal of ashes and cinders, the dumping of inflammable trash, the building of open rubbish fires and numerous other items. Many hazards which endanger a city or any great part of it may be satisfactorily handled by ordinances properly enforced.
Thoroughly Organized Inspection System
Second only to the use of ordinances in eliminating hazards which are commonly met with is a thoroughly organized and efficiently supervised city inspection system within the fire department. Although aided and made doubly effective by close co-operation with the public, this method of preventing fire does not depend solely upon public sympathy. A continuous inspection of the city within the fire limits and an occasional inspection of the entire city should be made. The territory may be divided between the stations or companies and men assigned in rotation to the tours.
Hazards may be reduced under such a system by the issuance of orders against the owners of properties on which dangerous conditions are found. If the system is to be of real merit and of lasting value, follow-up tours must be made to see that orders issued for the correction of hazards within a certain length of time have been punctually complied with.
Recommendations may be made by the inspecting firemen that buildings be inspected further with a view to condemning them as unsafe. Rubbish, ashes, paper, excelsior packing and hundreds of other contributors to fires and high insurance rates may be culled out in this way.
Co-operation with State Fire Marshal
Blanks should be furnished for detailed reports of each inspector, or each two inspectors where they are assigned to work in pairs, and at the end of each month or at other regular intervals the reports may be compiled and transferred to a monthly report to the department head. Reports of the inspections of the city as a whole should be made regularly to the state fire Marshal and co-operation with him should mark every phase of the activity of the department. No department is entirely independent and proper use of the dependency upon the fire marshal and close co-operation with him will result in better work and more rapid progress. A continuous survey of conditions and a constant finger on the pulse of the city should be maintained by the department, enabling it to detect and weed out fire hazards almost as fast as they are presented.
All Fire Prevention is Educational
With only a hasty sketch of two angles of legislative Fire Prevention, let us consider in an equally brief manner the chief features of the educational side of the work. All of Fire Prevention is educational. Upon the creation and maintenance of an understanding of the importance of the work and a demand that the work be forwarded depends practically all headway which is to be made in this line.
Legislative methods become secondary to the educational phase. There must be, first, a popular realization of the importance of the work; second, a conception of its meaning and its basic principles; and, lastly, a demand that the work be cultivated. Before the legislative work which we have noticed can be even started, educational work must be done within the department.
Education in Fire Prevention should begin with the board of safety and the officials of the fire department, and it should spread through each unit until every officer and man is thoroughly alive to the possibilities of the work and the importance of being familiar with it. A direct, open, straight-forward campaign of converting the fire department to the last man to active endeavor in this direction should be made.
Men’s Worth Revealed by Fire Prevention
From my experience, a campaign of this sort will reveal the true worth of a fire department as quickly and surely as any other thing. Men will be found who will interest themselves in Fire Prevention, study all angles of the subject, fit themselves for active participation in it, and become “live wires” where they had before been considered indifferent. Another type will remain indifferent until the movement has become generally popularized, and others will refuse to take more than a passing interest at any time. It is safe to estimate that a properly prepared and conducted campaign in the department will include in the course of a few months most of the men of a department who will be valuable to such a movement at any time.
The members who are interested should be given all available literature and talks should be made explaining the work. A few minutes time by the chief of the department taken in chatting with some fireman about the generalities of the work will often work wonders. The men should be taken in as equal partners in the business of helping the city to protect itself. Fire prevention should become the hobby of the men and officers of the entire department, and then outside work may be safely begun. The men, realizing that in saving a million dollars for a city in preventing fire losses lies as great benefaction as donating the same amount for a school or park, will be prepared to apply what they have learned and to learn still more from the conditions of the city itself.
City Inspection System Helps to Mend
The establishment of a city inspection system or the reviving of a crippled system makes an excellent beginning for the men to advance from their primary work to practical work. If an interested, wide-awake man who is imbued with the work in hand is assigned to an inspection tour with one who is only faintly interested, the chances are in favor of two advocates of fire prevention instead of only one returning.
At this point, it should be arranged that each company may do some field work. The immediate district of each station should be covered by the companies as a whole on a tour of inspection. All visible hazards should be singled out and inspected closely and the men trained to quickly recognize a hazard. The discussions which will ensue among the men after the return to the station house will doubtless reveal the men in a new light to the officials, and will tend to familiarize the men with the conditions in their districts.
Appreciation Spreads from Department to Public
As a thorough understanding and appreciation of the work is created within the department, it will begin to spread to the public. A few comparatively simple steps will guide the budding movement until it is launched with a strong initial impulse. Large industries should be inspected by as large groups of firemen as possible. The risks and safety measures should be pointed out not only to the firemen, but to the operators of the plant, and the fire-fighting apparatus thoroughly inspected. The men should familiarize themselves with the ground plans of the larger plants and the names of the various sections. The methods of safe building construction which have been employ-ed or neglected should be noted. Fire proof construction explanations will invariably arouse deep interest among the firemen and will leave lasting impressions as to properly constructed buildings.
Newspapers and Schools Productive Fields
In connection with the inspections of plants and districts of the city and missionary work in Fire Prevention among the people, another valuable feature should not be overlooked nor minimized. News publicity should be given in every instance warranted by the work. Newspapers as a rule are glad to give space to the fire department activities and any effort toward the improvement of municipal safety is always given a welcome. Each article bearing on Fire Prevention helps that much.
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The city schools may be made one of the most productive fields for work toward Fire Prevention. The superintendent of schools or the board of trustees will grant time in the classes of the grade schools for the study of authentic, well-chosen literature and will gladly forward the movement among the children. Students who have been taught to avoid certain dangerous practices will carry that knowledge to their homes and make corrections there. The parents will become interested and, through combined impressions gained from other sources, will become strong advocates for safety from fire.
Importance of Boy Scouts
The firemen of the Terre Haute stations have been instructed to offer the same treatment and explanation to a Boy Scout visiting any of the stations as would be given a city official. This work among Boy Scouts will do more, in my opinion, to guarantee a minimum of fires in future years than any other branch of the work. Troops of Boy Scouts, under the supervision of scoutmasters or chief executive George S. Wyckoff, frequently visit our stations, seeing all that is to he seen and learning the details of the work. Fire prevention in preference to fire fighting is always impressed upon these visitors who easily make splendid workers. The co-operation of Mr. Wyckoff and the Boy Scouts in Terre Haute will doubtless reduce our fire losses in future years when Scout Jones becomes mayor and Scouts Smith and Brown are members of the City Council.
We have been unusually fortunate in Terre Haute in securing the complete co-operation of practically all of our civic and business organizations in the fire prevention wor. The Real Estate Board. Rotary Club, Greater Terre Haute Club, Chamber of Commerce. Credit Men’s Association and several other highly influential organizations have during the past year taken decided stands on questions pertaining to fire prevention. This co-operation and active work on the part of organizations of this sort is one of the principal requisites for a successful campaign.
There are volumes of interesting and instructive material that might be written upon this subject by an abler person, but there is not time here for the rendition of more than a brief sketch of the work and the pointing out of the most important features. The smaller details of the work may be successfully arranged with a little serious thought upon the subject.
The simplest and most important thought in fire prevention is this: Use common sense and discretion; eliminate in the best way possible those things that constitute fire hazards.
If I have in this hasty review of impressions gained largely through experience in forwarding a movement to prevent needless waste by fire led the Chief of one department to consider seriously the work of fire prevention, or one fireman to see the importance and value of the work, I am amply repaid. I would urge only one thing, and make it a request to each person here: let each person take the record of the total fire loss in his city in 1919, take seventy five per cent, of it, and then ask himself—whether the amount be one hundred dollars or one hundred million dollars:
“Shall I exert my effort and energy and brain toward saving this needlessly wasted money to my city, or shall I sit idle and let this amount be wasted by fire?”