STORAGE, SALE, AND HANDLING OF GASOLINE AND EXPLOSIVES
Assignment to anyone of any topic for discussion before a Convention such as this always leads to speculation. I am led to the thought that the efforts of the Indiana State Fire Marshal Department to correct present conditions of handling gasoline and explosives may have been responsible for the heritage of this assignment. Deputies of the Indiana department report that a traveler throughout Indiana can find tanks for storing gasoline underground standing on station platforms at almost any railroad crossing in the state, waiting to be installed by some merchant or user of gasoline. At the present time it is a common thing to find every garage, every hardware store, every grocery and many of the restaurants in Indiana cities storing gasoline in light cans for selling purposes. This means that the high value districts are literally covered with an explosive far more powerful than dynamite. Such a condition breeds numberless fires, makes for the spread of fires once started, njakes firemen subject themselves to danger in approaching a blaze which they know is near gasoline tanks and finally is a serious menace to the lives of occupants as well as firemen. In one town in Pennsylvania eleven firemen lost their lives through the explosion of a gasoline tank. The theory of the fire marshal laws is that property must be protected from fire. In seeking a remedy for this condition I am informed that there is not a single recorded instance where gasoline properly stored underground has exploded, not even in the San Francisco conflagration. The only way to prevent the spread of fire from this cause and safe-guard lives of firemen is to order gasoline underground. The press keeps us constantly reminded of the number of accidents resulting from careless handling of gasoline and other explosives, sometimes with death and serious damage to property as a harvest. You are familiar with instances such as I mention, but at the risk of being tedious, with your consent I take the liberty of mentioning some of the conditions which the Indiana Department has sought to eliminate. The first year covered by the statistics gathered by the Indiana Department showed that the chief internal cause of store fires was the gasoline explosion, also that gasoline explosions were the chief cause of all deaths and injuries by fire. That regulation of gasoline has a connection with the housing problem in large cities is shown by one Indiana tenement fire started from a gasoline explosion which snuffed out the lives of five persons. Four of these were living in a room ten by twlcve feet in size. The rapid spread of fire due to gasoline precluded the possibility of their escape. The Fire Mashal can secure assistance from agencies outside of his department by calling on those who are interested in the housing conditions. Their problem concerns us. In one instance in Indiana a fire starting from a coal oil explosion spread with rapidity through the agency of a large quantity of motion picture films hindered efforts toward extinguishment until large property loss suffered. Put two highly inflammable materials or explosives together in close proximity and if one is carelessly stored or handled and thereby explodes, what it fails to bring about in the destruction of property and life, the other explosive may be relied upon to accomplish even though the hazard of the second may be carefully guarded. Until we get all classes of explosives carefully handled, the benefits of our works are largely impaired through the agency of other conditions which we have failed to correct. One Indiana newspaper called the starting of fires by coal oil, “The Women’s Method”. It may be true she is the chief offender in causing fires in this manner. If we can sufficiently scare all the women who use coal oil to lighten their task of starting fires in cook stoves and grates into the realization that the short cut to a quick fire is the most dangerous, we may prevent fires from this cause. Universal use of the safety can approved by the Underwriters’ Laboratories would prevent many such explosions. In this campaign the Indiana State Fire Marshal has provided that small amounts of gasoline kept above ground must be stored in approved safety cans. Proper labeling of gasoline and kerosene cans may do much to prevent mistakes of filling lamps with gasoline instead of coal oil. Many fires reported to the Indian departments are caused through this error. The practice of filling tanks on gasoline stoves while the stoves are burning does much to defeat the purpose of our efforts to get householders to store the liquid in safety cans. In one instance recently in Indiana where a $20,000 fire was started by a gasoline explosion it developed that a few days prior to the fire a deputy from the State Fire Marshal Department had served an order requiring the handler of gasoline to store it underground. The owner had expected to comply with the order but at the time of the fire had not done so. An adjoining property owner who carried no insurance had also been served with an order by the Fire Marshal and he had expected to comply. Such occurances as these need no bolstering arguments to convince. They carry conviction and the result is obvious. Though the occurence of the fire was unfortunate, it added an impetus to the successful prosecution of the work of the Fire Marshal in this Indiana city. It recenty came to our attention that one Mrs. S. living in an Indiana city was working with a cup of gasoline in one hand and a match in the other when she happened to spy a spider. This careless lady lighted the match to find the spider and thereby set fire to the gasoline resulting in serious burns in payment for her jndustry. This fire was due to the manner in which she was handling the product and presents in a concrete way the problem we seek here to study, that of the storage, sale and handling of gasoline and other explosives. Any public official who seeks to prevent anyone from carrying gasoline around in an open cup while hunting for spiders and other insect life with a lighted match will fail in his effort in the end, yet if this same official seeks to minimize the hazards to which property owners are subject through the careless handling, use, storage and methods of selling gasoline and other explosives, he will be blessed by some measure of success in his efforts. The problem of regulating the traffic looked insurmountable when viewed in the beginning, but the people have been found ready to assist in its solution and willing to do their part in adopting safety devices for the handling of gasoline. Flach of you gentlemen will bear out this statement if you have undertaken to put gasoline underground in your state. If you have not yet started this work, let me predict that you will find the public ready to accept your advances. The increase in the uses to which gasoline and explosives are being put in doing the work of the world and providing for its pleasures makes the problem of regulating the storage and handling of dangerous liquids loom large as one of the most important.with which it is the function of state fire Marshals to deal. Within the menory of each of you the careful and efficient handling of many commodities has undergone a complete change. The handling of gasoline and other explosives has the added feature of eliminating danger to property from fire and explosion. Today we buy loaves of bread wrapped in oil tissue paper to keep out dust and germs while yesterday we bought bread which had been bundled about in the baker’s wagon like so much coal or brick. The individual package method of marketing food products and medicines has supplanted the old bulk sales plan with which we were familiar. F’ood products are tinfoiled and hermetically sealed until they reach the hand of the consumer. All these changes in the interest of the public health are recognized to be measures which at the same time conserve the public health. Gasoline in turn is having its inning in more efficient handling and must follow the safety can and underground tank route before it reaches the consumer. These measures, while not affecting the public health as directly as those already mentioned, have a distinct connection with the public safety and therefore with the public health in some degree. Moreover, proper handling of gasoline increases the efficiency to the user. We may admit, therefore, that the modern method of dealing with the storage and handling of gasoline and explosives has come about largely as a result of the education ,of the public to the basic* facts underlying all improvements and advance measures of this nature. These products to which our official duties direct our interest, have the additional characteristics of an inherent menace to property which induces us to seek and adopt improved methods in their handling best calculated to eliminate that hazard. The Fire Marshals are not without assistance, therefore, in the task of creating in the public mind the viewpoint which leads the technical man to prescribe the safety can and underground tank. We can start our work relying on a twentieth century frame of mind in the public, brought about through its constant acquaintances with the efforts of mercantile houses to market commodities and handle them with methods calculated to eliminate all waste, dirt, and danger in the consumer’s interest. If any F’ire Marshal undertakes a campaign to secure better conditions in marketing gasoline, he will meet more friends than enemies. While he will receive some letters deprecating his efforts written by those who hinder and impede all forward looking movements, he will receive enthusiastic support from the majority of people with whom he comes to deal. Fire Marshals can rely on the proposition that everyone with whom you come to deal will know of his knowledge that gasoline is a dangerous liquid that constantly gives off a vapor which will cause a terrific explosion. With that knowledge in your user of gasoline the battle is half won. It takes no argument to convince him that gasoline must not be trifled with. All dealers know that in the course of time they will be required to comply with the rules and regulations of the Fire Marshal. Knowing this, and having the matter of the campaign brought to their attention through the papers and through the numerous orders issued on neighboring handlers of gasoline, the inspectors find on their inspection trips that the rules are being complied with in most cases without the need for the issuance of a formal order. The Indiana State Fire Marshal has been aided immeasurably by the newspapers. They have carried to every corner of the state the information that the above ground tank is unlawful and in violation of the regulations of the Fire Marshal. Compliance with the regulations has been secured without the necessity of orders being issued in more than a majority of instances. The statute under which the Indiana Department is organized provides that, “the State Fire Marshal shall make regulations for the keeping, storage, use, sale, handling, transportation or other disposition of highly inflammable materials, inflammable fluids or any other explosives, and may prescribe the materials and construction of receptacles and buildings to be used for any of said purposes.” Under this authority the State Fire Marshal has adopted and promulgated rules to regulate ftie use, handling, storage, and sale of inflammable liquids in the state of Indiana. The rules adopted by the National Fire Protection Association have been closely followed on the theory that the experience of that association dealing with the subject is a safe guard to follow. Acquaintance of the public with the provisions of these regulations is the first thing to secure as a starter. In this way the Indiana newspapers have been of singular value to the Fire Marshal. In the same manner the press of any state will aid any Fire Marshal who undertakes such a campaign. Separate regulations have been issued by the Indiana Department classifying and governing the handling of explosives other than inflammable liquids. Divided into four classes these include, powder, ammunition, fire works, small arms ammunition and high explosives of various kinds. When aggravated conditions of storage of such explosives are found, these are corrected by the enforcement of these rules. Storage conditions of such explosives are better than those of gasoline. In some instances retaliers of dynamite and giant powder have been required to remove larges stores of these explosives to points without the city limits. Our regulations are resorted to in correcting conditions where such other exposives are being carelessly handled. An effort technically to discuss specific provisions of our regulations on the subject of proper metal gauges, thickness of materials for tanks, flash points, traps, pockets, outlets and other such matters properly comes in the province of a technical society. It is inadvisable in this meeting both from the fact that time prohibits and for the reason that you gentlemen are familiar with the subject. The best results that could come from a discussion of the subject of handling gasoline is a conviction that effective regulation of the storage, sale and handling of gasoline and other explosives is possible and can be accomplished by the Fire Marshal Departments. The Indiana law may require more activity in this line than the statutes under which some of yours operate. The fact remains that if you have the authority of a good statute behind you, the assistance of the newspapers, the underwriters, the fire chiefs and the receptive attitude in which you will find your citizens all taken together, make the task, if not easy, at least not insurmountable. Although we are charged with the duty of looking after other exposives, gasoline is the chief offender. Twice as much kerosene is used to-day in Indiana as ten years ago and three times as much gasoline. The increased use of the automobile demanded regulation of the gasoline traffic. In Indiana in 1914 gasoline exceeded kerosene used by 5,396,150 gallons, while in 1913 kerosene was used in a larger quantity than gasoline. Underground storage of gasoline confines the explosive vapor given off, thus reducing the chance of accidental ignition to a minimum. While statistics are not yet available to show a reduction in the Indiana loss due to gasoline fires, we feel that the department will in a few months, by comparison with former loss statistics on this subject, be able to demonstrate to the sceptical that rigid enforcement of regulatory measures is entirely proper. You should bear in mind that when you undertake the regulation of the gasoline traffic the work will take you off your feet if any delays are permitted. Inquiries will swamp you and vexatious problems presented for your solution will be legion. A conscientious effort will do wonders to correct the hazards now present in every state and in the end will result in a material reduction of the fire waste. One thing important to attend to is the timely reinspection of the property subjected to orders. The follow-up rule, so effective in modern salesmanship, applies here. By insisting on compliance with every order issued, future work in correcting conditions becomes the easier. Failure or refusal to comply with orders issued by the Indiana Department subjects the person so refusing to a fine of from $10 to $50 for each day’s neglect to comply. The Department has not yet found it necessary to invoke the penalty on gasoline users. While our prosecutions of arson crimes are hindered and nullified by jury plumbers, hostile public opinion and other obstacles familiar to you, your inspection departments do not have to go before a jury of twelve to show results. The most interested party in the latter case is generally the property owner who is most desirous of having expert opinion as to the existence of hazards from fire in his premises. It may be that the general legislative adoption of the doctrine of personal responsibility for fires caused by negligence may be secured by first applying it to fires the cause of which can be traced directly to careless methods of handling and storing gasoline and other explosives. Our legislative bodies may be induced to penalize such negligence by the imposition of a statutory liability in damages although our lawmakers are less inclined to apply the doctrine to all fires from whatever cause. The added feature of the hazardous character ot explosives may be sufficient to overcome the mental inertia of many whom you attempt to convert to the position that all persons who permit fires to originate on their premises should be penalized. If the opposition to such a law can be silenced on this theory, it may be possible later to extend the doctrine to include all fires whether caused through the instrumentality of explosives or not. It may interest you to know that a broader measure imposing liability for damages from all fires received eight votes in the Indiana Senate in the 1915 legislature before being cast into the unmeritorious bills hopper. Meetings of this Association will avail something in hearing a discussion of this subject after 1 conclude if the experience of the Indiana Department in dealing with gasoline tends to convince you that a great deal may be accomplished. Despite the public’s general knowledge of the gasoline hazard our citizens will continue to let the future take care of itself unless urged by some agency to safeguard the hazards. The function of the State F’ire Marshal is to hasten the time when these products will be carefully handled by all their users. The size of the task confronting F’ire Marshal Departments should make all the more keen the realization of the importance of launching on it without delay. Correction of this evil calls more insistently upon the machinery of the department than any other branch of their work. This effort goes hand in hand with the educational work which they seek to perform. The best wav to educate is to show your student by the laboratory method the action of things with which you seek to familiarize him. It seems to me that a sufficient number of accidents occur daily to give you plenty of experiments with which to demonstrate the principles which you seek to inculcate. While you may be able to deal with only a small percentage of the gasoline users, by so dealing you will reach and convince a still larger proportion of its handlers that your prescription is an appropriate remedy for the disease which you seek to cure. The safety first doctrine applies nowhere with greater aptness than in the field of which I speak.
Photo by H. Schanke