Teaching Fire Prevention in Schools.*
It is surprising how many people are still of the opinion that a loss “fully covered by insurance” is no loss at all; that such a condition is an even break. The property owner is looked upon as a man of wisdom and prudence who thus guards against what would otherwise be a personal calamity, never seeming to realize that insurance money is simply and solely a contribution, made by the respective members of an organization, to replace that which is nearly always a preventable loss. Quite an agitation is on at the present time all over the country, for the investigation, regulation and reduction of insurance rates and cost. With the merits of this controversy we have, at this time, no concern. It is, however, self-evident that the greater the fire loss, the greater the insurance cost. In an effort to reduce the tremendous fire waste, we have appealed to the people to be more careful, and the fires increase; we have warned them against their own folly, and the losses grow greater; we have preached the necessity of conservation, and the destruction goes madly on. What, then, can we do? What, then, must we do? My belief is that the ultimate and complete solution of this great conservation question is the teaching of fire prevention in the schools of this country. Of all the fruitful avenues of information open to the child’s mind, there are none that appeal more directly or respond more quickly and thoroughly than the things that he can see or hear or feel around about him. For that reason I am now convinced that the subject of teaching fire prevention in the schools is a most helpful and prolific one. I have had the rare and pleasing opportunity during the past year of talking to some of the school children of Illinois a number of times along this line, and it can be truthfully said that the most appreciative and the most responsive audiences that one can have are these same school children; quick to catch the point, ready to adopt your theory and anxious to try it out; withal the most fruitful field of sowing imaginable. Let us, therefore, in order to get an intelligent view of this subject of teaching fire prevention in the schools, consider it tinder two divisions. First: how to do it, and, secondly: what we may reasonably expect as a result thereof. Of course, I know of no better way of telling you how to do it, than to tell you the way we are doing it in Illinois. Our department in 1912 prepared, under the direction of Mr. Morgaridge, our present efficient Assistant State Fire Marshal, a little sixteen-page brochure addressed to “The Public School Teachers of Illinois.” From that beginning the idea has developed until to-day we have in press a permanent school text-book called the “Fire Prevention School Reader,” designed and intended to be a reliable, effective and permanent text-book for use in the schools of Illinois in teaching, as a part of the regular course of study, this great and important subject. Lessons are provided on the origin of fire; the chemistry of fire; matches; gasoline; kerosene; sparks from flues; lightning; spontaneous combustion; defective chimneys; Christmas trees; first aid to the injured; Independence Day fires and accidents, and kindred subjects covering the whole range of dangers and preventive measures. Pictures are given of actual events, such as what a pint bottle of gasoline did to a building when it exploded. A bonfire tragedy. The appalling result of starting the kitchen fire with kerosene. The effect of the explosion of a moving-picture film, and other like subjects. A suggested program is provided for Fire Prevention Day, which in Illinois is October 9th, the anniversary of the great Chicago fire. Now! what may we reasonably expect as a result thereof? Again, I know of no better way to predict the result, than to tell you of some of the results in Illinois. The following newspaper account taken from the daily press of a school fire, where we have been teaching fire prevention, is an illustration in point: “While the flames were roaring about their ears, sparks and burning timbers falling all around them and the wildest panic prevailed among their parents in the streets, 200 pupils of the public school of Pleasant Plains, Illinois, marshaled by the Boy Scouts, calmly filed out of the burning building to safety Wednesday afternoon, their books and papers neatly arranged under their arms. That there was not a mad rush for the exits, scores of little ones trampled to death or incinerated in the raging furnace of flames that advanced close upon their heels, was due entirely to the cool judgment of the Scouts and the faculty. The fire, was discovered, just after school had been called for the afternoon session, by a pupil of the fifth grade who happened to be out of doors on an errand. He saw flames shooting out of the roof just over his room. Without any show of alarm he ran up the steps, quietly slipped up to the teacher and whispered, ‘Teacher, the school house is on fire!’ The teacher’s face blanched with the horror of the thing, but she showed no other sign of terror. ‘Children,’ she said, ‘I want you to be very good. I am going out of the room for a moment.’ She made her way with a smile and a nod to the room where the principal of the school was absorbed in a discourse on trigonometry. There was a whispered conference. The master started once, but quickly recovered his composure. ‘We will have a drill,’ he said. ‘All stand up and file out in order when I give the word. The Boy Scouts in this class will precede the others down the stairs and take positions in the hallway. Attention! And don’t move till I give the word.’ He left the room for a moment. It was all done in a brief space of time, yet with such remarkable deliberation. By the time the signal was given to the older pupils to march out, the children of the primary rooms, guarded by the Boy Scouts, had already filed out of the building. It was about this time that the fire engine and the volunteer firemen arrived at the school yard, where already scores of terror-stricken mothers were storming at the school doors. The Boy Scouts kept them at a distance, denying entrance to all, and permitting the children an easy and orderly exit. There was not a child injured, but those Boy Scouts and the school’s faculty are now enshrined in many a mother’s heart.” So it was at the Wellesley dormitory fire a year or so ago, when in the middle of the night a tremendous conflagration broke out in the young ladies’ dormitory which resulted in the loss of a million dollars worth of property. The students were all aroused from their beds and marched out of the building without the loss of a life, or a single person being injured—all owing to the efficiency of the fire drill as practiced in that institution. What a contrast to Collingwood, where a fire drill had never been heard of, and as a result over 500 pupils were killed or burned to death. Something in Illinois caused the fire loss of 1914 to be two million dollars less than it was in 1913 and the loss of life one hundred less; and the property loss for the first half of 1915 one million dollars less than the first half of 1914. Only one-half as many children were burned to death by bonfires in 1914 as in 1913. My judgment is that no small nart of this result is directly traceable to our work in the schools, and through them reaching out to the householder and the business man. Think of the millions upon millions of dollars worth of property that is destroyed in this country each year through carelessness. If the children, then, are taught in youth to beget habits of carefulness, and to remove from their premises surrounding fire hazards, can you not see. that it must necessarily follow that we will ultimately obtain in a large measure the results we arc seeking—the saving of the people from their own folly.
*Abstract of paper read at Convention of Fire Marshals’ Association of North America, Chicago, Sept. 19, 1915.