THE CITIZEN AND THE FIRE DEPARTMENT.
Irving G. Comins read a paper before the last convention of the Massachusetts State firemen’s association on “the citizen and the fire department” in which he called attention to the enormous monetary loss caused each year by fire— averaging $200,000,000 for the two years 1904 (the year of the Baltimore fire) and 1905. He did not know what per cent, of that was made good by the insurance companies; but in Worcester the proportion of insured to total loss was from seventy to eighty per cent., on which basis the insured throughout the country must have contributed at least $150,000,000 each year to make good. A very large per cent, of this loss is caused by negligence and carelessness on the part of the citizen to enact and enforce proper building laws and to compel adequate individual protection in large and exposed districts where the conflagration-risk is great, and carelessness in caring for all kinds of property is the rule. In addition to this tax, the citizen has to maintain more or less efficient and increasingly expensive fire departments. One hundred and fiftyone cities of over 30,000 population spent in 1904 $30,650,000 to keep up their fire departments. Worcester alone spends more each year to be protected from fire-loss than to keep its entire school system going. On the latter it laid out —including interest at three and one-half per cent. —$89,000 on equipment and buildings) $596,886, on tlie former (including $21,315 interest as above), $237,334, in addition to over $400,000 paid in insurance premiums—a part of the cost of protection against fire-loss. The total is $637*334—about $40,000 more than the money laid out upon the city’s schools. The cost per capita for the maintenance of the fire departments in Worcester has increased from sixtysix cents in 1880 to $1.62 in 1905—an increase of 145 per-cent, per capita in twenty-five years, with the end not yet in sight, for, even if all or half of the recommendations of the Underwriters’ committee of twenty were carried out, the city would not be secure from conflagration. It may lie said in this connection that Worcester’s fire department is unusually economically managed It is also noticeable that every year it is becoming harder and harder to obtain the necessary appropriation for the fire department, while the firelossis scrutinised more and more carefully every year. The citizen calls for better protection and the fireman for more money, and trouble arises in consequence, yet the fireman and fire service have improved in every way. The development of firefighting has eliminated the old volunteer company. Commercialism has entered the department, and the art is now getting to be a science where results are all that are looked for, and praised or criticised. The fireman quickly recognised the principle that the early attack of a fire was the prime object to be obtained. Hence horse-hauled, instead of hand-hauled apparatus is the rule; the steamer has superseded the old hand-tub. Horses were stabled in the firehouses, with one or two men in the vicinity. Then one man was always on duty; but all that was too slow, and the hanging harness and quick hitch followed. The electric fire alarm system succeeded, with its street fire boxes; then the threehorse hitch for the heavy apparatus and the two-horse for the light. Then the permanent force was increased, making twenty-five seconds the maximum time for a piece of apparatus to get out and away. New methods of fighting fire were adopted, among them the chemical engine, with powerful and fast horses and light hose easy to handle. Firemen’s conventions for mutual improvement, drill schools for firemen, larger and more powerful steamers, heavier streams, Siamese connections, Deluge sets, water towers now meet the demand for a larger and more effective battery. In this way the fireman has done his part, although a few more seconds may be lopped off by automobile apparatus in driving to a fire, and improvements in apparatus may make it even more effectual. But the fireman has met the call made upon him and has now about reached his limit. What has the citizen done towards reducing the fire loss? He has made, and uses constantly the parlor match with its fl.y-away head and the pleasure it gives with. He has invented and sells the gasoline to rats and mice to nibble at and children to play stove—about as safe as a keg of gunpowder in a blacksmith’s shop—and the kerosene stove, with its pernicious activity. He has built flitfisy and inflammable buildings, with partitions to spread the fire, and stairways, elevatorshafts, dumb waiters and lightshafts to help in conducting the flames upstairs, and covered all over with highly inflammable paint and varnish. The insufficient walls and supports render these buildings deathtraps for the firemen, whom they pompously first bury, then hold investigations, with the object of seeing whether or not the fire chief and his officers were not to blame for allowing their men to enter these buildings. Thev have allowed basements and cellars to be stuffed full of rubbish or stored with merchandise so closely as to be inaccessible, often fatal to the firemen. The.y have erected apartment houses, whose sole end seems to be the roasting or smothering of the occupants; but the fireman is expected to plunge into the smoke, or scale the walls with ladders, and rescue all at the risk of his life. They have drawn up and passed building laws that are a help in some ways, but arc more often violated. Firctraps exist in the heart of a congested district, and, because of their menace, the owner of a really well built house has to pay an increased insurance premium. The German law should prevail, which holds a man responsible for the damage a fire does, if it spreads outside of his buildings. The erection of high-class, slow-burning buildings should be made compulsory. Thus, although the citizen has cheerfully done much to improve fire departments and further the development of the fire service, he has done more to increase, than to lessen the fire-loss. The example of the manufacturers’ mutual insurance companies, with their scientifically built and automatic sprinkled buildings, and their corps of competent inspectors and their monthly reports, should be followed. In 1905 the nineteen associated companies had in force $1,358,713,365 of insurance on purely manufacturing plants. There were 799 reported losses, besides many fires where no loss was claimed, and the total amount paid out for both fire and sprinkler damage was $513,428— thirty-eight one-hundred-thousandths of one per cent.—$38 on every $100,000 worth of insurance, or $380 for every $1,000,000 worth! After the cost of operating, ninety per cent, of the premiums paid were returned to the policy-holders in dividends. This shows what scientific individual protection will accomplish, when faithfully carried out, and these results could not have been, but for the automatic sprinkler—a device which altogether eliminates the matter of time and discovery. It is always on hand; all it demands is that its owner shall keep it supplied with water under pressure. It does not sleep on duty, nor does it patronise the saloons. Any amount of smoke cannot lessen its usefulness. In buildings liable to freeze, the pipes are filled with air under pressure, which keeps the water back until the sprinkler opens. The air rushes out, and the water instantly follows. In order to prevent excessive water damage after the fire is out, most systems are provided with an electric alarm that is started the instant the water moves in the pipes. It is a fire department in itself, that neither eats, nor sleeps, nor draws a salary. Had the basement of the Hurst building in Baltimore been fitted with automatic sprinklers, the fire would never have spread beyond its walls, and the terrible experiences of her citizens would have been avoided. The same is true of almost every great fire. They are also used on the outside of buildings, above each window and on the cornice, if inflammable, and, when the water is let on, form a curtain of water against the glass on the side of the building.