The Insurance Incendiary.
Among the topics to be discussed at the National Convention of Chief Engineers at Cleveland in September, is one relating to over-insurance and incendiarism. A committee, of which Ex-Chief Charles T. Holloway, of Baltimore, is Chairman, has been appointed to collate facts and statistics bearing upon the subject, and the committee has sent circulars to every Fire Department requesting information which shall aid them in preparing an exhaustive paper on the topic. The topic is broadly put by the Committee on Topics, in the following language “ Over-insurance, in our opinion, is one of the greatest evils Fire Departments have to contend with, furnishing incentives for incendiarism. a subject which should be fully discussed and provision made for its suppression.”
The JOURNAL has repeatedly given statistics, compiled from reports of Chief Engineers and insurance publications, showing that nearly or quite one-half the fires which occur are attributed to an incendiary origin. A small proportion of these should, no doubt, be placed among the list of “ causes unknown,” for there are many mysterious fires take place where a motive for wilful destruction of property is wholly lacking, Property upon which there is no insurance whatever is often destroyed by flames whose origin is wholly unaccountable. Of course, over-insurance cannot be charged with causing these disasters. But it‘is also undoubtedly true that many fires whose origin is classified as “ unknown ” are properly attributable to incendiarism, so that, in reaching for the facts in the matter and in the absence ot full statistics, it is probably fair to say that fully one-third of the whole number of fires occurring in this country are directly chargeable to the hands of incendiaries. Of the 1,450 fires that occurred in New York city in 1877, 27 are reported as of “ incendiary ” or “ malicious ” origin, and 70 are reported whose origin is “not ascertained,” As the investigations into causes of fire are very thorough, it is probable that the circumstances surrounding the 70 fires unaccounted for were very mysterious, yet did not furnish sufficient evidence to base a charge of incendiarism upon. It is strongly suspected that a majority of these are chargeable to over-insurance.
In the earlier issues of the JOURNAL we pointed OUt the danger to which every COIT1niunity is exposed by this practice of OVerhard times, when business of all kinds is very much depressed, and when the competition between insurcompanies has brought their rates beiow a profitable or even safe business basis, the temptation for men who are embarrassed in their affairs to set fire to their premises for the sake of recovering the large amount of insurance which they have been able to place upon them is very great. It is an easy and quick method of realizing upon an unsaleable stock of goods or unproductive buildings. An agent for the sale of Extinguishers recently told us that business men often say that if, instead of offering something to put out fires, he will give them something to burn them out, they will pay him liberally. When these conditions exist_ hard times and an utter recklessness in regard to the amount of insurance one can obtain upon his property, and low rates—it is no wonder that incendiary fires abound in all sections of the country. If the loss was confined to the insurance companies alone, no one would complain, for, as they are responsible for putting this temptation before the people, it is but retributive justice when they have to foot the bills, and sympathy with their losses is entirely misplaced. It is they who are responsible for incendiary fires, and it is they who have it in their power to tunately, however, all destructive fires are eventually to come out of the pockindustrial classes. It is they who tmally the sufferers by incendiary fires, heavy loss, it will leave no stone unturned has made good its loss out of the pockets of the dear people.
But the far-seeing and conservative insurance men are beginning to appreciate the fact that over-insurance is a breeder of incendiary fires, and a curse to the community, but more especially to the insurance interest. They are striving to secure a remedy, but, with the fearful amount of competition in the business, it is a difficult matter to control. There seems to be little hope j of preventing over-insurance except by legal enactments. The people must demand of the law-making powers the enactment of laws which will compel insurance companies to pay penalties for over-insurance. Just how this is to be done we do not pretend to suggest, but it is certainly but simple justice that the guilty parties who offer a premium for the commission of one of the most dastardly crimes known, should be mulcted in damages by some means. One or two States have undertaken to legislate upon the subject, but without success. It is to be hoped that the Convention of Chief Engineers will evolve some practical plan for the prevention of that incendiarism which is encouraged an4 paid for by insurance companies.