THE NATIONAL CONVENTION.
IT is so seldom that the daily press discusses anything relating to fire matters with even ordinary intelligence that the following article in The Commercial Bulletin, suggested by the coming convention of chiefs, is worthy a prominent place in fire literature. The writer makes a serious mistake in assuming that the firemen are liberally paid for their services. He probably had in mind a few large cities that have full paid departments without being aware of the fact that for every paid department in the country there are a hundred or more that are purely volunteer, taxpayers contributing not one dollar to compensate the men for their services. The writer views the situation regarding fire losses from an insurance standpoint, and what he says regarding the interest of insurance companies in the matter of fire protection voices the sentiments of the average underwriter. Appended is the article:
“An important convention is to be held in Chicago on September 9, in whose deliberations, discussions and decisions the entire body of propertyowners and underwriters must necessarily take an interest. This gathering will be the twelfth annual convention of fire engineers and heads of fire departments in the various towns and cities of the United States. It will be their own fault if every local department in the country is not represented at this meeting, since invitations have been very generally and generously distributed, with a view to universal representation by delegates. That there will be a large attendance of representative firemen cannot be doubted. And that the twelfth convention of this particular kind should be larger and more enthusiastic than any of its predecessors is also safely to be assumed. Allowing for the over-estimate that these firemen themselves may cherish touching the community’s obligation to them for the service they render (and, in most instances, are liberally paid to perform), the fact remains that in every locality there is an obligation implied, if not assumed, to protect property from destruction by fire, simply because of the taxation assessment out of which the cost of such protection must come, when such cost has been formally included therein. So that, wherever fire department expense is a part of the tax levy, the burden rests upon the community to provide fire service commensurate with the risks and exposures of such locality. Notoriously, a majority of the smaller towns and villages of the United States are absolutely without any adequate protection in this matter of fire service. And, just as notoriously, these same imperiled towns are always ready to vote down propositions for either fire service or water-works, trusting as they do (and have too much reason to do) to thoughtless or friendly insurance managers who are silly enough to insure communities so blind and reckless as to be undeserving of insurance.
“ As we have often had occasion to remark, this matter of providing precautions against fire, or facilities for the extinction of fires, does not come within the province of fire insurance companies. Their business is, first, to collect premiums adequate to the risk they run, and then pay losses as they occur. If a community—large, small, city, town or village—provides no method, or no adequate method, of fire extinction, it is for the underwriter to adjust his rate for insurance accordingly, and so on down to the city which, at whatever needful expense, invests money in engines, fire alarm telegraphs, firemen, etc., up to the full requirements of risk called for by population, area and peculiar manufacturing hazards. On its face the insurance scheme takes the risk as it stands, and charges accordingly, leaving the community and the local authorities who represent the community to make the risk more or less as they may incline, through mistaken parsimony on the one hand or wise public spirit on the other. Upon this basis localities are assessed for’ insurance premiums; or at least they ought to be. All the interest insurance companies can fairly be expected to have in the matter is to make the mean and reckless and improvident community pay the full price for the extra hazard they impose upon property thus foolishly exposed to destruction. And, just here, it is proper to inject the suggestion that the companies, as a rule, are liberal contributors to whatever local taxes are levied for the equipment and maintenance of whatever fire service is anywhere established—paying as they do, in one form or another, their full share of community taxation for this and other purposes. Consequently, it is no more the duty of an insurance corporation to diminish the fire waste, by precaution, prevention or extinction, than it is the duty of the private citizen.
“And, so far as mere selfish interest is concerned, the insurance company is not at all so much concerned in having fires put out as is the average taxpayer or propertyowner, whether he happens to be insured or uninsured. One of the insurance papers, The Insurance Age, very plainly puts this feature in the following trenchant paragraph : ‘ If the people don’t care, and rather enjoy seeing the national wealth wasted in this monstrous and idiotic fashion, why, in the name of common sense, should insurance companies or insurance journalists care ? All that the companies have to do is to square themselves for this fight with fire, and make the public pay for seeing the scrimmage. It is simply a slugging match, which, of course, the dear people like to see, and are willing to pay to see. What the underwriters need to do is merely to see that they have their gloves well fitted and loaded, and then the contest can go on as long as the public enjoy it.’ To be sure, this is a rough way of putting it, and yet we do not see why it is not a clear statement of the situation, as between the insurance companies and careless communities whose representative authorities are allowed to go to sleep on the question of adequate protection, up to the very moment when a big fire occurs which, at one fell swoop, wipes out the town itself and exposes the recklessness and meanness which has permitted such catastrophe. Of this kind of experience there is an almost daily example furnished in newspaper fire records.
“ But, while this is the candid presentation of the position, we are far from derogating anything from the admirable and useful work done by the several fire departments where such service is properly arranged for and compensated. In fact, as matters are now tending, with an evident increase in the number and destructiveness of fires all over the country, it begins to look as if our firemen everywhere were the best friends the community has, and their services yielding about the most profitable return for the money invested by taxpayers. And, therefore, as already stated, we consider the coming convention at Chicago an occasion of general public importance. Elsewhere is given a summary of the topics to be discussed, most of whiclr have a practical bearing upon the reduction of the national waste of wealth by fires, most of which are needless, though all of them in the aggregate are costly of capital. The community, and this means the individual who helps compose the community, is bound not only to help diminish this increasing fire waste, but also to appreciate and generously pay for the service that tends in that direction. But the main point, after all, is that unprotected localities shall see their duty of providing water supply and fire extinguishing appliances, so that we may hear of fewer towns being wiped out by fires which, if not preventable, might, at least, be promptly fought by convenient apparatus, and thus brought under control in time to avoid the humiliation of working a sympathy pump which has really no excuse.”
In Van Alstyne, Tex., lives a colored man named Frank W. Higlon, who is HI years old. He was a regular hand at the plow last season and picked from forty to sixty-five pounds of cotton per day.