THE NATIONAL FIRE PROTECTION ASSOCIATION AND THE FIREMEN

THE NATIONAL FIRE PROTECTION ASSOCIATION AND THE FIREMEN

The International Association of Fire Engineers has been officially for many years an active member of the National Fire Protection Association, and many of our individual members have long been members of your body and yet we have not been able, so far, to render one another any conspicuous service. This has been in no way the fault either of one organization or the other, but the natural result of a different outlook and direction of energy. We have been traveling toward the same goal by separate roads which are now rapidly converging; and we must soon march shoulder to shoulder as comrades in the common cause if we are to make the desired headway against the common enemy. An awakened public comprehension of the economic significance of the fire waste is placing new burdens upon us both; burdens which we cannot shift without loss of confidence either in our ability or our intelligence. For the past half-dozen years the National Fire Protection Association has been exerting itself to tlie utmost to meet these increasing responsibilities. It has rapidly evolved from an obscure organization concerned only with the making of underwriters’ regulations, to a truly national body including in its membership all the principal national organizations of America, professional, engineering and commercial, and individuals from nearly every walk in life. It has become the American university of fire protection engineering, and furnishes the forum in which all the interests concerned in combating the fire waste may meet, reconcile their differences and understand one another. While of still greater service to the underwriting world than it has ever been, its later activities have made it equally valuable to the public itself and indispensable to those awakening to the necessity of national fire prevention. In the twenty years of its life it has created an entire literature on a subject new to the common American thought. “Field Practice,” the association’s inspection annual, so carefully and painstakingly compiled by our committee on that subject, of which Chief Plammitt of the Fire Prevention Bureau of the New York Fire Department, and Chief McDonnell of the Fire Prevention Bureau of the Chicago Fire Department, are devoted members, is now pretty well known to all firemen and is in gen. eral use by inspectors throughout the country. As the awakening public concern in fire prevention has played a definite part in the evolution of the National Fire Protection Association, enlarging its outlook and modifying and extending its literature, so that influence is modifying and may continue to modify the methods and outlook of the fire departments. I shall not encroach upon the subject of the paper of my friend, Chief McDonnell, if I mention as an illustration of my point the recent establishment of fire prevention bureaus and inspection departments in the fire departments in many cities of the country. F’iremen are thus rapidly taking over a work rightfully and logically theirs, but long left in the hands of the fire insurance companies. It is a rapidly developing thought in the minds of both firemen and the public that fire prevention is as logical a function of the fire department as fire extinguishment, and that firemen must equip themselves for this service. Fire preventionists make ultimately the best fire fighters, for they are schooled in the knowledge of fire causes. The demand for the old thrilling heroisms, like the demand for the long-loved fire horses, is fading under the strong light of science. The automatic sprinkler is meeting the demands of the one; the automobile pumping-engine the other. Science takes a lot of the romance out of things, but its pitiless efficiency leaves us no excuse for rebellion. Our office records of fifteen thousand fires in properties equipped with sprinklers tell their convincing story. The fire-fighting future in all large buildings and wherever great values are present belongs to the automatic sprinkler. I believe the successful fireman of the future will be the man who eagerly seizes as his own proper tool every agency in fire-fighting that science evolves. For scientific methods, one demonstrated as efficient, march inexorably forward, and we either adapt ourselves to their requirements or give place to other agencies. Modern civilization is so complex as to demand the utmost co-operation of all the forces directed at a common object to secure any measurable result. The National Fire Protection Association and the International Association of Fire Engineers need one another in bringing to bear the sum of our common knowledge and experience.’ And so, as my final word today as the executive officer of the one and an associate member of the other, I ask your endorsement of a special effort the National F’ire Protection Association is now making in the field of legislation. It is an accepted principle of the common law that a man is liable to his neighbor for injury to the latter resulting from his carelessness or neglect. Owing to the common American assumption that every man who has a fire is an unfortunate to be pitied, this liability has not yet been recognized in relation to losses from easily avoidable fires. We therefore desire the active cooperation of every fire chief in inducing those who suffer from such fires to bring suit for the recovery of damages. One such suit in every community will be of incomparable educative value and at once result in the elimination of a surprising number of conspicuous local hazards. No civilized community should expect its firemen to risk their lives in fighting fires easily preventable—enough danger will always be encountered in extinguishing those not easy to avoid. For many years we will continue to have disastrous fires, and fires of great magnitude in those cities in which wooden construction still makes sweeping fires possible. The aggregate fire loss cannot for some time be taken as the direct measure of our success in fire prevention. It is the decreasing number of fire alarms that is to be the significant factor, and nothing will reduce the number of fire alarms so radically as the fixing of personal responsibility therefor. The utmost achievements of fire fighting science are crippled and balked by the habits of a people encouraged in an irresponsibility toward the common safety. The attention of such a people cannot be attracted and a correction of their mischevious habits achieved by any ordinary methods of polite education; twenty years’ experience makes this clear. They must be made responsible for their acts of trespass. Fire departments are not maintained to protect a man from the results of his negligence, and when he calls upon the city in any such case he should be made to pay for the service. The safety of a whole city may be jeopardized at a critical moment by the diversion of the attention of the fire department in the run to a fire which should never have occurred. It is the careless and indifferent citizen who will not protect himself by decent housekeeping, who makes constant inspection of his premises by the firemen so necessary. He makes imperative a larger fire department and lays his neighbors under assessment to maintain it. Is it not then peculiarily just when the department issues an order and a fire results from its nonobservance, that the offenders should pay to the city the full value of the services of the fire department and any damag*s in person or property resulting thereto in extinguishing or attempting to extinguish such fire? We believe that it is, and it is legislation to this end which the National Fire Protection Association is seeking, and for which it asks the cooperation of the fire engineers. There is already such provision in the charter of the City of Greater New York, and during the current year the legislature of the State of Pennsylvania and the City Council of the City of Cleveland, Ohio, have enacted the same into law. These cities and this State are, therefore, the leaders in a movement the justice of which is irrefutable and which is bound to exert a profound influence in correcting the defects of character which make for America so unfavorable a showing among the more prudent nations of the world. In closing, it is my privilege as a member of your distinguished body to offer for your consideration the following resolution:

“Whereas, The fire waste of the United States and Canada is greater in proportion than that of any other countries in the world; and

“Whereas, A majority of the fires causing this waste are easily preventable, being due to the individual carelessness, neglect and irresponsibility of citizens and others; and

“Whereas, Laws, ordinances and regulations exist and inspection orders are issued for the reduction of fire hazards and the safeguarding of the common property:

“It Is Hereby Resolved, That the International Association of Fire Engineers is in favor of state or municipal legislation designed to assess upon individuals, firms or corporations the cost of extinguishing or attempting to extinguish all fires occurring in the premises of the same, whenever such fires are the result of failure to comply with any law, ordinance, lawful regulation or requirement of any state or municipal authority enacted or made for the prevention of fire, and that the campaign of the National Fire Protection Association for this object is hereby commended and endorsed.”

Abstract of speech at Convention of International Association of Fire Engineers, Cincinnati. O., Aug. 31Sept. S. 1915.

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