Providence, R. I., Fire Department Utilized Local Station to Teach Fire Carefulness and Found the Demand for Lectures Countrywide

Frank Charlesworth State Fire Marshal of Rhode Island and Ex-Chief of Providence

FOR a number of years as fire loss statistics were compiled, it became more and more apparent that there was urgent need of reformation among the city’s householders. The greatest percentage of fires and the largest amount of loss were in the home—an alarming condition when the nature and construction of Providence is considered as a whole.

Providence is an old city and it is a wooden city. Many of its buildings are over 200 years old, rich in the history of our country, and naturally a source of pride and concern to the citizens. Then again, through the port of Providence, pass many people from European countries, the majority of whom make their homes here in Providence, and as a result, coming from countries where stone and brick buildings are the rule, these people are careless and ignorant of the danger of fire in our city.

The increasing hazards created by our residents in their indifferent use of gasoline for cleaning purposes, the inattention given electrical appliances and the absolute thoughtlessness in disposing of matches and cigarettes has caused the Fire Department to lie aw’ake nights wondering how to overcome three of the greatest menaces to life as well as property. Putting out fires is not sufficient, for like the Chinese who pay the doctor to keep them well. Providence wants to reward her Fire Department for preventing fires. As a result, the conclusion was finally drawn that the solution of this evil was to start at the root—to bring fire prevention education into the homes and lives of our people.

Fire prevention is a fine art in the Providence F’ire Department, and the work is carried on, not only during Nation Fire Prevention Week, but during the remaining 51 weeks as well. For the past five years we have been laboring to educate the people of Providence to avoid the everyday, trivial acts of carelessness which are the main cause of the majority of fires. We gave lectures before civic bodies, clubs and in schools but the number of people reached was relatively small. We realized that the radio was the best source of bringing fire prevention into the homes of a large and varied group, to the children and their parents, the business man and manufacturer. And not only would our gospel be carried to the hearthstones of our own people, but it might find fertile soil in the neighboring towns and cities. A great deal of good and profitable advertising is done over the radio, why not use the same source to spread the seed of fire prevention, to bring home the results of numberless careless acts terminating in tragedy?

Lectures on Fire Hazard Prevention Broadcast

The Bureau of Public Relations, a unit organized in the Providence Fire Department for the furtherance of fire prevention, prepared 50 lectures to be delivered weekly, and our Chamber of Commerce arranged for a five minute time allotment over WEAN. This was tucked in between two popular programs so we were assured of gaining the immediate attention of many listeners. The talks were pithy, direct attacks on the heedless, indifferent use of fire and its appurtenances, careless housekeeping by allowing discarded rubbish to accumulate, the hapazard, dangerous manner of storing gasoline, etc. Each week a different hazard was considered and a suggestion made to eliminate it. At the end of each talk the announcer stated that a copy was obtainable through the Fire Department and to call the department when in doubt about questionable conditions.

Being humble and modest in our maiden efforts of broadcasting, we prepared what we deemed an ample supply of “talks” for distribution. Imagine our surprise, when the first edition was quickly exhausted and a second and third were soon found necessarj’. The requests came from far and wide, not only from the environs of Providence, but from western and southern states as well. I have even sent copies to a Fire Chief in far away Australia, who writes regularly for information regarding fire fighting and fire prevention methods and who, in turn, states conditions and customs in his part of the world.

Requests Come In for Information

It is true people were asking for copies of the “talks”. Was this just curiosity or was it an_ earnest desire to correct existing evils? For some time we had no way of proving that our words cast forth upon the air were being taken seriously, but after a few’ weeks, calls began to pour in from dubious citizens asking information about certain conditions, whether or not we deemed them fire hazards and what tvere our suggestions. Some of these matters were settled over the phone, others required a special inspection, which was carefully and courteously made, and recommendations given for correction. Not only were the urban difficulties passed upon, but the rural districts as well consulted us regarding various problems.

Once these lectures were successfully launched, it was surprising how many subjects were available for future talks from the many hazardous conditions and customs brought to the attention of the department by the residents themselves, enabling us to straighten out many problems. The business man, after a strenuous day in the factory or store, is in a much more receptive mood to absorb suggestions relative to the hazards of mill or shop, while contentedly listening in on a radio program, and upon entering his place of business the next day, he is quick to note any deviations from the course of safety and equally eager to correct all menacing conditions.

Of course there is an amusing side to this as well; we are expected to combine the attributes of a highly trained fireman, with the abilities of a chimney sweep, a first class janitor, a tree specialist and as usual the go-between in neighborhood disputes. Nevertheless, I can truthfully state that through these “talks” over the air, the department has been brought into closer contact with the public, it is on a surer, more friendly footing than ever before, and today, we are looked upon as a friend and neighbor, ever ready to assist in whatsoever manner the public may request aid. The results of three years’ broadcasting have been most gratifying, giving us courage to strive for better and more widespread influence.

Advantages Proved by Statistics

To give a definite, a statistical proof of the effectiveness of an every-hour-ofthe-day fire prevention work, let me quote the figures representing the dwelling house fire loss five years previous to the commencement of this campaign and for the subsequent five years. For the years 1926-1930 inclusive, our dwellings were gutted by fire to the amount of S709_,808.46 and for the period from 1931-1935 inclusive, these losses dropped to S397.707.76. Also the number of dwelling house fires in 1926 was 610 and in 1935 it was 287.

The Providence Fire Department considers that the radio has achieved in a three years’ period more lasting and farreaching results than could have been accomplished by the long-drawn out methods of previous years, and it still hopes to be enabled to continue the effective use of the air in spreading fire prevention education. To broadcast regularly and consistently until the public is thoroughly permeated with fire prevention consciousness, until the practice of the simple fire prevention laws has become a daily routine: to be vigilant and unceasing in our efforts to hold in check the foe lurking in our midst is the sole desire and aim of our department.

(From a paper read before tbe annual conference of the International Association of Fire Chiefs).

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