The Remedy Wanted.
Fire is an enemy whose tactics are perfectly wellknown. One of the chief of them is that it never gives the least intimation of its approach. No one can ever predicate the time, the place, or the manner in which it will show itself. The utmost one can say is that probabilities are rather more in favor of a conflagration in one place than another —say in an oil factory rather than in a bank, in a theatre than in a church. These more likely places are most properly treated as extra risks; but in practice the extra risky place often escapes, as by miracle, while the fire-proof structure, or the building attended with all the conditions of apparent safety, is suddenly found in a blaze. The ubiquity of the enemy and the known characteristics of its attacks necessitate incessant watchfulness; but, as a matter of fact, our precautions against fire are few, and have an inveterate tendency to be out of order at the moment—the one moment—when they are in requisition. Householders seldom deem it part of their duty to provide even means «f escape for themselves or their families in the event of their house taking fire. Most houses are built with a trap-door by which access to the roof and to the adjoining roofs may be obtained, but whoever thinks of family drill for the use of the trap? How many of the household could, in a moment of emergency, get at it or through it, or know what to do with themselves when they were outside beyond rolling off the roof into the street ? Besides, in many cheap modem houses there is no sort of precaution of any kind. Careful people have been known to provide themselves with a good stout rope, fastened to staples and kept coiled up, so that in case of alarm it might be let down from the window ; but it may be doubled whether the most careful ever satisfied themselves by experiment whether they could descend a rope hand-under-hand into the street. Very few could do anything more than cut their hands by the rope sliding through them and drop. A rope ladder, Shakespeare’s “tackle-stair,” or belter still, a wire ladder should be in every house, and so fixed as to be instantly available. This, or some other precaution, would be sure to be taken if it were certain that every house would in its turn be on fire. It is the uncer ainty which begets the unreadiness.
This difficulty of keeping up a state of efficiency to meeting uncertain emergencies extends to public bodies. The Metropolitan Fire Brigade is efficient because it is in constant requisition. Every day brings its fires. Alarms are incessant. The Steamers are always being called out, and the men have no certainty of rest night or day. Always in use, it may always be relied on. But what a different state of things prevails in the provinces. There the story is always the same. The fire breaks out, there is delay in finding the turncock, delay in getting together the brigade, and yet further delay in getting out the Engine. When out, the Engine is found to be defective; the hose have rotted and leak, and there is not infrequently a scanty supply of water. Meanwhile, the fire gains a strong hold and ends in a conflagration. This tale has its variations, as in the fatal fire at Birmingham, where the fire-escape was wanting in one of its main accessories, that want entailing loss of life. The escape was also defective in construction, in common with all those in use; that is to say, the sacking was of ’an inflammable instead of a non-inflammable material, and the frame of wood, so that all was speedily in flames. Now, as there are means of rendering any fabric as unassailable by fire as if it were of woven asbestos, and as iron and steel are available for ladders, it is surely only folly which induces people to go on poking the top of a wooden ladder lined with canvas into flames as an expedient for saving life. The result is almost inevitable.
Great fires, like those we have had of late, naturally induce these reflections, and set us all asking, ” Is it not possible by some system, by insistance on houses being built with means, of escape,’ by regular inspection and drill where there are fire brigades, and by encouraging ingenuity in inventors, to put ourselves as a nation in a safer position and lessen the chances of loss of property and loss of life ? ” We have little hope of much reform. Public indignation readily excited, as readily subsides. Little comes of it, but it is to the interest of all of us to turn every calamity to the best account in the way of warning, and so by degrees to improve a condition of affairs, the unsatisfactoriness of which we all deplore.—London Insurance Record.