The School House Hazard
It is rather a remarkable fact that in this age of progress, when the science of Fire Prevention has advanced by leaps and bounds, especially in the matter of building construction, that in many of our larger cities, not to speak of the smaller towns, the structures that house the public school pupils are a disgrace to the municipalities in which they stand. Many of them are veritable fire traps, and it would require only the dropping of the careless match to start a blaze that would result in the loss of many precious young lives. In fact where incipient fires have occurred in these poorly constructed schools only the systematic fire drills and the excellent discipline prevailing among the scholars have saved the city from a terrible disaster.
In New York City, where it might reasonably be expected that the buildings housing the school children would be uniformly up-to-date and of the latest fireproof construction, it has been found that several of the school houses are not only a menace from a fire standpoint, but in some cases are unsanitary, so old and faultily arranged are they. An estimate recently made by Superintendent of School Buildings Snyder put the figure that would be required to make all of the Fire Prevention repairs that have been insisted upon by the bureau of Fire Prevention of New York City at fully four million dollars. In referring to conditions, Mr. Snyder says: “It is considered that because of the sufficiency of stairways and exits in the buildings to permit of them being vacated within the time limit of three or three and one-half minutes they therefore are safe for occupancy. Whether or not this is justified can only be demonstrated by that of which we are all in constant dread—fire and panic. Our list shows that we unfortunately do have fires even with the schools occupied. The fact that no panic has occurred 1 believe to be due almost entirely to the systematic fire drills and to the most excellent discipline and control maintained by the principals and teachers.”
That the conditions in New York school buildings can be duplicated in many other cities and towns throughout the land is not hard to demonstrate. The lawmakers of these municipalities are often slow to spend the money of the people, when the expenditure means the raising of taxes, for fear of exciting adverse criticism from the taxpayers. Many times this false economy results in a condition which at any time may cost the lives of teachers and pupils, owing to the lack of proper safeguards in building construction in the schools, or the dangerous condition of some old structures that are used as schoolhouses and have generations ago outlived their usefulness in this particular.
The various associations connected with firefighting and Fire Prevention have done splendid work in educating the public up to the necessity of providing properly constructed school buildings. But there yet remains an immense amount of work to be done in this particular. Every effort should be made by the I. A. F. E., by the state and fire chiefs’ associations, and by chiefs of departments to see to it that the school buildings, both new and those now in use, are brought up to the standard as regards safety from fire.