THE VALUE OF SYSTEM AND DRILL.
The danger to which the pupils of public schools in large cities and towns are constantly exposed, on account of the crowded condition of such buildings and the liability of a panic occurring in the event of an alarm of fire being raised, has, in only exceptional cases, been fully appreciated, and even when the danger has been recognized, little or nothing has been done to provide for or counteract the same. This State of affairs may, perhaps, be accounted for by the fact that members of school boards, as a general thing, know a great deal more about the contents of ancient histories than they do about the practicalities of life in the nineteenth century. School-houses are now seldom built as they should be built, and, as a consequence, danger continually menaces their inmates. A fire is liable to break out at any moment, and owing to the presence of innumerable flues for hot and cold air, which are almost always made of wood, flames are apt to seize upon such a structure in a very short time. Wooden staircases, which make an angle every few feet, and long halls or passages, lead to the various rooms, and it is a mystery that more lives of school children than are lost by fire are not sacrificed. Few boys or girls have passed through the public schools without having been more than once disturbed by an alarm of fire, usually false, we will admit, but none the less dangerous. Boys like excitement, and, glad of any excuse to vary the wearisome monotony of school life, accept the slightest intimation of a fire, and try to induce a panic. A puff of smoke from a register is enough to send them rushing pell-mell down stairs. Some school buildings are naturally less likely to burn than others, although none are any too well constructed; but there is no reason why lives should be lost when a fire does break out. By employing some system in the management of the inmates, nearly all danger from this source can be obviated, and there is sufficient cause to employ system of this kind. The fire hazard in school buildings is very great, and few last many years belore they are swept away by flames.
A resolution has been offered before the New York Board of Education that the principals of the several schools and departments shall, under the direction of the superintendent, train the pupils in their charge, so that they may be able to leave the building, in an emergency, in the shortest possible time, without confusion or panic. Ever since the occurrence of a lamentable panic, which was caused in one of the largest schools of the city, many years ago, by an alarm of fire, and whereby many children lost their lives, the teachers have done more or less on their own responsibility to drill their scholars in marching in regular line, so as to prevent confusion. The panic referred to was unnecessary, there being no fire; but it was exceedingly disastrous in its results. In the schools of Louisville, we believe, an admirable system of fire-drill exists. The same practice obtains elsewhere in a few places, and indeed we described some months ago the fire extinguishing brigade which had been organized among the older scholars of a large Western school. A regular Fire Company was maintained on each floor, under the control of the usual officers, and all under the authority of the teachers. This corps had been organized to fight a fire should one break out. The idea was, of course, well intended, but its value is to be doubted. The most that can be expected of the pupils is to so conduct themselves that their safety may be assured. It would be a very simple matter for the teacher of a school to make his or her pupils adopt some method of marching to and from classes and from the building after the work of the day has been done. Then, should a fire break out, if instead of raising a general alarm, announcement of the fact was conveyed to the superintendent, every teacher might speedily be informed, and by some ruse the scholars dismissed without a suspicion of what was occurring. The first knowledge the majority of them would obtain of the fact that the building was on fire, would be after they had reached the ground and were beyond all danger. Should a school of three thousand pupils be dismissed without order, the weak would inevitably be trampled upon by the strong.
Chiefs of Fire Departments in towns where no system of this kind is in force should earnestly recommend its advantages to the school authorities. The same plan migljj be enforced in large factories where numerous girls and women are employed. If it is possible, and it undoubtedly is, to preserve the safety of children and unsuspecting girls and women by the exercise of a little ingenuity and patience in drilling them to observe order in their going out and their coming in, it is a pity that grown folks will sacrifice their lives when^a modicum of selfpossession in the presence of danger would, in nine cases out of ten, enable them to escape unharmed. Self-possession and method will frequently accomplish wonders. The great trouble in protecting mill property and similar establishments from fire is in obtaining welldirected labor in the time of danger form the employees. Private Fire Brigades are almost useless, unless they are thoroughly organized and composed of cool-headed men of judgment, who will not become panicstricken at the sight of a little outburst of flame. The principal reason why private Fire Brigades do not do good work, as a general thing, is undoubtedly because they are composed of men who are directly interested in the preservation of the property endangered. That is, they will always be affected financially by the destruction of the premises. It is paradoxical to say so, but it is nevertheless true, as eveiy Fireman knows, that when a person is himself concerned in the result of a fire he is usually unfitted for doing much toward extinguishing it. Take the average member of the best Fire Department in the country, and we venture to say that he would become “ rattled ” if his own house caught fire. A man entirely disinterested can do much better service, provided he understands his duty, than a man, just as good at other times, who would be out of pocket should the fire gain headway. It is, perhaps, too much to expect that everybody will become so constituted that self-possession will at all times be maintained. However, training will do much toward overcoming this difficulty.
The proprietors of a large carpet-weaving factory in New; York have adopted a novel idea to protect their property from fire, and at the same time lessen their rates of insurance, for such indemnity against possible loss by fire can seldom be dispensed with entirely, no matter what efforts are made. The establishment is one of the largest of its kind, and the process of manufacture is more or less hazardous. Several times much damage had been caused by fire, and much financial loss occasioned by the loss of time as well as by the destruction of property. Spontaneous combustion was the great foe to be dreaded, and after having been burned out more times than they thought necessary they went to the Board of Fire Commissioners for advice. The ordinary dangers of such establishments were made evident to them, and several changes were made in the buildings so as to make them less apt to burn. Then, upon the recommendation of the Commissioners, a former member of the Fire Department was employed and given power to organize such a corps of fire-fighters and watchmen as he deemed proper. A half dozen men of experience as Firemen were engaged, and now, at six o’clock every evening, this little band of men go on duty. The factory is thoroughly equipped with all requisite fire apparatus, and the first thing done is to unreel all the hose and lay it upon the floors. Of course, it is constantly fastened to the pumps, and steam is always raised. Tours of the various departments of the factory are made at regular intervals, and, in case fire is discovered, the facilities for informing the men and massing them at the required point are such that no delay of any kind is ever caused. An alarm is also sent to the regular Fire Depaitment of the city at the same instant. Numerous fires have broken out in this establishment since this plan of self-protection has been in operation, but not one has got beyond the control of the men in charge. The same plan, on a modified scale, is in use during the day, all the employees being regularly drilled by the head officer. Putting out fires has come to be a business by itself, and method has taken the place of the “go-as-you please” style formerly in vogue everywhere. Organized labor, well applied, will accomplish much more than the best intended individual efforts.