THE WATCHMAN EVIL
The subject of inadequate watchman service was considered at the recent New Orleans Convention of the Fire Marshals’ Association of North America, and the following are extracts from the address of General Manager Mallalieu, of the National Board of Fire Underwriters, which contained many important suggestions on this important matter:
The subject of watchmen opens a big field for consideration. The prevailing custom among manufacturers, warehousemen and others is that of engaging as night watchman some superannuated employee who is no longer physically able to earn a workman’s pay. Such a watchman may make his occasional rounds of clock stations in a purely mechanical way, but the amount of real protection which he furnishes is very small. Generally he can be avoided with ridiculous ease by any one who is in the place with hostile intent. Some of you know of a recent test in a very large grain elevator, where inspectors were sent into a plant at night time, without the knowledge of the aged watchman. These inspectors spent six hours within the plant and made drawings of many of its important features, but their presence was never once detected. As a consequence the owners were given the alternative of engaging a sufficient number of young and vigorous guards or of having their plant taken over by the state authorities.
A 900-Foot Pier with One Watchman.
The big Baltimore fire of October 30 is a striking example of insufficient watchman service. Here was a pier, 900 feet long, containing a valuable accumulation of freight in the portion of the pier that was destroyed. Think of leaving these stores in the sole charge of a single watchman in a time such as the present! There are really few subjects in fire prevention so important as the abrogation of this time-honored custom of inefficient watchmen. To make the safeguarding of our production of supplies depend upon those who can furnish only nominal safety, during the hours when darkness brings the greatest dangers, and to do this in a period of extensive hostile activities would be ludicrous if it were not so grave. It is equivalent to locking the windows and leaving the front door open.
Picked Men, Not Derelicts.
Watchmen are charged with extraordinary responsibility. They should be picked men, not derelicts. They should be intelligent, courageous and physically active. They should receive special training for their important duties, and this training should include knowledge of fire alarms, fire prevention and fire protection. They should never be engaged except upon unmistakable evidence of character, and they should be paid the salaries that will command such qualifications. 1 wish respectfully to suggest that you gentlemen give early and earnest consideration to the correction of what we may well call “the watchman evil.” 1 wish to raise the point as to whether each one of you may not profitably undertake to secure statistics of the watchmen’s service in his own state, and to formulate means for a sweeping reform of the whole absurd system. If this can be done—and 1 believe that you can do it—the efficiency and safety of the nation will be greatly enhanced. It is a crying need ol the present hour.
Resolution Pased by the Fire Marshals’ Association of North America.
Whereas, We recognize the danger that exists during this very critical period in the world history because of the inefficient and insufficient protection of our foodstuffs and all commodities and materials necessary for the successful prosecution of the war; therefore be it
Resolved, That every state and provincial fire marshal be charged with the duty of bringing this condition to the attention of the owners of such properties and requiring them to properly protect same by guards adequate in number, of unquestioned loyalty and physical fitness, to the end that these properties may be saved from destruction by fire through crime or negligence; and further
That the secretary of this associataion be instructed to transmit a copy of this resolution to each and every fire marshal within forty-eight hours from the adjournment of this meeting.