Thoughts for the Future
In recent months several authorities in the fire service have predicted future developments in this great country and the resulting impact on fire fighting. Speaking before the 31st Fire Department Instructors Conference in Memphis, Loren Bush, chief engineer, Board of Underwriters of the Pacific, estimated the future fire potential of this country. Mr. Bush based his conclusions on the premise that people cause fires and the population increase forecasts indicate that by the year 2000, from 275 to 360 million people will live in these United States. He estimated that if fire losses increase in the same geometric proportion to the increase in population, as they have in the past 25 years, our national wealth and natural resources may be exhausted. This is an ominous warning!
Roi B. Woolley, former editor of FIRE ENGINEERING, addressing the recent Oregon State Fire Chiefs Association conference, expressed similar thoughts and stated that if the present trends continue, more than 120,000 people will lose their lives by fire in the next 10 years. Most of these will be the very young and the very old. In addition, over $13 billion in property will be destroyed!
This is not a pretty picture to behold but when dollar values of real property are judged against present inflationary trends some confidence does return. It can be expected, however wasteful and needless our present monetary fire losses, that future production methods and speed will be geared to an everincreasing pace of living and replacement will be accomplished then as now without unduly straining the economy. This conclusion is based upon more optimistic predictions that our country will continue to expand and grow in all directions rather than in a few fields.
Losses to natural resources may be another story. For example, forest fires and the resulting damage to watershed areas may create hardships which exist for decades thereafter. Only time and sound conservation policies will eventually remove the scars or reduce the impact.
Fire fighting has always been considered a defensive science. As we progress into the future, it is possible this strategy may be shifted to a more offensive basis. Tactics now employed in the nature of fire prevention and building codes, inspections as well as laws and ordinances and education of the public will be improved and strengthened. It may come to pass that one of these will prove to be the key to our future methods of fire attack. As in the past, new discoveries breed new hazards and the fire service will continue to develop proper techniques to cope with them.
Where death by fire is concerned, our records are stained with the blood of countless victims. The toll of life during the past year may be readily depicted in cold statistics but figures will fail to place this story in its true perspective. The entire nation was aroused early last winter when 93 persons lost their lives in a school fire. A flurry of action to safeguard the children followed in all parts of the country. However it may have passed unnoticed that the same or a slightly greater number died in home fires during the Christmas holiday season. No concerted action followed these occurrences. In nearly every case these fatal fires could have been prevented if only simple home fire safety precautions had been observed. News reports since then continue to recount innumerable fatalities which will eventually add up to our yearly death statistics.
This senseless and irreplaceable waste of human life is the one loss which no nation can long afford. Buildings can be replaced and substitutes found for depleted natural resources, but human life cannot he reclaimed once lost. History is replete with examples of nations which have withstood the ravages of war and pestilence and emerged with even greater strength from their trials. These same nations later succumbed when brilliant leaders passed away and were succeeded by mediocre men.
Who can estimate the cost of human ingenuity and skills which the past, present and future victims of fire may have had at their command? This leads us to the conclusion that every effort must be exerted now to stem the terrible toll of senseless fire deaths before we discover that we cannot afford them. For when such a discovery is made, it may then be too late for action!