TO DECREASE INCENDIARISM.
How to mitigate the evil of incendiarism has always been a moot point, and many plans have been suggested looking towards that end. But the evil still continues, and, we suppose, will continue to flourish so long as the love of revenge and the lust for dishonestly acquiring insurance money exist. The compulsory appointment of a fire marshal’s bureau in every State and Territory in the Union would go far in the way of putting down the crime. But some hindrance or another—probably the fear of politics entering into the appointmentand thereby dictating the choice of unfit persons to fill the office—has caused considerable tardiness on the part of the various States to organize such a bureau; and we must admit that, although so far as the appointment of State fire marshals is concerned, politics has played little or no part, such a fear is by no means without foundation. One plan is followed in Maine, which, although only partially effective, has certainly much that can be said in its favor In that State a law bearing upon the subject in question was enacted in 1895, and was amended two years afterwards. It enucted that the insurance commissioner of the State should assist the municipal officers in their investigations into fires—the State to bear the expense—and, when deemed advisable, should personally investigate all that seemed to be of suspicious origin—the authority beinggranted him to prosecute persons suspected of incendiarism or arson. The law has worked to such good purpose that the percentage of “incendiary” fires was reduced from 8.64 per cent to 2.79 per cent for the last seven months of 1895 for the year ending December 31, 1899, and of fires of “unknown origin” from 32.54 per cent to 20.47 per cent respectively during the same period. Speaking of the operations of this law State Insurance Commissioner Carr says:
The “incendiary” and “unknown” classes include all the fires of a suspicious nature, and it is very gratifying to be able to report such a marked decrease in fires of questionable origin since the enactment of the law requiring an investigation. This statute, however (he adds), has nearly doubled the work of the department, with results not as satisfactory as we could wish. There is no crime of such atrocity and so easily perpetrated, and the opportunities for burning property are so numerous and of such a character as to make detection frequently impossible. Public opinion must be educated to the fact that incendiarism is a crime, and must be punished, and, with a hearty co operation of our citizens, I have no doubt the moral hazard can be still further reduced, the public better protected, and the rates of insurance largely decreased The moral effect of these investigations cannot be measured. The only perceptible results are the number of convictions, which have been few. and the decrease in the percentage of fires of suspicious origin.
Another possible method of preventing not only incendiarism, but also that culpable carelessness, which, as the mother of so many destructive fires, may well be looked upon as akin to a crime, is that proposed by United States Manager Affeld, of the Hamburg-Bremen, in his address to the fire chiefs last week at the Charleston convention. His remedy would be, that the State should not allow the full insurance to be paid to anyone who was responsible for a fire loss, or to anyone on whose premises a fire originates, unless he can show that it was caused by the carelessness or design of another. It is doubtful. however, whether such a law could pass, or, if, having been passed, it would, or could be enforced in the case of those who have paid full insurance premiums every year. Still it ought to be possible for a law to be passed and enforced which (as Mr. Affeld suggests) should compel every fire to be immediately reported to the chief of the fire department or the nearest magistrate for investigation and reporting on, and should also forbid the payment of a claim till after such an investigation had been made and the report sent in. What we think would prove a more effective remedy than all would be for the passage of fire laws in every State, which, with modifications to suit the circumstances of each, should embrace at least such a provision as the last suggested in this article. If that were done, the number of suspicious fires, at all events, would show a steady decrease year by year.