What it takes to become a grand award winner
Martinsville, Va., involves entire area year-round in its fire prevention efforts
MARTINSVILLE, VA., hasn’t had a major fire in more than 38 months. In 1960, the number of general alarm fires in the city was reduced by 26 per cent and loss from fires dropped more than 7 per cent. This is no mean series of accomplishments for this city of 18,000 plus, nestled in the foothills of the Shenandoah Valley. And the reason can be summed up in two words: Fire Prevention.
The fire prevention program carried out by the Martinsville Fire Department in 1960 earned it the top award of the 232 communities of all sizes throughout the nation which competed in the annual contest sponsored by the National Fire Protection Association.
What’s behind the Martinsville fire prevention program that results in a major reduction of fires and fire losses, and earns international recognition? Hard work on the part of the entire community, sparked by and under the capable and energetic leadership of its fire chief, Clay A. Easterly. The chief is well qualified to administer the program. A graduate of both Tennessee State College and the University of Tennessee, where he got his B.S. and M.S. in industrial science, Chief Easterly has 25 years experience in fire fighting and fire prevention. But the chief credits the success of the program to the community. “It’s based on and promoted entirely as a community fire prevention objective,” he says.
A year-round program
While October is traditionally Fire Prevention Month, the thing that makes Martinsville’s fire prevention program is that it’s in effect the entire year, day in and day out, year in, year out. “Actually,” comments Chief Easterly, “Every day of the year, as far as we’re concerned is Fire Prevention Day.”
The core of the program is the Fire Prevention Steering Committee, which helps plan and administer the operation on a year-round basis. By its very make-up, the committee reflects the community-wide effort. Members include: A school principal, a radio advertising man, the manager of a retail sales store, the county chief deputy sheriff, a gas utility safety engineer, a furniture-manufacturing company executive, a minister, a fire captain and an insurance executive.
The committee administers the work of no less than 22 divisions of operation, with some 300 or 400 citizens of Martinsville or surrounding Henry County taking part in the actual administration or operation of the award-winning program. It’s impossible to particularize what each division does; that would take literally volumes. But it is possible to point out a highlight or two of the program that makes it unique, and so effective.
Activities every month
The program operates on a timely basis, with something going on every month. March, for example, is when the fire department issues, through newspaper writeups and radio spot and news announcements, invitations for area residents to call the department for inspection or stand-by service, or both, for open fires in trash, brush or grass. While the department does this year-round, it concentrates heavily on it in March, a windy and dry month. The results speak for themselves. The first year the department instituted stand-by service on an invitational basis, it received 105 requests; that was in 1958. In 1959, the requests jumped to 282.
September is a big month, too. That’s when the department begins teaching and supervising fire drills in all the public schools. And it’s the month home inspections start. Each year, again through the newspapers and radio, the fire department invites area residents to have the firemen inspect their homes. The firemen also inspect business occupancies, plants, factories, schools, churches, theatres and auditoriums.
Another special program emphasizes fire safety during the Christmas season. In addition to borne inspection, teams of uniformed firemen stand watch in crowded downtown stores. During the 1959 Christmas season, the Martinsville Fire Department did not receive a single call for the usual, anticipated seasonal outbursts: Trees afire, short circuits, chimney blazes from the yule log, or decorations set afire. Not once did fire disrupt the joy of the season.
Junior Fire Marshals
One of Fire Chief Easterly’s pet projects is his Junior Fire Marshal program. Youngsters in the first through the seventh grades in the city and county schools qualify as junior fire marshals, and receive a badge and membership card. They report on home inspection programs, distribute Christmas tree safety tags and participate in the Spring cleanup campaign. In 1959, the junior fire marshals made more than 7,200 inspections, read more than 10,500 organization magazines quarterly and participated in department-sponsored classes for babysitters. Seventy-five per cent of all the children enrolled in the city and county schools participated. The city’s participation was 91 percent. It was only the second year for the county.
The Junior Fire Marshal program comes under the heading of youth and school activities, which also includes teaching fire prevention in the public schools, school fire department demonstrations, providing films for schools and arranging for special fire prevention projects to coincide with classroom activity.
In one phase of the Public Service Division’s many activities, 282 firemen in uniformed patrols of three to seven men stood special watches at 83 public assemblies, attended by 48,835 persons. These gatherings included plays, concerts, industrial plant programs and department store watches during the Christmas season. These patrols keep exits clear, patrol back stage, stand by for emergencies and enforce the local fire code.
Program benefits industry
To the industrial firms of the area, the program means special training programs for plant fire and safety personnel, special promotional material, fire apparatus available to industrial training groups, periodic visits by the firemen to assist in fire protection and prevention programs, special speakers for industrial gatherings, and demonstrations and other programs for plant personnel. In 1959, there were 54 such instances which benefited 4.640 Martinsville area employees. The industrial phase of the program is particularly important because one of the principal industries of the city and county is a hazardous one—the manufacture of furniture.
The department, as part of its program, sponsors annually a two-week regional fire school for neighboring volunteer fire companies. Incidentally, Chief Easterly has been the principal driving force behind the organization of no less than five volunteer fire companies in the area in the past 10 years. He organized and trained the companies, which number about 40 men per company, as well as a sixth group, Martinsville’s own volunteer fire company. Chief Easterly stresses that training is not restricted to the two-week fire school. “With us,” he says, “it’s a year-round constant program. Our officers are even engaged in training men for training programs.”
Since publicity is a powerful force in spreading the lessons of fire prevention, the steering committee arranges for frequent fire prevention talks and demonstrations to civic groups, clubs and other organizations. In 1959, the committee arranged 26 such programs, attended by 2,765 persons. Martinsville’s two radio stations broadcast a total of 399 news items and spot announcements; the newspapers contributed 540 columninches on fire prevention.
The year-round program with timely projects every month, the participation of the junior fire marshals and industry, and fire safety education through publicity are some of the reasons why Martinsville’s program has attracted international interest. They are the reasons, partially, why the department has received at least 11 requests for information on the program from communities as far away as Indiana, Kansas and even Oregon. Since National Fire Protection Association officials believe that much of the program is applicable to other areas in the United States and Canada, they invited Chief Easterly to describe it at their 1960 annual meeting.
Chief Easterly says that if he had to submit a summary of the program, he would point to four factors that resulted in its success: Public acceptance and cooperation; an effective year-round inspection program; a wellplanned and practical public information program, and the exceptionally good public school participation.