Should Promulgate Rules and Regulations for the Purpose of Promoting Safety From Fires

WE are living in an age when we see all around us new devices, new inventions, all aimed at increasing speed, and with the thought in mind of providing for quickness and easiness of despatch with the least possible effort. With many of these new inventions there comes increased danger to life and to property. A first glance at the front page of any newspaper and immediately we find evidence of the frightful toll w’e pay because of this lack of thought of our personal safety and the safety of others. We have only to consider what is happening on our highways since the advent of the automobile.

To be sure the automobile has done many wonderful things in promoting convenience and dispatch in traveling. We can travel distances today in the course of six or eight hours that were unthought of before the advent of the automobile. Facilities for business have been enlarged. Recreation and pleasure on a scale undreamed of have been made possible by the automobile. Yet what a price we are paying for it all—750 deaths in Massachusetts in 1931, 723 deaths in 1932. Unfortunately many of these fatalities are children of tender age who have paid the price for whatever gain we have enjoyed.

The Toll of Carelessness

Now in our own particular field, what is the situation? I am sure you will agree with me that the tremendous property loss, the tremendous loss in life in this country caused by fires is a challenge to us all.

Somew’here in the vicinity of $500,000,000 is the property loss annually suffered; 10,000 lives we annually offer up on the altar of carelessness. We shudder when we think of the pagan customs of old when children were offered in sacrifice to some pagan God. Yet, we, in this enlightened America, annually witness the sacrifice of thousands of children because we are not sufficiently interested to take the necessary steps to prevent such loss of life.

How Combaf fhe Loss?

Now, what is necessary in order to successfully combat this enormous loss? First, we must establish and maintain the efficiency of our Fire Departments. We have good Fire Departments in New England. We have capable and efficient heads of those departments. We must see to it that not only is this standard maintained, but that it is improved wherever possible. We are passing through a period of economy in government. Everywhere demands are being made that the costs of government be cut. In this movement, we must guard against the weakening in any way of our Fire Departments. To lower the standards of our Fire Departments would be the costliest kind of economy. The losses the communities might suffer would be far greater than any economy that could be effected.

Fire Prevention Also Important

Now the fighting of fire—this overcoming of its dangers by the Fire Department is a positive work that can be witnessed and appreciated by the people. There is another important field that requires attention—that is the field of fire prevention. – This is work of a negative character and has not the appeal of the positive work of putting out a fire. It is, however, most important.

I recently attended the national convention of the Fire Marshal’s Section of the National Fire Protection Association. There I heard good reports showing the work of many of the large cities along this particular line. In the city of Milwaukee a splendid Department of Fire Prevention is maintained. Frequent inspections, good rules and regulations seeking to promote fire prevention, without question, is preventing many fires. In Massachusetts we established, in 1886, the office of the Fire Marshal in the city of Boston, whose duties were to inspect all fires in that city.

In 1889 an act was passed providing that the Board of Fire Engineers in each city and town shall investigate all fires. In 1894 the office of State Fire Marshal was established. Changes have been made from time to time, and today we have the State Fire Marshal, the executive head of the Fire Prevention Division of the Department of Public Safety.

This department is given wide jurisdiction in the way of promulgating rules and regulations for the purpose of preventing fires. Under our fire prevention laws, provision is made for the investigation of all fires, for the inspection, for the regulation of storage and keeping and the handling of inflammable and explosive fluids or compounds, with many other provisions in the law seeking to promote safety from fires.

I believe that as we go along, more and more attention will be given to this matter of fire prevention. It is along such lines we must meet this challenge of the constantly increasing losses in life and in property with which we are confronted.

(From a paper read before the annual convention of the New England Association of Fire Chiefs.)

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