Why Should a Chief be Blamed for Conditions Over Which He Has No Control?*
Why not enlighten the people and ask them to pass adequate laws for the proper construction of buildings and safeguarding the occupants thereof as well as the lives of the firemen whose duty it is to protect them, neither of which having any control or part in the construction of the building, and making the penalty so great that, when a life has been forfeited through a violation of a reasonable building code, the persons who have to do with the drafting of the plans, the actual construction and inspection thereof, shall be prosecuted for criminal negligence, and their further right to draft plans, construct or inspect shall be forfeited ever after, and making the penalty so great in case of conviction that the temptation of the almighty dollar will not induce those who are actually responsible to jeop ardise the lives and property of the people. In the first place, if a physician prescribes the wrong ingredients for his patients and the patient dies, should his family be prosecuted for the offense? Positively no! If the physician indites the proper prescription and the druggist should prepare the wrong ingredients and the patient dies, should the physician or the family be prosecuted? Most certainly not! Now then, the physician and the druggist occupy the same relative position in protecting the structure of the body as the architect and the contractor in the construction of the buildings where the lives of the people are at stake. If the general public as individuals were all physicians, druggists, architects or contractors, these titles would be obsolete and there would be no necessity for these professions Unfortunately these professions are not taught in the general schools and the public must, therefore, place their lives in the hands of those bearing these titles, and blindly follow their directions. These professions have graduated from technical colleges and must needs be adepts in their different crafts before the college faculty grants them a diploma. They are then elligible to seek patrons in whatever community they choose to locate. They must necessarily know the laws of the community in which they reside relative to their professions, and when the innocent citizens applies to them and pays them for their professional services, it is their duty to their profession and their patrons to legally prescribe and execute the principles which they have been taught. If the architect drafts faulty plans for the construction of a building, evading the laws and codes for the proper fire escapes or exits, or does not include the proper thickness of walls, partitions, columns and girders necessary to sustain the load they must carry and the building collapses and causes the death of the occupants of the building or the lives of the firemen trying to protect it in its weakened condition, he, the architect, like the physician who causes death, by a wrong written prescription, is guilty of criminal negligence, and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, for, if he is a graduate in his profession and wilfully plans such a structure, he is guilty before the fact, and knowdngly jeopardises the lives of his fellow man. If the contractor who has the plans before him, and he, too, should know the laws and building codes, should wilfully sleight his work by using inferior materials or less materials than is required to properly sustain the structure, and if, through these defects, it should cause the loss of life, he, like the druggist who wrongfully fills the prescription, is liable to prosecution for wilful criminal negligence. The inspector who allows such a building to be constructed and does not attempt to enforce the laws or codes is likewise guilty. A great many people have an idea that the fire chief or the fire department has control over the construction of buildings and the regulating of the placing of fire escapes thereon, yet, as a matter of fact, the plans are submitted to the building department only where the permit is issued. And the chief or the fire department has no knowledge of the construction until it has passed through the hands of the building department, whose duty it is to carefully inspect the plans, and after the building is in course of construction. After the permit is granted and the contract let, the building constructed, then the chief or his inspectors discover a deficiency in the construction, he has no power to remedy the same, yet is often unjustly criticised for apparent neglect of duty. It is my opinion that rigid laws should be passed governing the construction of buildings, even if it were necessary to go to the extent of having a national building code regulating, by a government act, the construction of all buildings and classifying the same. It is possible under the existing laws and conditions for a man who has only sufficient capital to build the foundation and first floor of the five-story building, to build a five-story shell with the same floor space, to carry the same load and obtain the same revenue from rentals as the man who properly constructs a five-story building with equal floor space and the requisite tensile strength of walls, columns, girders and eyebeams required by law. The man with the one-story capital is permitted under these conditions to build a fivestory death-trap and derive the same revenue from leases and rental as the man who properly constructs a building of the same dimensions costing four or five times as much to build. It is high time that some steps were taken through the proper channels to enact and enforce adequate laws for the construction of all buildings in the cities, towns and villages of the United States, penalizing those whose duty it is to enforce the same to such an extent that they will hesitate before they go too far in violating such laws. I believe it is within the province and the duty ot every chief to aid and assist in enacting and passing such laws for the protection of the lives and property of all concerned, I herewith submit this communication for discussion.
*Read at convention of International Association of Fire Engineers in Milwaukee, Wis., Sept. 20, 1911.