Safeguarding Public Buildings

A few states have already passed legislation, and many more are now considering it, to make fire alarm protection compulsory in hospitals, hotels, schools, theatres, insane asylums, deaf and dumb institutes, and other public buildings. As might be exacted, where such legislation is proposed there are certain to be loud voices of protest. And why?

Is human life so cheap that a public institution, or establishment catering to the public, can sincerely object to installing such protection from the standpoint of its cost?

Or is there some other reason, or motive, which prompts the objector?

Industry for some years back has considered the value of a human life at not less than $15,000, and this applies to the unskilled laborer rather than to the artisan or executive. If this low value alone were considered, establishments which catered to but one hundred persons. or which housed that number, would certainly be justified in spending a large portion of the $150,000 represented by human life for needed fire protection, which in its ultimate analysis means life protection. Hence, why all the commotion?

Fire chiefs in general have been ready to champion legislation making fire alarm protection imperative in such institutions and establishments, and certainly their judgment should be considered ahead of that of financially involved persons.

This movement to offer the public additional protection is a good one, and is justified from all angles. It is destined to succeed, but it may take a lot of effort and education to accomplish the desired result.

Unusual Perils of Firemen

Dangers incident to the battling with fire are by no means the only perils which beset the path of the average fireman. He is called upon many times to risk his life in rescue work that has nothing to do with the extinguishment of a blaze. As a matter of course, when a great disaster occurs, the fire department is the first to be called upon to render assistance to the unfortunates involved, whether it be flood, earthquake or whatnot.

But it is not alone in great cataclisms that the services of the city’s fire fighters are requisitioned. A case in point was the recent collapse of two buildings in Montgomery, Ala., which, fortunately, occurred during the noon hour, and resulted in the injury of only three persons. A deep excavation had been made in the rear of the structures involved, and the two mercantile buildings slid into the hole, completely wrecking them.

When the authorities, believing that many persons were buried in the debris, sent in an alarm for the Fire Department, Chief Ingram and his men. at imminent risk to their lives, penetrated into the two lower stories of one of the structures, which were still standing, to search for victims. As the chief and a detachment of seven men reached the rear wall, one of the side walls collapsed, and it was only by flattening themselves against the part still standing, that they were saved from being crushed by the falling debris.

This is only one of the thousands of instances in which the fireman is called upon to risk his life in work that is outside of his exact duties. However, this is done uncomplainingly, for the work is a humanitarian one, and the fireman knows that he is more than a mere hired fire fighter. His job is to guard the city and its people from danger, primarily from fire, but he is often asked to help them when other perils assail them from time to time.

Thought Gas Tank Was Empty

What fortunately turned out to be a minor accident, but might easily have proved to be a very serious matter, occurred in an institute for blind children in the Bronx Borough, New York City, recently. Workmen were excavating for new buildings and a steam shovel revealed a forgotten gas tank near the structures of the institution. The tank was buried five feet underground, and when about to raise it, the workmen discovered it to be ablaze. The Fire Department was summoned, and streams were played upon the tank.

When the fire was apparently out, the men in charge of the steam shovel were instructed to hoist the tank which was thought to be empty, out of the ground. But as it was raised to the surface, flames burst forth twenty feet into the air, enveloping the men in the steam shovel and endangering the buildings of the institution.

By the firemen turning heavy streams on the flames, the workmen were enabled to escape, but they were so badly burned that they were sent to the hospital. The blind children were marched out of the buildings as a measure of precaution but the structures did not catch fire, and the blaze in the tank soon was controlled.

The authorities of the asylum should have made sure that the tank was properly emptied before exposing the workmen to the risk of fire and explosion in the act of removing it. In fact the very act of leaving a filled gas tank underground so near a public institution was an act of inexcusable thoughtlessness. The use of the tank had been discontinued when electricity superceded gas as an illuminant for the institution. The excuse was that the hospital people thought the tank was empty, and safe for removal. Carelessness of this kind endangers not only the workmen, but also the members of the Fire Department called to extinguish the resulting fire.

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