“A fire prevented is better than a fire extinguished. The prevented fire causes no loss of life, no destruction of property and no interruption of business”, so read an excerpt from a pamphlet issued by Fire Marshal Stevens shortly before Fire Prevention Day, October 9, 1916. Fire loss for 1916 was cut to less than half of the 1915 record. The exact amount, $554,232.63, the lowest fire loss Portland had enjoyed in nine years (1).
Fire Marshal Stevens left the Portland Fire Department in 1917 to accept manager-ship of the Pacific Coast Fire Underwriter’s inspection bureaus. Prior to going to this work he spent two months organizing Oregon’s newly created Office of State Fire Marshal (47). Battalion Chief John E. Young temporarily took over the work of the Fire Prevention Bureau in April and carried it through the year (1).
This was the year of teeming war activities and preparations. Shipyards rose along the water front and newcomers flocked to the city to engage in shipbuilding. Industry operated at top speed and every dwelling, apartment house and building was filled to capacity. Portland paused long enough in war preparations to observe Fire Prevention Day in October. A feature of the day’s observance was a fire hazard hunt through the city’s commercial and industrial districts by civic leaders in company with fire department inspectors (48). All Portland was fire-prevention-minded in 1917. Fire danger was further lessened by a patrol of armed guards stationed along the waterfront to protect the docks, warehouses and shipyards from possible enemy sabotage (49 & 50. This, coupled with the intensive fire prevention program of the two years previous, resulted in a fire loss of but $276,744.40 which was the lowest loss experienced by the city since 1901 (1).
Battalion Chief Edward Grenfell was appointed fire marshal in 1918 and served in that capacity until January 31, 1928, at which time he was appointed chief of the Portland Fire Department (1). Portland possessed the best fire record of the nineteen principal cities on the Pacific Coast in 1918; having an average of only 401 fire alarms per thousand population as compared with 657 for the other municipalities. The property loss was $417,774.96 and only three lives were lost because of fire. Inspection of buildings numbering 54,003 resulted in the elimination of 10,000 fire hazards and the wrecking of
101 dilapidated buildings.
The reward for
insurance rates averaging ten percent (51).
Individual Liability Becomes Law
Portland was distinguished as one of the first four cities in the United States, and the first on the Pacific Coast, to enact the Individual Liability Law. This fire prevention measure, passed by the city council in August, 1918, empowered the fire marshal or his deputies to determine and to have abated anything, which in their opinion, constituted a fire hazard. The ordinance fixed a liability and a penalty for failure of the property owner to observe the regulation. The enactment of this ordinance provided the fire marshal with a more effective means for enforcing fire prevention measures than moral suasion and public enthusiasm (51 & 52).