Mr. W. E. Mallalieu (general manager, the National Board of Underwriters). General Fleming, ladies and gentlemen, as I think of the inspiring and challenging address President Truman delivered from this platform yesterday, filled with sincerity and sympathetic understanding of the problems of this Conference, and as I think of the addresses and papers presented here, the main thought in my mind is: What an opportunity we have to make our America a better and safer place in which to live! [Applause.]
Fire waste in the United States constitutes a problem of paramount and far reaching importance. It vitally affects the economic future of the Nation.
During the 81 years since the National Board of Fire Underwriters was founded it has fought a relentless battle against fire.
From a small beginning the fire loss has increased almost annually despite the combined efforts of many companies and organizations to arrest it. During that time many cities have been almost burned out. The tragedies of Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta, Chelsea, and scores of others have kept the sky red with the glow of conflagration.
Over the past half century we have made great technological progress in fire prevention. The principles involved in eradicating the conditions that breed fires and in preventing the spread of flame and toxic gases are well known. We have worked out safe methods of handling and storing a vast number of highly flammable and explosive products. We have devised measures which make hazardous industrial processes relatively safe to human life.
Yet in the past few years we have seen the fire loss growing. We have seen the numbers of fires increase steadily until, a survey conducted by this Conference tells us, they now average more than 800,000 fires per year in the United States. Our dollar fire loss is at an all-time high.
However, compared with the amount of property at risk and the increased wealth of the country we have undoubtedly made substantial progress in protecting our Nation from fire.
And who can say how much greater devastation would have been visited upon our cities or what the cost would be in human life, if we had not developed sound principles of fire prevention?
Yes, we’ve made great progress. Progress that can be measured and counted in the tens of thousands of lives saved, and hundreds of millions, perhaps, billions of dollars worth of property preserved to serve the Nation and the world.
But this progress is not enough. We still burn too much and destroy too many lives.
If history repeats itself – should the upward trend of fire losses follow a curve similar to the experience after World War I and continue to rise for nine consecutive years, we will soon be confronted with billion-dollar losses instead of half or three-quarter billion-dollar destruction.
At the present rate of increase, fire losses for 1947 will hit three-quarters of a billion dollars. Projecting the same rate of increase into the future, the shocking figure of $1,000,000,000 will be