reached by 1950 – just 5 years after the conclusion of World War II, as compared to 8 years after the termination of World War I when the greatest fire loss of that period occurred.
To me it is unbelievable that we have allowed this situation to exist or that we will tolerate its continuance without mobilizing all the talent and ingenuity, energy and resources this great country possesses.
Rightfully we have always prided ourselves upon our American spirit of accomplishment – our will and our ability to get things done. Our people have wrested a great Nation from the wilds of an untamed continent. We have built upon an economic system of free enterprise, based on individual initiative, which has achieved a productivity and resulted in a standard of living which is the envy of the rest of the world.
We have succeeded in solving, or at least mitigating, most our great social problems such as contagious disease, sanitation, and crime, by the effective application of the developments of science and technology. But each year we continue to sacrifice to fire thousands of lives – innocent men, women and most tragic of all, children – burned to death or maimed and cripple for life. We have permitted and continue to permit the wanton, profligate destruction of billions of dollars in irreplaceable natural and created wealth.
For years we have endeavored to meet this problem by general education and by the adoption of restrictive fire codes, but today it is apparent that nothing but the whole hearted cooperation of all interests in our national life can control the loss of life and property due to life. Reviewing the tragic years that are past, we look hopefully into the future. We have gone far. We have accomplished splendid results in the education of our people to the hazards which are developing in everyday life. With the help of specialists and the cooperation of different interested organizations we have been able to solve many of the critical fire conditions introduced into modern society. Safety standards and regulations have been developed and in many cities have been accepted which have proven of lasting value. Building codes have been adopted – but the best building code in the world depends entirely on proper enforcement.
Let me direct your attention for just a moment to what has been accomplished in other fields. These are achievements which should be an incentive and a spur to us to strive to do as much in fire safety.
According to statistics compiled by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., diphtheria took a toll of 125 lives per 100,000 population in 1885 while in 1945 this death rate had been reduced to 1.2 per 100,000.
In 1885 typhoid accounted for 50 deaths per 100,000 population while in 1945 deaths from that great killer had been practically wiped out – reduced to a mere 0.4 deaths per 100,000.
Even against our greatest killer, tuberculosis, we have made remarkable progress. In 1885 approximately 200 died of this disease out of each 100,000 population while in 1945 this rate was only one-fifth of that frightful toll – 40.1 deaths per 100,000.