The human race has, from early tribal days, attacked its worse scourges by calling a council of war and planning a full-scale attack. That is why this Conference gives encouraging promise of real accomplishment. Intelligent thought and planning lie behind this meeting. I take personal satisfaction in the fact that your Chairman, General Fleming, to whom much credit must go, is an old acquaintance of mine, dating back to the years when he headed the upper Mississippi River development project which has meant so much to those of us who live in that area. General Fleming, in his public expression on the subject of fire prevention, has emphasized the three E’s – Education, Enforcement, and Engineering – as the keys to the problem, and he wisely puts education first. That is where, in my opinion, the best chances for success lie in combating the fire menace.
Perhaps many of you noted the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.’s survey of catastrophic accidents over the past 10 years, released by grim coincidence on the very day of the Texas City explosion. That survey concludes that almost 90 percent of all catastrophic accidents, and more than three-fourths of the resulting deaths, are the result not of natural disasters but of human failures.
Human failures – carelessness, if you will – lie at the bottom of most fire tragedies. Surely that is apparent on every hand. And carelessness will yield only to education – persistent, persuasive education as to what causes fires and how appalling can be the consequences of failure to observe preventive measures. Only when the people as a whole appreciate these facts will we get really effective action on a broad scale.
Over the years I have found that people will do the things they should do, if they understand they are desirable for them and for the public good. They will get vaccinated against smallpox – and deaths from smallpox have been reduced to an almost negligible figure. They will contribute generously to worthy causes such as the fight against heart disease, cancer, and polio – yet polio, for example, even in an epidemic year, claims only a fraction of the deaths which fire claim. They will take preventive health measures. In my own city of Minneapolis, we are this very week launching a community-wide program in cooperation with the Federal Government, to X-ray the chest of every adult in the city, in order to disclose signs of tuberculosis and other chest ailments such as enlarged hearts and cancer. We may not achieve this goal 100 percent, but the public reaction to the idea of taking a dramatic step toward making Minneapolis the healthiest city in the country is phenomenally good. Six months ago I would have been extremely skeptical – now I am confident this ambitious goal is attainable. Yes, people will respond to intelligent programs of education.
Finally, I present my one and only recommendation to the members of this Conference. It is this: that we add a fourth “E” to General Fleming’s three E’s – Education, Enforcement, and Engineering. The fourth E is Example. Each of us in this auditorium is present because he or she has some special responsibility in the war against fire disaster. Each of us has some influence in our community. If each of us will, when we get back home, provide an example for our fellow citizens by practicing the commonsense rules which we all know will reduce the local fire toll, we will be using one of the most effective tools of education. If we are fire prevention