I have the honor of introducing Mr. J. H. Craig, chairman of the fire marshals’ section, National Fire Protection Association. He has served as State fire marshal of Illinois since 1941, and during the war he was the State fire coordinator and State property officer. Mr. Craig. [Applause.]
Mr. John H. Craig. I am honored to have the opportunity to represent the State, provincial, and city fire marshals at this most important meeting, where the leading authorities in fire prevention work are meeting at President Truman’s request in an endeavor to lessen the appalling loss of life and property due to fire.
“There ought to be a law” is the cry that goes up from the public every time there is a major fire disaster. As a result, the various State statute books are cluttered up with laws, some good, some bad, with the question of enforcement often left dangling in midair. The consensus of State fire marshals is that fire prevention laws, rules, and regulations to be effective in holding down the fire loss must be enforced at the local level, with the State offices to be used in an advisory capacity or in special cases requiring State help, or where the local officers are negligent in performing their duty.
In most all States, the State fire marshal laws provide that the officers of cities, villages, towns, and fire protection districts are charged with inspecting and examining buildings and other structures and if a dangerous condition or fire hazard is found to exist shall order the dangerous condition removed or remedied. Willful failure, neglect, or refusal to comply with the order is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine, subject, of course, to the owner’s right to appeal the order to the State fire marshal.
These State fire marshal laws set the correct pattern and if every one concerned did his duty, most all fires would be prevented. However, most local officials seem to have little sense of responsibility. The tendency is to ask for an inspector from the State fire marshal office for the most trivial fire hazard conditions, such as burning of trash in an alley by a storekeeper, removal of weeds from vacant lots, rubbish accumulations, defective flues, improper use of electric extension cords, and so forth.
Fire authorities state that 60 percent of all fires are traceable to such simple, but dangerous, conditions. You know how many of the large fires start. Some careless smoker discards a lighted cigarette, the housekeeping condition is bad and contrary to local ordinances, no one bothers about enforcement. Every one should know better – including the careless smoker. The place is soon in flames. Maybe the fire department can control the fire, often it can not. It ma be a hotel, a place of public assembly, or an entire community may be wiped out, with the loss of many lives, all because no one bothered about enforcing simple safety standards.
Adoption of uniform minimum codes at the State level would still leave the problem of enforcement with the State. The National Fire Protection association and the National Board of Fire Underwriters have prepared standards and codes that may be adopted by municipalities, covering every local need, such as electrical wiring, building construction, equipment for hazardous processes, volatile oils and liquefied petroleum gases, dry cleaning plants, moving picture theaters, and so forth. The National Board has prepared a booklet of suggested