There can be no doubt that courts will uphold any city fire prevention regulation reasonably designed to prevent injury or loss of life. One of the reasons for the very existence of city government is the need for the exercise of such protection. We start, therefore, with undeniable city legal power to act in this field.
Have cities realized that they have this power? Have they exercised their legal capacities to the fullest extent to cut down on what President Truman so aptly termed the tragic sequences of the 830,000 fires that occur annually in the United States?
The answer to these questions is certainly, “No.” This is to me the major finding of the excellent report of the Committee of Laws and Law Enforcement, which Judge Knox will present. While the 16,220 incorporated cities in our Nation all have the legal power to adopt building codes and fire prevention ordinances, less than 2,000 have done do. Until the remaining 14,000 cities adopt adequate building codes and fire prevention ordinances, their city officials can do nothing in this field, for they must be legally authorized before they can act.
It is also true that many of the 2,000 building codes now in effect are antiquated to the point that they are practically worthless. To translate the technical knowledge of the experts in this field into new codes where there are none and into necessary amendments where existing codes are outmoded is our job as city attorneys. That is where we can and will make our greatest contribution to the realization of the objectives of this Conference.
We feel that the report of the Committee on Laws and Law Enforcement offers in condensed capsule form the legal tools with which we can start this task. This report and its recommendations, with which the National Institute of Municipal Law Officers is heartily in accord, will indeed go down in municipal legal history as a landmark work. It will serve as an impetus to all city attorneys, for they will utilize its compiled knowledge in making the legal machinery of their cities adequate to meet the needs of adequate fire prevention.
I can assure you technical people in this field that if you will give us your aid and cooperation, we will do our part in adapting city legal machinery to the lifesaving and injury-prevention goals which all of us hope to achieve through this Conference. I thank you. [Applause.]
Chairman Fleming. Thank you, Mr. Wilson. You have made a very important contribution to this Conference.
On a State level we must look to our State attorneys general for support of our activities. The Honorable George Neuner, Attorney General of the State of Oregon, speaks as representative of the National Association of Attorneys General. Mr. Neuner. [Applause.]
Hon. George Neuner. General Fleming, ladies and gentlemen of the Conference, it has been a revelation to me to have the privilege of attending this Conference. I must confess that while I thought that I knew something about fire prevention and fire-law enforcement, little did I realize the magnitude of this subject until I had the privilege of attending this Conference. You speak in millions and billions of dollars of property destroyed by fire, which reminds me of the young schoolboy who came home one day and said, “Dad, how much is a billion dollars?” The father was somewhat occupied and did not give the attention to the son that he should have.