paying tribute, first of all, to the President, for his foresight and wisdom in calling this most timely conference. The justification for such is now, more than ever before, apparent to you who have been attending these sessions, and therein lies a responsibility to which I shall refer later.
“So you want to be a fireman?” This question, posed by my mother many years ago as our family stood on the open porch of our home in the small town where I lived, and for the greater part of a memorable night watched the entire business section of that community burn to the ground, made an indelible impression upon my memory.
Was there ever a boy who did not want to be a fireman? That urge seizes most of us in our youth and never quite leaves – no matter how old we may grow. There is something wrong with almost any American who does not possess a secret desire to don the coat and boots and hat of a fireman and go charging down the street to the scene of a conflagration.
A little silly perhaps, but nevertheless, we come by it quite honestly for fire and mankind are closely associated, and have been since this natural phenomenon first enabled man to cope with the wild beasts which menaced his primitive life and its usefulness has been constantly an important part of his progress throughout the ages. Because of his capacity for controlling this phenomenal force in the world about him, mankind succeeded in making his food more palatable, his life more generally comfortable, and he has been able to pass the desolate frontiers which walled in his primitive environment and to occupy regions which must have otherwise remained perpetually uninhabited.
Fire has given to man the refinement of minerals, and generally, an increased utilization of the natural deposits of the bountiful earth in the furtherance of his multifarious needs. The experience with fire which man thus acquired through the ages he has definitely reflected in his superstitions, his religion and his philosophy; and through symbol and metaphor, it has enriched the language with which he strives to give expression to his sentiments.
Therefore, it becomes more understandable why men rush to a fire, not to do anything about it particularly, but just to watch and see what happens.
With the ever increasing usefulness of fire to mankind in making his life more liveable, his wealth greater, and his vision more farsighted through the years, the ingenuity of the human mind, our desire for living together, and the consequent economic and social problems attendant therewith has likewise increased the destructiveness of the very thing which is so beneficial, to the point where we might well say that the devastating ability of this creation may now outrank the usefulness thereof.
Since you have been here, I am certain you have been assailed from all sides with facts and figures, which perhaps not only astound you, but which I am certain have brought the conviction that something must be done to curtail the annual destruction to life and property directly attributable to fire. I will not burden you with statistics, but when I am told that for the month of March the fire loss was greater than the loss in any previous month since April 1906, when the great San Francisco fire occurred, I must ask you to do something about it. Then with the terrible disaster at Texas City, I have not the slightest doubt but the month of April will be even