Safeguarding Our Properties

Preventative measures in case of fire.

By CHARLES A. RENTFRO, Accountant, General Conference Office

Fire engines! Trained horses dashing down a stone-paved street pulling careen­ing engines ! Sparks flashing from steel-shod hoofs. Firemen grimly hanging on, buttoning their coats on the run ! These memories of childhood days in old Portugal now give way to others.

Today, powerful motor-driven engines have displaced the spectacular fire horses, but the demon of destruction still applies his torch—more relentlessly than ever. He seems always to be just a pace ahead of scientific fire fight­ers. He is accused of leaving at least 15,000 dead in his wake last year ; and a property damage of half a billion dollars is charged up against him in the United States alone.

On several occasions I have had brought vividly to my mind what strong forces are tugging to be unleashed when a raging fire threatens disaster, and have learned by ex­perience to follow the advice: "First send in the alarm, then put out the fire"—if you can!

At one time when I was a student in college, I heard the terrifying shout, "The barn's on fire !" I was in the barn, and the fire was directly over my head in the hayloft. Milk pails went into frantic action, and the college volunteer squad rallied in answer to the alarm. By the mercy of the Lord, the barn was saved. Insurance compensated for the loss of twenty-five tons of charred alfalfa; nevertheless, the winter rations of hay were shortened.

The scene shifts to South America. The burden of business responsibility in an insti­tution now fell on my shoulders. It was the noon hour. Suddenly I heard the terrifying crackle of fire. A careless student workman had left a large can of tar unattended under the front porch of the men's dormitory. It was belching flames and smoke. In this emer­gency, the flame from the tar was smothered with a burlap sack, and the fire on the ground was put out with dirt.

Lack of forethought at another time led a student to take a shop blowtorch to rout a small colony of bees from the flooring of his room. He told me proudly that he had extin­guished an incipient fire himself ; but I im­mediately gave him my opinion of his method of fighting bees with fire instead of smoke. Some school fires are averted, of course, but what about the tragic disasters of many others ? When fire knocks in earnest at a door, it will dash down corridors and drafty stairs faster than any human being possibly can.

Perhaps you are familiar with the log-draft principle of fire building, and know how vigorously a fire so built can burn. Is it any wonder then that the beams in a house will burn furiously in case of a fire? This modern age of gas, electricity, and air conditioning, has brought many comforts, but even these conveniences are an added tax to the ingenuity of those who are seeking to eliminate fire hazards.

Primarily, the fight for safety from fire concerns the lives of persons. In the second place are valuable buildings and equipment. The safety of persons and property are given special consideration in such institutions as hospitals and sanitariums. The staff must at all times be ready to assume the role of heroic defenders of the weak.

A similar problem arises in schools; but added to this is the problem of masses in mo­tion, especially when these are actuated by panic. Unfortunately, many schools have cor­ridors whose lines of exit converge instead of diverge. The Collinwood (Cleveland, Ohio) school fire of March 4, 1908, with a loss of one hundred seventy-five lives, is considered a lesson in faulty construction and poor fire-drill procedure. When the students were marched out to an exit through which escape was impossible, they became panic-stricken and were wedged into heaps near a vestibule partition.

Church fires also have a way of getting be­yond control with amazing rapidity because of the large drafty rooms, and the high-pitched roofs which offer no stable footing for the firemen. Fire will also work down with de­scending drafts. Trash in the cellar and wooden shingles on the roof—when the twain conspire, how the fire will burn!

Fire prevention is as vital a Phase of man­agement as carrying adequate insurance; for the compensation in case of fire seldom fully repays those years of devoted sacrifice on the part of a constituency pledged to maintain its institutions. It was Edward Atkinson, a cap­tain of industry, who paved the way to' fire prevention. His efforts led to the creation of the automatic sprinkler, which was later 'de­veloped by Fred Grinnell, who believed that fire protection is an engineering problem, with a minimum ultimate cost,

Despite the strides in fire prevention in the United States (for which about one third of the actual cost of the fires themselves is ex­pended), this country is at the foot of the class, with the highest per capita fire loss of $3.93. Holland heads the class, with a per capita loss of only eleven cents.

A knowledge that 75 per cent of all fires are avoidable, constitutes a challenge to de­nominational conference executives, institu­tional managers, and church pastors and elders. Managing boards often feel reticent about voting proper fire-fighting equipment, yet after a major fire they will plan a vigorous cam­paign to rebuild. So important is our stew­ardship, that the General Conference of Sev­enth-day Adventists during the 1937 Autumn Council passed the following recommenda­tions:

"Wheareas, Much can be done to prevent fires in our denominational institutions and properties; and,

"Wheareas, The governments of the United States and Canada have seen fit to issue proclamations es­tablishing two National Fire Prevention Weeks, one in the spring and the other in the autumn of each year ; and,

"Wheareas, Facts and statistics prove that where these weeks are observed, fire losses have been greatly reduced;

We recommend, That National Fire Prevention Weeks be observed by appropriate educational and publicity programs, and by thorough inspections of all our North American denominational properties."

Answers to Fire Problems

(1) Yes. (2) No. (3) No. (4) Yes. (5) Yes. (6) No. (7) No. (8) Yes. (9) Yes. (10) No. (11) Yes. (12) Yes. (13) No. (14) Yes. (15) No. (16) Yes. (17) Yes. (18) Yes. (19) Yes. (20) Yes.

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By CHARLES A. RENTFRO, Accountant, General Conference Office

August 1938

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