Full Size Editorial Cartoon
Sixty two years ago, as a result of President Truman's directive, the President's Conference on Fire Prevention convened in Washington D.C., from May 6-8, 1947. In his keynote speech, Truman stated: "The serious losses in life and property resulting annually from fires cause me deep concern. I am sure that such unnecessary waste can be reduced. The substantial progress made in the science of fire prevention and fire protection in this country during the past forty years convinces me that the means are available for limiting this unnecessary destruction."
It is important to recognize that, despite the title, the 1947 conference was not specifically about fire prevention. The focus of the conference was on a comprehensive assessment of the country's fire service and an in-depth analysis of the fire problem in America. As a result, the attendees recognized that fire prevention deserves a lot more attention and a much higher priority in addressing the fire problem in our country than ever before. They emphasized the three E's of fire prevention; Education, Enforcement, and Engineering as equally important parts of a nationwide comprehensive fire prevention program.
Percy Bugbee, National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA) legendary General Manager, was one of the main speakers at this conference. In his speech Bugbee, emphasized heavily the importance of public education and stated:
"Fires, like epidemics of disease or crime, can be stamped out successfully only through the collective will and action of society as a whole. The failure of society to prevent fires has been due to the fact that up to now the average American citizen has not appreciated that nearly all fires are due to simple, easily understood acts of carelessness or neglect. Once every man, woman, and child realizes and accepts in daily life the responsibility for simple fire prevention measures, death, injury, and destruction by fire will be substantially reduced. It is worth emphasizing that the failure of society to prevent fires is not due to any mysterious and unknown action of fire. There is hardly any field of scientific investigation where more work has been done than in the field of fire protection and fire prevention. The knowledge as to the causes of fires and how to prevent them and protect against them is available."
Percy Bugbee's professional accomplishments were outlined in a recent article titled "Looking Back," in the 2008 November/December issue of the NFPA Journal. The article mentioned that Bugbee had obtained his engineering degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and yet "although an engineer, Bugbee came to believe that technology alone could not bring about a fire safe world." This explains the reason for Bugbee's emphasis on the importance of our public education efforts in his 1947 speech.
Of course, Bugbee was in agreement with Truman, that the technology to answer the fire problem in our country has been around for decades. But then, he believed that much more emphasis should be put on the Educational aspect of our fire prevention duties. He believed that we in the fire service must better educate our public about the dangers of fire and inform them about the consequences of their decisions, and their own roles and responsibilities for their own personal safety.
Now, let's fast-forward a tad to our current times. Through decades of our persistent efforts and strong participation in the code development process, last year, we were finally successful in getting the residential fire sprinkler requirements into the main body of the International Residential Code (IRC).
Despite our success in achieving an overwhelming two-thirds majority of the floor votes in Minneapolis last September, our well-respected opponents, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), has still not acknowledged and accepted this monumental fire and life safety achievement. They are determined to fight against it every step of the way.