What Do We Have to Lose?

The perfect applicability of President Truman's statement to our current conditions clearly reveals the fact that we are still struggling with the same problems and trying to overcome the same obstacles, and that we are not much further along as we...


"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." There is not a single book about fire prevention and fire administration in America that does not have a similar statement about the fire problem in our country. But while this statement appears to be an accurate depiction of our country's current fire problem, interestingly enough, this statement belongs to 60 years ago, and was a part of President Harry S. Truman's address to the 1947 President's Conference on Fire Prevention.

We have indeed made great strides toward protecting our citizens from the wrath of fire. Yet, the perfect applicability of President Truman's statement to our current conditions clearly reveals the fact that we are still struggling with the same problems and trying to overcome the same obstacles, and that we are not much further along as we would have wanted to be after almost six decades. The report and all of the recommendations of the 1947 Fire Prevention Conference are posted on the United States Fire Administration (USFA) website at www.usfa.fema.gov/about/47report.shtm.

Even though it was called "The President's Conference on Fire Prevention," the 1947 conference was not about fire prevention in specific, but about ways to reduce the total national fire loss which, at that time, was approaching 750 million dollars. In their description of the 1947 conference, USFA's website states: "Almost none of this country's current fire prevention and risk reduction managers were at all knowledgeable about the meeting, where some 2,000 of the Nation's leaders in business, industry, government, military, higher education, and the fire service gathered together, at the Federal government's expense, in Washington, DC in May 1947. Today, if such could be undertaken again, the attendees names would read like a list of Who's Who in America with regard to those who are "shakers and movers" in our society - heads of major institutions, like the Fortune 500 types, leaders from both the public and private sector, etc."

President Truman challenged the conference to take action and outlined his vision that "It is the clear responsibility of every State and local official, and every citizen, to aggressively support this national war against the growing menace of fire." Back in 1947, they recognized that preventing fires in the first place was the best way to reduce the total fire loss in our country. And to this date that fact has remained unchanged.

Following Truman's Lead

The National Fire Protection Association's October 2005 report, "The Total Cost of Fire in the United States," indicates that in 2003 there were 3,925 fire fatalities, and the total property fire loss was 14.5 billion dollars, which was just a small portion of the overall $226-272 billion dollars total cost of fire in America. It is of obvious importance to focus on our mission to reduce the fire fatalities and the life-scarring fire injuries in our communities, and it is also our professional obligation to acknowledge our responsibility in decreasing our country's total fire cost.

But to succeed in addressing our country's fire problem and reducing our total national fire cost, we need the buy-in and a deep level of involvement and commitment from all affected stakeholders, not just the professionals in the fire protection field alone. We must promote the concept of organizing a national conference similar to the 1947 conference, inclusive of all stakeholders and all pertinent organizations, to discuss ways and come up with strategies to reduce our total national fire cost.

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