To Be, or Not to Be

The fact that we have brought down our annual fire fatalities from the 10,000 range in the early 70s, to the current 4,000 plateau where we have stayed for the past decade, should not make us complacent.

Do you know why I write so much about the 1947 President's Conference on Fire Prevention? To point out that we in the fire service, not only have known clearly about the crux of the fire problem in America for more than six decades; but we also have the wisdom and the vision to identify solutions to address the problem.

Read the findings and recommendations of that conference and you can see that not only did they accurately depict the fire problems back then; but in a way, six decades later, some of them are still applicable to the fire and life safety challenges in our country today.

Look around you - simple technological advancements prove that much has changed in the world since 1947. Walking down memory lane just to take a brief glance at our recent history from then to now reveals significant milestones. President Truman ended World War II and introduced us to the nuclear age; then came the Cold War era; amongst all that, mankind looked to space, and walked on the moon; and only a few years later came the Internet and the high speed super-highway of the information age; and now we are entering the global warming era and the environmental awareness age. We have come along way indeed, haven't we?

But yet, it seems that in our fire world, despite all our advances, we still have a tremendous time lag in some areas, and then in others, we have simply been frozen in time. Am I exaggerating? Maybe, but the accuracy and current applicability of President Truman's statement should make us ponder. In the 1947 conference, President 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 40 years convinces me that the means are available for limiting this unnecessary destruction".

He talked about our failure to use the means available from the early part of the 20th century to address the country's fire problem. Keep in mind that it was the World War I technology that he was talking about that he believed could decrease the "unnecessary destruction" of fire. Yet, amazingly enough, at the early years of the millennium in the 21st century, we have had the feasible technologies for decades, and yet persistently have failed to fully utilize them to address the fire problem in our country. History might be a great teacher, but bashfully, we must admit that we are not too good of a student, are we?

The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) on February 16, 2007, after experiencing 59 residential fire fatalities around the country in only a two weeks time, issued a press release titled "Fire Chiefs Plead with Media for Help in Reducing Fire Fatalities". This press release stated "The International Association of Fire Chiefs is pleading with the media to help us inform the public of the high number of house fires with fatalities that have occurred since the beginning of February. "We have lost too many people in home fires in the last two weeks," said President Chief Jim Harmes."

Chief Harmes is absolutely correct that "we have lost too many people in home fires". But then this is not just simply about or merely limited to the current fire losses that we have experienced recently. This happens day in and day out all across America. We have too many residential fires, and we lose too many lives, year after year in this country. The sad truth is that because these fire fatalities are one and two here, and one and two there; they never make the national headlines, thus the general public is unaware. At best, they might see the trees, but then not recognize the forest.

The fact that we have brought down our annual fire fatalities from the 10,000 range in the early 70s, to the current 4,000 plateau where we have stayed for the past decade, should not make us complacent. What the general public might not know, we in the fire service know quite well. We have known for far too long about the trend in our national fire statistics, and that the crux of the current fire problem in America is still the residential fires.

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