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The more things change, the more they stay the same
Nov 12, 2010

This month (November), way back in 1872, there was a fire in Boston, often referred to as the Great Boston Fire of 1872, not to be confused with the Great Chicago fire of 1871. This fire killed at least 20 people and destroyed 776 buildings.

 
As we look at some of the factors that allowed that fire to cause so much damage, it is interesting to note how far we have come, or not come, since that time. The points I will bring up were listed in Wikipedia, while the comments are mine.

“Boston's building regulations were not enforced. There was no authority to stop faulty construction practices.” While our building codes today are much stronger, we have to look at the number of building alterations that affect our buildings that are not built to code. This usually results when handy people take on projects and do not pull building permits. Narrow stairways, partitioned off bedrooms in basements have all had me hoping there isn't a fire in those buildings.

“Buildings were often insured at full value or above value. Over-insurance meant owners had no incentive to build fire-safe buildings. Insurance-related arson was common.” In today's economy, we still respond to many building fires that are set to relieve the owner of a large mortgage or to sell property that isn't moving at the desired speed. The fire in Detroit that killed Detroit firefighter Walter Harrison was intentionally set by an arsonist and he was paid $20 for doing so by the homeowner.

“Fire alarm boxes in Boston were locked to prevent false alarms, therefore delaying the Boston Fire Department by 20 minutes.” We all know that fire alarm boxes are a thing of the past, and false pulls is the main reason. Way before phones were as common as they are today, we needed a way to notify the fire department of a fire, but we were stuck in a bad situation.

“A horse flu epidemic that spread across North America that year had immobilized Boston's fire department horses.” Here is one issue that we have gotten past. Motorized apparatus has allowed us to make significant advances with our firefighting techniques and equipment.

“The number of fire hydrants and cisterns was insufficient for a commercial district.” Here we have yet another item that we have pretty much gotten down for the better. Today, we make sure adequate water is available for firefighting purposes before the construction on the building begins. While there can be water main breaks or the isolated service breakdown like the one that happened a few years ago, those incidents are rare.

Much has changed from 1872. So much of it is for the better, but some of the items that were a problem back in 1872 are still a problem today.

Do what you can to limit your fire hazards in your home and your place of business. Have a fire escape plan and practice it with your family at least twice a year. Those timeless tips will help your family escape if they face an unwanted fire incident.

Tom Kiurski is training coordinator for the Livonia Fire Department.


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IAFF Local 1164
14910 Farmington Rd.
Livonia, MI 48154
  7344662444

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