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permanent improvement can be expected of a service so vital to our prosperity, it must be divorced from politics.
Persons now delegated by underwriters to guard against insufficient insulation of electric wires are also expected to condemn defective flues and to order the removal of such inflammable or explosive material as may endanger the environment. But they generally neglect these duties, and they seldom discover a danger until it is too late. The fire marshal of Massachusetts orders the removal of any material that may imperil property in the State; and when a fire has occurred, he investigates the cause, and endeavors to determine whether it was due to accident, negligence, or incendiarism. Since this office was created, fires in
the Bay State have become less frequent.
On Saturday, March 26, 1904, the ignition of a heap of rubbish in the basement of the Adams Express office, on lower Broadway, New York, resulted in the burning of the entire building and in considerable damage to the adjoining structures. The owners and tenants of the latter buildings could have held the express company liable for its negligence, and the express company could not have recovered its own loss, if the fire had occurred in France. In that country, the law is based on the correct principle that the man who, through his own negligence, injures the property of his neighbor is responsible for his neglect, which may invalidate his own insurance policy. In Silesia municipal ordinances compelled the sufferer, in case of fire, to alarm his neighbors before he was allowed to save his own chattels.
The old-fashioned construction of city tenement-houses is abominable. Instead of standard eight-inch brick walls, many partitions are made of scantling, set twelve inches apart, without fire stops between floors. That no more lives have been lost in the conflagrations that have included a vast number of such fagots has been due to the courage of our firemen. Only two hundred persons perished during the great Chicago fire of 1871. But terrible losses of life have occurred when people in crowded places have suddenly become frightened, and more precautions should be taken to safeguard such. Five hundred and eighty-six persons, or one-third of the entire audience, would not have perished, in December, 1903, in the Iroquois Theatre, if the Chicago authorities had done their duty. No license should be granted for any theatrical performance in a building that is not in every way fireproof.
In amusement halls, the seats should be far enough apart to allow the spectators to pass without hindrance; broad aisles, free from incumbrances, should lead to convenient exits sufficiently wide to clear the
house in five minutes of any audience it can hold; the curtain should be a fireproof partition between the stage and the public; and watchmen should be stationed at every exit during every performance. Watchmen rendered all the assistance they could and carried senseless women from the ruins of the ill-fated Iroquois at the peril of their own lives. But the flames spread with such rapidity that the efforts of these men availed but little. New buildings erected for a similar purpose should hereafter be placed in the centre of a square, like the new public library building of New York. Modern theatres in Paris, Vienna, Berlin, and other continental cities are required to be more than forty feet distant from any other edifice. Until we can enforce a similar law here, we should at least insist that no building be used for such a purpose until it is made fireproof. It should also be protected against fire from adjoining buildings by solid brick fire walls of sufficient height and thickness. The agitation in Europe caused by the Iroquois fire has led a prominent architect," Baurat " Helmers, to apply to the municipality of Vienna for permission to rehearse theatre fires in a circu's, in order to instruct the Viennese how to behave in case of such an emergency. After several theatre fires, an association, known as the Asphalia Society, was organized in Austria for the better protection of human life. This society has introduced reforms in the construction of public buildings in many European countries, and no serious calamity has ever happened in any building erected under its supervision.
A few hotels in large cities, generally the most expensive ones, are safe; but the majority of our travellers are compelled to seek shelter in fire traps. Most of the hotels in our summer resorts are constructed of pine wood and covered with wooden shingles, and more than a dozen burn every year in New England alone.
Those who visit our retail stores on bargain days should remember the disaster that befell a charity fair near the Champs Elysées, Paris, when the self-sacrificing women were so frightened by the outbreak of a fire that many of them were trampled to death or suffocated during their vain efforts to escape from the building. Should a fire occur during a busy shopping hour in one of the vast department stores that exist in almost every one of our cities, it would result in a much greater loss of life. The exits from many of these stores are narrow, and some of them are difficult to find. The elevators generally become blocked; and escape by the wooden, inflammable staircases, which most of them retain, would soon become impossible. Such caravansaries should be closed to the public until they are made fireproof. Few, if any, of the city's
sweat-shops, where poor girls earn their daily bread, are fireproof; and by the reckless smoking of cigarettes amid inflammable material, the fire danger becomes aggravated.
How helpless frightened women become has unfortunately been demonstrated by another recent calamity. The excursion boat General Slocum caught fire on a fine summer day, June 15, 1904, between islands of the East River in New York. Over nine hundred women and children, more than half of the registered passengers, were either burned to death or drowned. The cause of this terrible disaster, the greatest of the kind that has ever happened, is still under investigation. It has been disclosed that the life preservers were rotten. The same discovery was made when the Seawanhaka was burned to the water's edge, near the same spot, on June 28, 1880, and sixty persons lost their lives. We know that the fire apparatus and lifeboats of the Slocum were unavailable and that the crew was incompetent. Even if the persons who were to blame should this time actually be punished, we may still look for a repetition of similar horrors until unsafe vessels are taken out of service.
All river boats should be made of steel and be provided with watertight compartments and steel bulkheads; and the whole superstructure should be made fireproof. The flames leaped like lightning over the upper decks of the Slocum, because the flimsiest material that could bear the load of excursionists had been deemed good enough. All craft licensed to carry human freight on water should be constructed with no less care than are habitations on terra firma. It is entirely practicable to safeguard travellers by a more rigid inspection of the lifesaving apparatus of the boat, by a careful limitation of the number of passengers, and by the compulsory presence of an adequate number of efficient flame fighters.
We have useful societies for the conversion of heathen and the prevention of cruelty to animals. Why not form one for protection against the constantly recurring danger of being drowned or roasted alive? An association of earnest men organized for the purpose of looking after violations of the building and navigation laws, and the prosecution of trespassers, could serve to reduce that loss of life and property for which this country has become notorious.
PRIVATE SOCIETIES AND THE ENFORCEMENT OF THE CRIMINAL LAW.
RECENT issues of the New York newspapers contained accounts of a meeting of some thirty or forty citizens to ventilate their alleged grievances against the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. For the most part, the speeches at that meeting were directed against certain methods of the society; and most of the suggestions advanced took the form of projects for the formation of a new association of the same kind to be controlled by the protesting citizens instead of the present officers. It was a protest involving personalities only and was not based on any dissatisfaction with the objects or principles of the society. An editorial writer in "The New York Times," in commenting on the meeting, makes this interesting suggestion:
For our own part, we should have been better content if at least a few of the society's critics had raised the question whether there is a real need for private corporations to execute this or that law, or even to see that this or that law is executed.
Here is a most interesting query, and one that calls for a frank discussion uninfluenced by sympathy or hatred for one or more of the many private corporations now engaged in enforcing certain features of our criminal law.
The citizen in communities removed from great cities sees little of the work of such private societies, because these are called into existence, for the most part, to combat crimes that can only exist where the stream of human life is crowded into crooked and subterranean channels. We find, therefore, that private corporations engaged in the suppression of crime exist, for the most part, in our great cities only. In New York, where the problem of detecting and punishing crime is made unusually difficult by the abnormal crowding of its people into crowded homes on still more crowded streets, the private society finds its greatest field of work.
It is not alone in suppressing crime that private citizens, either as individuals or as corporations, find work that the state is in theory obligated to perform. In almost every department of charitable endeavor,
the state is assisted by individual citizens. Indeed, an analysis of the objects of charitable societies of a private nature in every large city shows conclusively that the state invariably encourages private societies to assist in a work which, strictly speaking, belongs to the government itself. Once this is made clear, it would seem that, unless the work of assisting in enforcing the criminal law differs radically from other charitable work, the burden of proof shifts from the societies to their critics. The "New York Charities Directory" for 1904 contains several hundred pages devoted to a description of private societies, incorporated and unincorporated, engaged in assisting the state in performing functions that the state itself would have to perform if the societies did not exist. A skeleton analysis of the objects of these institutions sufficiently indicates the "increasing purpose" and necessity for them. Their classification is as follows:
Class I. Care and Relief of Needy Families in their Homes. Included under this classification are the employment bureaus, relief societies, day nurseries and kindergartens, burial societies, and many societies of a similar purpose. Under this heading very properly comes the work of the various so-called legal aid societies. The Legal Aid Society, incorporated in 1876, has recovered for the poor of New York over a million dollars. It has vindicated its own existence so com
pletely that argument in favor of it is unnecessary. It is a private society that puts into motion the civil courts for the relief of the poor. In principle this is not radically different from a society like the AntiPolicy Society that puts into motion the criminal courts for the relief of the defenceless.
Class II. Relief for Destitute, Neglected, and Delinquent Children. In this class are the asylums, homes, cheap lodgings, and reformatories for children. It is interesting to note that, in the official classification of the Charities Directory, along with the many charitable societies of this class, is found the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. This society investigates and prosecutes all cases of cruelty to children under sixteen years of age. In the broadest and truest sense, such a society is as much a charitable institution as any asylum or orphans' home in New York. During the past twenty-eight years the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has secured 53,620 convictions. Every one of these prosecutions involved the enforcement of a law for the protection of little children. The wider the scope of such a society, the fewer asylums and homes and reformatories there are to fill. In hygiene, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound