NINE months ago a National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control began a e-year study of ways to reduce the number of disasters caused by fire. Today I am pleased to have received the initial findings of this study from Chairman Richard Bland and other members of the Commission.
The Commission has impressed upon me once again how much we pay for fires through loss of life, needless pain and injury, and damage to property.
The sacrifice of human life is perhaps most startling, for we continue to suffer more deaths and injuries from fire than we did from polio even in its worst years. During 1971, over 12,000 Americans were killed in fires and more than 330,000 were crippled or injured. The 2.5 million fires of that year also caused nearly $3 billion in property damage.
Our main line of defense is now made up of more than one million firemen. To my great sorrow, fire fighting ranks as one of the most hazardous occupations in America. Some 210 firemen were killed in fires last year. We are indeed grateful for the splendid and heroic efforts of these men, but their valor should no longer be a substitute for finding effective ways to prevent fires and to protect firemen in the hazardous environment in which they must work.
In its preliminary report, the Commission has made it clear that in addition to controlling fires, we must place far greater emphasis on prevention. Many local fire departments, for instance, are experiencing success in this endeavor by making periodic inspections of buildings, wiring, heating, and cooking equipment.
During the next several months, the Commission will hold regional hearings across the country, visiting Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. I am hopeful that these hearings will be a subject of serious concern in each community, for the Commission has made an excellent start, and I am sure it can help us to identify new and more effective ways to reduce the terrible costs of fires.