Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks Upon Signing the Fire Research and Safety Act of 1968

March 01, 1968

Secretary Trowbridge, distinguished Members of the Senate and the House, ladies and gentlemen:

First of all, I want to welcome to the East Room this afternoon 200 business leaders and State officials from throughout the Nation.

Their mission here is to spearhead the new JOBS program in 50 of our largest cities. These people are the doers and the movers of the National Alliance of Businessmen. They are going to roll up their sleeves and find the answer to one of America's most urgent needs--decent jobs for 500,000 men and women who are the hard-core unemployed-the people who want to work but who need that special help and training to put them on the road to productivity.

As Mr. Clifford said when he was sworn in a few moments ago as Secretary of Defense, he was thankful for the opportunity, after living in this land for 61 years, to have a chance to pay the debt to the country that he owed the country.

I am thankful that we have businessmen, the creatures and the product of our free enterprise system and our peculiar system of government, who in their affluence, and in a period of prosperity, the like of which they have not known before, are willing to leave their companies and spend their time and talents to help those who are less fortunate, those who haven't done so well, but who could pull down our whole system if our system can't be made to work for them, too.

To you businessmen who are undertaking this new venture under the leadership of that dynamic business executive, Henry Ford II, I salute you. And I thank you. I have great hopes for the work ahead.

The measure we have come here today to sign deals with another very important national problem.

It is a terrible thing when tragedy strikes so often that it no longer even shocks us.

Just the other week, Mrs. Johnson and I were shocked by a terrible story that we saw in the newspaper: 10 children were burned to death in one awful night. A complete family was wiped out, was destroyed, was no more.

There were other fires that night; hundreds of other Americans died that night. Hundreds more were scarred and crippled.

The most shocking thing about all of these tragedies is that they are repeating tragedies. They happen night after night. They go on day after day.

Fire, as I think most of you know, is our third largest cause of accidental death in America.

In 1966 alone, more than 12,000 of our fellow human beings died in fires. That is more than we lost in Vietnam all year from the enemy's bullets.

Almost $2 billion in homes and businesses went up in flames.

Man invented fire for his own safety and security, but man has really never learned how to control it. We all live with the threat of an accidental fire.

Our little baby with a match, the bursting gas stove, the leaking pipe, the careless smoker in the bed, the exploding pipeline-all of these are shocking accidents, but the most shocking truth of all is terribly clear. That is this:

This great Nation of which we are all so proud and dedicated leads the entire world in technology, but it falls so far behind the other nations in protecting its own people. Our per capita death rate is twice that of Canada. It is four times that of the United Kingdom. It is six and one-half times that of Japan.

This is a shameful waste. This is something that we should stop, we must stop, and we are going to stop.

But we cannot stop it when many of our firefighting techniques date back to the Chicago fire of 1871. Many of our firefighters are as ill-trained and ill-equipped.

So, the bill we sign today is a Fire Research and Safety Act for all Americans. It will help us put out many of these fires before they ever start.

It authorizes, for the first time in our history, a fire research and safety program, so that now we can launch new studies into the causes of fires and into new methods of fire prevention and control. We can educate the public on how to avoid fire hazards. We can set up new training programs to improve our firefighting techniques and to strengthen the local fire departments.

This important measure is a tribute to the work of a great American leader, the work of the distinguished Secretary of Commerce, Sandy Trowbridge, who leaves us today. He fought for this bill and many other good bills of a like nature, and he succeeded. He did it because it is needed, because it is right, and because it is going to protect all of us.

This is the first consumer bill passed at this session of Congress. It is one of the 12 consumer bills that we recommended last year. We batted 33 1/3 percent. We got four of them at the first session.

We sent up six new consumer proposals this year. I wish we had a subcommittee on each one of them, working morning, afternoon, and night now, so that we could get them reported before we get in a rush to get out of here in July. I appeal to the Members of Congress to get them assigned for hearings. I will furnish the witnesses immediately.

We need legislation of this type. It costs us little. The hazards are great. The clock is ticking. Time is wasting. So, we should be moving ahead. And I am glad we are moving ahead with this proposal.

I hope we can come back into this room again soon to sign these other dozen or so measures that are now pending.

All Americans should know, should remember, should be restless and dissatisfied until we actually get the signature on a truth-in-lending act.

An explosion in a major city tomorrow would get us a pipeline safety bill quickly, but we shouldn't have to wait until people die to get it. It is there, and I hope it is enacted.

We need a strong poultry bill. We need a fish inspection bill.

The list is long, but so are the needs of this public that we represent. Consumer legislation deserves a high priority. It concerns every American.

Sometimes I think it concerns one American more than it does any of the others. I want to salute Miss Betty Furness this morning for the great leadership she has given to this field. I want to challenge her to try to wake up the women of America, and the men, too, for that matter, to get behind these consumer measures that we have recommended, that we have submitted, and that we hope will pass.

We say on what has come to us this morning, well done.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 1:25 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his opening words he referred to Alexander B. Trowbridge, Secretary of Commerce. During his remarks he referred to Betty Furness, Special Assistant to the President for Consumer Affairs.

As enacted, the bill (S. 1124) is Public Law 90259 (82 Stat. 34).

For statements or remarks by the President upon signing other consumer legislation, see Items 229, 264, 280, 418, 441, 451, 545.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks Upon Signing the Fire Research and Safety Act of 1968 Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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