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Mail Tribune 100, June 25, 1919

The following news items were drawn from the archives of the Mail Tribune 100 years ago.

June 25, 1919


Kansas City, June 25. — The majority of the American people, unconsciously, are pyromaniacs, according to Jay W. Stevens, manager of the Fire Prevention bureau of the Pacific coast of San Francisco, in an address here today before the convention of the International Association of Fire Engineers. Wastage and loss to the nation is increasing instead of diminishing, he said.

“I have arrived a the conclusion that the reason for this enormous waste is that the great majority of the American people are, to a degree at least, affected with pyromania. Not intentionally so, not consciously so, not to the degree that would cause them to deliberately kindle a fire, but enough that they really enjoy witnessing the destruction of the other fellow’s property.

“By observing the attitude of a crowd at a large fire where no human life seems endangered I have noted the lack of seriousness, but rather the same spirit as that displayed by a theater audience — they are being amused, all unmindful of the fact that this amusement is costing the American people annually thousands of human lives and millions of dollars in property loss.”

He called attention to the fact that motion picture producers recognized this state of mind and satisfied the demand for this type of excitement in their scenarios, which he declared was injurious psychologically to adults as well as children.

“This craving for excitement afflicted the minds of the American people must so far as fires are concerned be overcome and in its place injected a sincere desire to stamp out the unnecessary waste. This can only be accomplished by a movement in line with one of the big war drives.

“This drive would be in the nature of an educational campaign emphasizing the need for proper legislation, better fire protection and building construction, and better housekeeping methods for the purpose of creating an aggressively favorable public sentiment for without that little can be done.”

An education campaign he conducted in Portland, Ore., along general fire prevention lines, he said, resulted in the fire waste of that city being reduced from $5.78 per capita with 1960 alarms of fire in 1914, to 80 cents per capita with 734 alarms of fire in 1917.

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