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fire protection[′fīr prə‚tek·shən]
(also fire protection service), a system of governmental and public measures designed to protect human life and state, public, and private property from fire; an organization for fighting fires. The major task of modern fire protection is fire prevention. Fires are extinguished by fire-fighting units using special equipment, such as fire engines, fire-fighting trains and airplanes, and fireboats.
In Russia, the basic way of dealing with the causes of fires was to ban completely the use of fire during the summer dry period and to punish offenders severely. The inhabitants themselves did fire duty in the cities. One person from every tenth household in Moscow was required to serve a night watch; those on duty carried hawking poles, as well as poleaxes, axes, and pipes for water. In the late 15th century, an attempt was made to remove all wooden structures near the Kremlin in Moscow to protect the Kremlin buildings from fire. When St. Petersburg was being built, Peter I ordered that all houses have fireproof roofs and that stoves be placed on fireproof bases. Some cities and military fortresses created special military units to fight fires.
Fire fighting remained practically unchanged for an entire century. The residents of St. Petersburg and Moscow were released from fire duty only at the beginning of the 19th century, when the first professional fire-fighting units were organized. In the same period, water supply systems were completed for Moscow and St. Petersburg, fire stations were constructed, and the first book on fire fighting was published. A construction code issued in 1832 had mandatory rules for the design and construction of built-up areas and for the first time contained a number of fire safety measures. In the 1860’s and 1870’s, the expenses for fire companies were again transferred to the city administration. City authorities provided insufficient funding for the development of water supply systems, the construction of roads, and the support of fire protection. The inhabitants in the outskirts and settlements outside the city where workers lived, tried combating fires themselves by establishing volunteer fire brigades, but without appreciable results. In 1892 there were 590 permanent fire companies and about 2,500 volunteer fire brigades in Russia. The development of fire-fighting equipment in Russia clearly lagged behind urban construction, and there was no fire protection at all in villages.
Fire protection became a matter of state concern after Soviet power was established. On Apr. 17, 1918, V. I. Lenin signed the decree On the Organization of Fire Protection Measures. M. T. Elizarov was named head of the Commissariat on Insurance and Fire Fighting. The decree spoke of the need for correct and systematic implementation of fire protection measures and called attention to the importance of developing fire prevention services, issuing rules and instructions, and developing fire-fighting equipment. The decree also provided for the training of specialists in fire protection; the founding of fire-fighting technical institutes, schools, and courses; the publication of special magazines and pamphlets; and the organization of exhibits. The prevention of fires was defined as the major problem of fire protection. In 1924 the first fire-fighting technicum opened in Leningrad, and in 1925 the journal Pozharnoe delo (Fire Fighting) began publication.
With the rise of industrialization in the USSR, fire protection services were formed and reequipped. Municipal fire departments were equipped with Soviet-made fire engines. Industrial plants were equipped with automatic fire-fighting equipment and fire alarms, and nonflammable materials were introduced.
As more advanced equipment was developed, more efficient forms were sought for directing fire protection services. In late 1918 the responsibility for fire fighting and insurance matters was given to the Supreme Council on the National Economy. In 1920 fire protection was separated from insurance matters and transferred to the Central Board of the Communal Services System of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs of the RSFSR; a central fire-fighting division was established in the commissariat. In 1926 and 1927 the State Fire Supervisory Office was organized in the Union republics.
In 1934 the Central Board for Fire Protection was organized as part of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs. A paramilitary fire protection service of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs was created to protect important industrial sites with high fire risk, and also the most important plants and cities.
The final stage in the formation of the fire protection service of the USSR was the resolution of the All-Union Central Executive Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR of Apr. 7, 1936, on the State Fire Supervisory Office, which defined the functions and authority of the body. Since 1966, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the USSR has been responsible for directing fire protection work. The ministry includes organs of the State Fire Supervisory Office, which organize fire prevention activities at buildings and plants under construction and in use. It also includes subdivisions of paramilitary and professional fire protection services, which are responsible for extinguishing fires in cities, at industrial sites, and elsewhere.
The fire protection service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs includes the All-Union Scientific Research Institute for Fire Protection and a network of regional fire-fighting technical stations that carry out scientific research on fire safety. The fire protection service also encompasses educational institutes preparing engineers and technicians for fire-fighting work. Several ministries and departments have their own departmental fire protection services; among these are the Ministry of Railroads, the Ministry of the Timber Industry, and the Main Petroleum Supply Board. Volunteer fire brigades consisting of industrial workers, professional and white-collar workers, and kolkhozniks have been organized at industrial plants and construction sites, in institutions and organizations, and on kolkhozes and sovkhozes. Republic and regional volunteer fire-fighting associations are public organizations for mobilizing citizens to take part in fire prevention. The members of volunteer fire brigades enjoy a number of privileges at their places of work, such as six extra days of annual vacation.
For their bravery and heroism during the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45, the fire protection services of Moscow and Leningrad were awarded the Order of Lenin. In 1957 the USSR established a medal For Courage in Fire Fighting.
Fire protection services in other socialist countries have central administrative organs coordinating all fire prevention activities and fire-fighting organizations. National norms and rules regulate fire safety measures and are mandatory for all organizations and citizens. Fire-fighting units are generally under the jurisdiction of the ministries of internal affairs in these countries and are composed of civilian employees. In Rumania and, to some extent, in Poland, fire protection services are composed of conscripted military contingents, as is the fire protection service of Sofia, Bulgaria.
In Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, volunteer fire associations play an active role in combating fires. Representatives of the fire protection services of the socialist countries meet at a conference every two years to pool their operational experience.
In most capitalist countries, professional fire protection services are financed by local organs of government and do not have a centralized administration. In the Federal Republic of Germany, for example, each state has an independent fire protection service, which is entirely under the jurisdiction of the individual state. In addition to extinguishing fires, the fire protection service provides medical and technical assistance at the scene of accidents, including road accidents; for this reason, ambulances, hoisting cranes, and rescue boats are kept in fire stations. The cities of the Federal Republic of Germany have volunteer fire companies, which are part of a single federal union.
Paris and Marseille, unlike other French cities, use military units to provide fire protection services. The military fire brigade of Paris, which is under the operational jurisdiction of the prefect of police, carries out fire-extinguishing and rescue operations in both the capital and the surrounding departments.
In the USA, there is no federal organ directing fire protection on a national level. The National Fire Protection Association, insurance companies, and other organizations have only consultative roles. There are 175,000 professional firemen and about 2 million members of volunteer fire brigades. Fire departments are under the administration of local governments and are supported by state and municipal budgets and by allowances from insurance companies.
The International Technical Committee for the Prevention and Extinction of Fires, which was founded in 1900, numbers among its members the national fire protection organizations of 28 countries, including the Central Board for Fire Protection of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the USSR. The permanent headquarters of the Committee is in Paris. The committee’s major aim is to foster international ties and scientific and technical cooperation in fire protection. Its supreme governing body, the general assembly, convenes once every four years. Working sessions of the committee presidium and symposia are held annually to discuss scientific and technical aspects of fire fighting.
P. S. SAVEL’EV