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The 17th Annual Truman Legacy Symposium was held on May 5-7, 2019. Each year, the symposium focuses on a different area of interest or action taken by former President Harry Truman. This year, the symposium dealt with the former President’s legacy on Fire Prevention, Fire Safety and Historic Preservation and the 1947 National Conference on Fire Prevention report in which he was a leader.

Countering rising fire incidents

In early 1947, President Truman invited representatives from every facet of the country’s fire service, local, state and federal governments, as well as luminaries from every other conceivable interest to the conference. At that time, Truman was horrified and angered by three deadly fires, and convened the gathering of the country’s best and brightest to attack a problem he believed was ravaging the country. The high life loss fires at the Winecoff Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia, LaSalle Hotel in Chicago, Illinois and Ice Plant Fire in Manhattan claimed 217 lives in 1946. Truman, in his inimitable way, knew how to be a man of action, and had enough by then. The commission met in Washington DC under the direction of Major General Philip Fleming of the Federal Works Agency

The commission met in Washington DC under the direction of Major General Philip Fleming, Administrator of the Federal Works Agency in the United States Government. The result of their work was the President’s 1947 National Conference on Fire Prevention which advocated the imperativeness of fire safety measures to save properties and human lives. This landmark document served as the catalyst for addressing a fire problem that was the antithesis of an industrialized nation with the prowess and progress of the United States of America.

Fire prevention tactics

80 national subject matter experts were in attendance at the Little White House in Key West, Florida for the event. The event focused on five key areas of action in fire prevention for the future. Among those in attendance were Troy Markel, VFIS President and Treasurer of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and Dr. Bill Jenaway, VFIS Executive Vice President and President of the Congressional Fire Services Institute. All major fire service organizations were represented as well at the event.

The first day focused on what the status of fire prevention was in 1947 and where we are today, the gaps in expectations from the 1947 conference and some thoughts on where we need to go to improve fire prevention.

Steps to improve fire safety

The second day of the event involved a panel discussion on current concerns followed by a group consensus project

The second day of the event involved a panel discussion on current concerns followed by a group consensus project to develop next steps. With over 20 items on action identified as needed, the top five were chosen for future action, to be driven by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation’s assigned staff.

The events were centered around the Little White House, where President Truman spent considerable time during his Presidency and was followed by almost every President since for key meetings. Attendees were also able to chat with the grandson of President Truman, Clinton Truman Daniel, who closed day 1 with a reading of President Truman’s speech during the 1947 conference.

Fire prevention symposium

The hope is that the 2019 conference identified priorities that will play a key role in taking action to improve fire safety in the United States for decades to come. The goal of the symposium is to reflect on Truman’s legacy and identify a path forward to protecting our nation from fire and other hazards. The symposium will include presentations by fire service leaders and historians, including President Truman’s grandson.

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