It was a chilly Sunday morning on February 7th 1904. The men of Engine Co. 15 were expecting a quiet day as they readied for inspection. Their routine was interrupted by an automated fire alarm at 10:48 a.m. in the John Hurst and Company building. These men were answering the first call of the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904.
Once the Fire Chief was on the scene, he quickly realized the danger. High winds were causing the blaze to spread quickly and efforts to douse the fire were hampered by the freezing temperatures. He called in nearly the entire Baltimore City Fire Department to fight the fire but even that was not enough to contain the persistent flames.
A plea for help went out to areas surrounding Baltimore and the response was astounding. Firefighters from Washington DC were the first to arrive. Upon arrival they were were dismayed to find out that their fire hose couplings would not fit the fire hydrants. Baltimore like most cities of that day had their own standard by which fire hydrants and firefighting equipment were manufactured. As firefighters arrived, they tried to adapt to this different standard but the lowered water pressure and leaks continued to impact their ability to help. Firefighters from as far away as Philadelphia and New York City answered the call but each time the story was the same. The lack of a standard caused confusion and the resulting efforts were less effective.
The Great Baltimore Fire raged across the city for two days. Damage caused by the blaze was so extensive that it is hard to imagine. It destroyed over 1,500 buildings covering nearly 70 city blocks.
In a report presented to congress, the lack of a uniform standard was cited as a major contributing factor to the massive destruction. Congress tasked the fledgling National Bureau of Standards now known as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to investigate the matter. They discovered around 600 different sizes for fire equipment in use throughout the nation. As a result, the organization established a national standard for fire equipment.
Having a standard is great, but it is only useful when it is followed. Fires as recent as the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire have been hampered by cities not following the NIST standard. In 2004, the NIST published a centennial progress report on the adoption of their standard after the Great Baltimore Fire. In it they disclosed that several major cities are still not following the standard established a century earlier.
Moving from the physical to the spiritual. God recognized the need for a standard for us to follow. Furthermore, our Lord has not confused man with a plethora of differing standards but gave us a single one. This heavenly standard is the God-breathed word of the Bible and it is meant as our only standard for life and worship. As when Paul exhorted Timothy (2 Timothy 3:16,17) during the first century, we also have in Scripture everything necessary to understand and follow God’s will. How can we hope to fit into the spiritual mold that God desires if we pursue any standard other than His?