A Parable and a Lesson
“Protests against the erection of a firehouse flared . . . when 87 residents of the area in which the proposed fire station was to be built charged that its location violated the city’s zoning ordinances . . . it would result in the loss of many thousands of dollars in depreciated value of their property . . . it would be a hazard to children attending nearby schools.” (From a metropolitan newspaper.)
Nearly every municipal fire chief who has tried to solve the problem of broadening fire protection to meet the unprecedented growth and expansion of his city by locating a fire station in a residential area has encountered these and like repercussions of irate property owners and tenants, such as recently erupted during a public hearing in a midwestern city.
In this particular case, the city acting upon the advice of its fire chief, proposed purchasing an existing brick residence, long unoccupied, and converting it into a fire station to protect newly developed areas, in accordance with recommendations of the National Board of Fire Underwriters.
Remodelling the old structure would not only provide necessary protection for the district, but would save the city some $15,000 compared to erecting a new fire station in an out-of-the-way commercial location, as demanded by the complaining citizens. It would also remove a structural blemish from the neighborhood.
All these facts, together with the advantages of having adequate fire protection immediately available, rather than waiting many fateful minutes for it, were explained by the chief who, in addition, pointed out that the city already had erected a fire station within another so-called residential district and that the neighbors, although at first skeptical of locating the station in their midst, were now happy to have it so situated.
Notwithstanding this evidence, the householders were adamant in their opposition to the remodelling proposal. I his meant that if the city decided to ignore the opposition it would have to institute condemnation proceedings. The proposed project was therefore dropped.
Perhaps you have already anticipated the result. On a stormy night last winter fire struck one of the modem homes of a new real estate addition in that particular area. By the time the first-due company reached the scene from its station nearly three miles away, death had claimed two children. Now, it looks as though it won’t be long before the chief gets his new station.
We cannot help but contrast this with a similar situation that arose in a southern city. Here, too, householders complained bitterly—most vocal among them being the parishioners of a fine old church adjacent to which it was proposed to locate the new fire station.
The chief who was somewhat of a diplomat, thought that if he could but sell the pastor on the idea, he could win over the opposition. So he concentrated on him and his congregation. He showed beautiful color architectural drawings of the proposed new station which was designed to blend into the architecture of the neighborhood. When this failed to sway the objectors, he asked the pastor to call a meeting of his congregation. At this meeting he displayed photographs of a dozen modem streamlined residential ranch-type structures and told them that one of the structures was a firehouse. He asked the pastor and his flock to pick out from among the group of pictures the one they believed to be the fire station.
Few persons, including the parson, guessed right. And that won over the key objectors. Today, that particular fire station is the show place of the neighborhood. Its appointments are out of this world. They should be—they were designed and created by the very women who were the most articulate objectors to the improvement.
Is there a lesson to he learned from this parable? It would seem so!