A Two-Man Company Is the Equivalent of An Empty Extinguisher
The Editor’s Opinion Page
We have been kicking around in this fire service since March of 1938 and in all that time we have never heard an explanation, based on fact, of just what constitutes a fire company. The fire chief, of course, wants six or seven men per company, which is what the old National Board of Fire Underwriters was recommending back in our youth. The mayor or the city manager naturally disagrees with the chief and some actually claim that four, three or two-man companies (and in a lot of cases the elimination of companies) can provide efficient service. This more efficient service is based on cost analysis and is almost invariably backed up by the findings of hired consultants. Finally, there are the ivory-tower types who distribute their usually unsolicited advice from on high to the masses below.
None of these persons is completely wrong as to what constitutes a fire company. Yet none is completely right—for the simple reason that they are all going by guess and by God.
The time is now ripe—overripe—to eliminate the guesswork. And we have the instrument on hand to do this in the newly established National Fire Prevention and Control Administration. One of the key points in the law that established this administration called for a fire research program and the operation of a fire data center. We feel that the operation of these two, using mathematical models and a computer, can eventually come up with a true definition of what constitutes a viable fire company.
Nobody really knows how many men are required to put out a fire in an eight-room frame house—in time enough to save most of the house. Nor do they know how many men are required when this eight-room frame house is exposing two other eightroom frame houses. Nor does anyone know how many men are required to put out a fire in the hanging ceiling of a six-story apartment house. These are only two examples of the hundreds of types of fires that nobody knows exactly how many men are required to extinguish.
But if data was collected from, say, 100,000 fires that occurred in varying parts of the United States and this data spelled out the number of fire fighters employed at each fire, the time they spent and how much of each building was saved or lost, then we would have a pretty good idea of what constitutes a fire company. Of course, other data—too lengthy to go into here—would have to be pumped into the mathematical model that feeds the computer, but this should be easy for the technicians.
We have reached a point in this country where some cities put two or three men on an apparatus and call it a fire company. In our opinion, such companies are the equivalent of hanging an empty fire extinguisher on a wall and calling it fire protection.
Let’s hope the National Fire Protection and Control Administration will improve the situation.