Chief Stetson, of Seattle, on Two Platoon
“While I do not oppose the gradual adoption of the two-platoon system in the Seattle fire department by an annual increase in the number of firemen per company and a corresponding increase in the time off allowed, thus maintaining at all times the efficiency of the department. I am strongly opposed to the immediate adoption along the lines laid down by its advocates,” said Frank L. Stetson, chief of the Seattle fire department to a representative of the Anti-Extravagance League. “I am opposed to the adoption of the system, as proposed, because I am satisfied that the efficiency and discipline of the department would be greatly decreased under it. It is my duty, as chief, to maintain discipline and efficiency in the department, and 1 am merely doing my duty to the public in opposing a measure for which Seattle might pay dearly in increased fire loss. The greatest weakness in the proposed plan is that it does not provide sufficient additional men to maintain the fighting strength of the department. While advocates of the system figure that the addition of 129 men would maintain efficiency, my own estimate, based on careful figures and my knowledge of the needs of the department, is 199 men. However, if the system were adopted and the city council were faced with the great additional expen-e involved, they would be almost certain to hold down the number of additional men in order to save money, and the efficiency would suffer accordingly. That such would be the case is proved by the experience of Chicago, Omaha and Kansas City. Chicago abandoned the experiment with the system, by vote of the city council, on account of the gr.at expense involved. Omaha, according to the testimony of the fire chief, has b.en crippled ever since the introduction of the system by lack of sufficient men. and Kansas City, which put the system into cff.ct this year, has felt the added expense so keenly that On men were dropped from the department this month, leaving the city without adequate protection. Many of the experienced firemen lost their jobs in this wholesale reduction, new men being retained in their stead on account of political influence. Advocates of the system assert that it would greatly increase the efficiency of the department because, when fires occur, the shift off duty could be called upon to supplement the shift on duty. There is little merit in this claim because the efficiency of a fire department depends upon the ability to get a sufficient force to the scene of the fire before the flames gain headway. With such efficiency there would be few large fires and practically no need to call upon reserve force. With the force on duty reduced by the two-platoon system, it is true that it might become necessary at times to call upon the shift off duty, in which case we might meet the following conditions: Many of the firemen live at long distances from the fire houses and in case of being called when off duty could not be expected to reach the scene of the fire in less than half an hour to an hour. In cases of fires late at night, when cars arc not running, they could not he used at all. In any event, the fire would be well under way before they could respond. Also it is too much to expect that the firemen off duty would be readily reached by a call to service. From 9 o’clock in the morning until 10 at night we could not count on a large percentage of the firemen off duty being available for emergency culls for obvious reasons Only in rase of a general conflagration could we expect much assistance from the force off duty, and a general conflagration is not likely to occur unless present efficiency is decreased.
“I am certain that the individual efficiency of the men would decrease if the system is adopted a proposed. A large number of untrained men would he added to the department at one time, with little purpose other than to put in their hours and draw their pay. The spirit which at present animates the department would, in a large measure, disappear The men would not take the same interest in their work as they do now. Their interest would center more on outside matters, necessitating the severest disciplinary measures to maintain anything like present efficiency. For a time, at least, the department would he demoralized in spite of any measures which might be undertaken. I have been speaking from the standpoint of public welfare From the standpoint of the individual welfare of the men. I would welcome allowance of additional time off for the men if the number per company were increased at the same time sufficiently to maintain lighting strength. By following this plan for several years we could work into the two-platoon system gradually, as a certain number of new mem could le trained each year without demoralizing discipline and efficiency and without imposing in any one year too great an increase in the department expense for the city council to meet in the tax levy. Such a plan 1 would consider much safer for the general public, much safer for the men now in the department, and infinitely better tor discipline and efficiency. The change could then be brought about gradually and rationally from within the department, ft would not then be forced upon the department by outside influences to the public. On such a plan I wouia work in harmony with shorter hour advocates, but in the plan which they are now urging upon the public I see possibilities of disaster which I do not like to contemplate.”