Civil Service As It Affects the Fireman.
At the request of your board of directors I have prepared for your consideration a review of the civil service system in relation to the fire service. Fully conscious of the honor conferred, and of the dignity of the subject, I have spared no pains to make clear to the best of my humble powers the question that more than any other is intimately concerned with upholding the dignity of the fire service, for I am convinced that the advocates of the civil service system are the truest friends the firemen of America have ever had. In this connection I neither seek nor evade opposition, sure that whatever opinion any mail (whose opinion is worth while) holds, he will feel that as the matter appears to me I have given it to you unchanged. Whatever may be the system of appointment to the fire force, there will always be both good and bad men enter. It is for those in command to discriminate. It is not given to every man to have the makings of a fireman, even though many think so. The proof of the pudding is in the eating thereof. To obtain an accurate knowledge of our bearings on this question we must compare the different systems of appointment to the fire force. These we shall find to consist of two diametrically opposed systems, viz, the political preference system, and that of appointment as the result of competitive examinations. Theoretically, there is a system by which the infallible judgment of some unapproachable individual will pick out the men whom his infallible judgment determines will make good firemen. Practically, the indi vidual who by any chance happens to possess this power is very generally found to be a very get-atable sort of person, who is there to do as be is told. Ilis infallible judgment is biased by idiosyncrasy or personal advantage; he is human, and therefore errs, or likes to oblige; or if he is a genuine stick-in-the-mud autocrat of a small town, then he is dominated by a greater than he, and, like every other man, must feel the influences brought to bear on bis household.
You cannot get away from it. His judgment may be good, but like everyone else, he can be persuaded, and must be appreciative of the obligations he incurred in getting where lie is. At the best, he can only guess at the physical condition of the candidate; and in the majority of cases he neither knows nor cares anything about the man’s mind.
As for the political preference system that has been so long with us. we will all understand that. This is a fair business proposition; You do something for me, and I’ll do something for you; the public be—hanged. The something is usually Something substantial, and there is nothing so tangible anti convincing as the coin of the commonwealth. It may be surreptitiously paid over to understrappers, or it may brazen the world in the returns of contributions to campaign funds: it may take place as a business deal in the conveyance of real or personal estate; it may be conveyed in one of a million other ways, but before an appointment is made the price has been paid, not necessarily by the person appointed, but most assuredly by the person or persons to whom the man owes his place. The political preference system discriminates in favor neither of intelligence nor fitness. It is the father and the mother and all the relatives of civic corruption and dishonesty. The good men who have risen under its auspices could rise under any system, for the sturdy fire fighters who have risen under that system have done so not because of the inherent benefits of that system, but despite its defects. They are the residue of a long array that time has weeded out. They would have made good under any circumstances, for they possess in every degree the qualifications which the civil service seeks. Let us ask ourselves the question: Other things being equal, why is a man who cannot pass a civil service examination better than one who can ? The system of appointment and promotion by means of civil service examinations is the highest compliment the thinking portion of the community can pay the fire service of America, for it proves the belief of the citizens of this country in the intelligence of the men upon whim they rely for protection. The day of the go-as-you-please and squirtwater-as-long-as-you-can fireman has gone by, and the day of efficiency and intelligence has arrived. The fireman of to-day must work with his brain as well as with his brawn. Civil service seeks to know whether a man has both, or merely thinks he has. So far as selection for appointment by civil service examinations goes, precisely the same men seek the fire service as under the political preference system. The difference lies in the means taken to obtain the same end. In one case a man begs, in the other he works for it in open competition with men who have an equal right to the position if they can win it. The examinations do not call for high educational requirements. To any fairly intelligent man who has been through the lower grades of our public schools, as the law now insists everyone shall, there is nothing hard about these examinations. A very little application will allow any intelligtnt man to qualify, and surely, there is no fireman in America so foolhardy as to admit that the fire service needs men who arc not intelligent. The medical examination eliminates those who are not fit for the exertions required of firemen, and who would become a burden to the taxpayer without having rendered an equivalent for the money received. Is there any injustice in that? I leave it to your consciences. The examinations for strength and agility seek to pick out the kind of men that the fire service more than any other service needs. These examinations are an inspiration to young men who wish to become firemen to work hard to fit themselves for the position, instead of to sit waiting for someone to do something for them. You want strong, active, intelligent men. I leave it to your judgment: By what manner of means can you better pick them than by the system of competitive examination? These examinations are open to all. Everybody can find out what is required. Other men have passed. Go thou and do likewise. Prove to the world that you are as strong, as active, and as intelligent as you wish others to believe you are. Surely there is no man worthy to he an American fireman who has not sufficient pride in himself to value more what he can do for himself, rather than what he must beg and often receive as a contemptuous favor bestowed on a beggar. So far as advancement in the tire service by competitive examination goes, the same arguments prevail. The men who are selected for promotion are the same that should receive promotion in any case. The weight given to efficiency, seniority, and experience gives the older men a great advantage, and precludes the inexperienced. A man must receive the commendation of his superiors before he can hope for promotion, and that is more than is required under the political regime. Other things being equal, the more intelligent should be selected to lead and to command.
* Paper read at the convention of the Massachusetts State Firemen’s Association, Lawrence, Mass., Oct. 17, 1911.
The civil service system is lifting the fire service out of the rut of political favoritism, and teaching firemen the manly lessons of independence and self respect. It is pointing us on to efficiency and higher ideals; and it is taking from our enemies the chance to do us harm. It is teaching us all to mind our business, and to find out all that we can about it. In a word, it is teaching us to “make good.”
Civil service is the protector of age It will not allow the efficient public servant who has given the best years of his life to his business to be ousted from his employment by the foul machinations of political tricksters, unmindful of the long and faithful years, and intent only on some present and often pecuniary advantage. It will protect the man who has grown gray in honorable work, and it will place him beyond the necessity of seeking other employment when he is old and no longer able to turn to other things. It is the security for efficient service that guarantees the gray head against dishonor and the pinch of poverty.
To sum up: The advantages of the civil service system are altogether in favor of the fireman It protects him from outside interference, and secures him his position as long as he deserves to hold it. It gives a dignity to the fire service which firemen must justify, and which the fire service often loses amid the uncertainty and chicanery of political manipulation. Civil service, like everything else in this world, is but an approximation to a desirable result. There arc no perfect men : there is no perfect system, and as long as the world goes round we must be content to try to perfect what after all are but ap proximations. The Statue of Liberty and the conventional American eagle are but approximations to representation of deeply felt ideas. It is from ideas that the world moves on. The civil service system is the embodiment of a great idea, an idea that is lifting the lire service up to higher and better things.