Departments Should Produce Revenue!
Modern Fire Apparatus Makes it Possible to Decrease Number of Houses—Many Stations Located on Valuable Land That Should be Sold
WHY shouldn’t the fire department become income producing?
There’s not a chief in the country but would welcome more money for his organization. There’s not a citizen in the world but would be glad of a reduction in his tax bill.
Wonderful benefits are being derived from the silent, persevering methods that are instilling fire prevention principles in the public mind. Cooperation with scientific authorities is developing fire apparatus to an undreamed of efficiency. Educators have adopted the control of fire as a subject suitable for their curriculums. The only thing that lags behind the wheel of progress is the public fire department. And the reason for this is money!
Development work is costly. It requires that salaries, printing, postage and other expenses be paid. The head of a private corporation call convince his board of directors of the necessity for an expenditure and funds are forthcoming. But the only way a fire department chief can get more money is through taxation.
There is a natural antipathy to an increase in taxation. Many city fathers have suffered political eclipse through meddling with taxes. A chief who attempts to secure an additional appropriation that affects the tax rate is almost sure of defeat. It is not surprising therefor, to find officials charged with responsibility, searching in all directions for ways and means of maintaining and improving their departments without having to ask for additional funds.
Regardless of how well-meaning their efforts, the fact remains that there is nothing so destructive to efficiency as a lack of means for improvement. Realization that this is so has forced consideration of the possibilities for obtaining revenue from heretofore undeveloped sources.
In the search for more money, serious thought should be given a method of securing income by relocating fire stations. Most stations were installed in the days of horse-drawn apparatus. Conditions that governed their location then do not exist at present. In olden days it was necessary to consider the ability of horses to withstand high speed runs with heavy equipment and the probability of having to duplicate the performance immediately upon return to quarters. For this reason their radius of activity was limited. The stations were also located with a view of permitting companies to relocate nearer a big fire for second and subsequent alarms.
Companies equipped with motor apparatus are not governed by these conditions. They may be located further apart or under certain conditions of traffic, evident in many congested value sections, they can be grouped closer together to provide protection from all quadrants of the compass. Companies responding under such a distribution will not be affected by one traffic jam.
Application of the above reasoning to the distribution of companies in any fire department will undoubtedly disclose fire stations that are poorly placed or unnecessary, if modern apparatus is in service.
A chief who will make an analysis of his company distribution will be in position to present to his superiors an interesting financial proposition. A proposition based on the possibility of obtaining an income through an intelligent administration of fire department realty holdings; involving their sale, their lease, or their exchange.
At present there are certain obstacles to this plan. Under the average city charter money derived from the transfer of municipal property must revert to a sinking fund. But this provision could be corrected by pressure of popular demand. Even the Constitution of the United States has been amended several times.
With stipulations of the Charter in full operation there is nothing to prevent an exchange of property. In this way new buildings can be secured for old, where there is sufficient difference in land values. There are cases on record of houses that cost $20,000 or less to build, standing on property worth $100,000 or more. For fire department purposes the station could be four squares away on land worth five thousand dollars. It would seem a suitable trade could be arranged in such an instance—to the profit of the community, particularly the fire department.
Naturally the fire department has developed with the growth of its city. Imagine how the value of its real estate holdings has increased. At one time Chicago had a fire station on Michigan Boulevard near where the Public Library now stands. Consider the value of some of New York’s present fire station sites. Surely land worth millions of dollars should contribute to the tax roll instead of simply acting as a physical support for a few fire stations worth at the best one-tenth as much. There is no reason why a fire station should be but two stories high. The company could operate just as efficiently if it rolled out of a 50-story building. And the upper stories could be rented to return an income for fire department development. And it can be done under a leasehold.
This will be considered a radical suggestion now. But the radical ideas of the present are the conservative ones of the future.