Discipline and Politics in Fire Departments.
THE necessity of strict discipline in all fire departments is apparent to all who have ever been connected with a fire department. The chief of a fire department should insist upon the strict observance of the rules laid down for the government of the department, and require all subordinate officers to promptly report any infraction of the same. In my opinion a failure to report any such infraction by a subordinate officer should result in his dismissal, as it is only by such methods that proper discipline can be maintained. The bearing of a chief towards his subordinates should be courteous and dignified and such as to command respect and inspire confidence. The same will hold good with reference to the conduct of all subordinate officers toward the men in their respective commands. The first requisite of a good firemen is obedience, and my experience has been that the men having this very necessary qualification are the men who make firemen and cause the least internal dissentions, but the man who, after a few months’ experience, imagines that he has learned all there is to learn and begins to criticise the action of his officers and comrades, is the man for whom there should be no place in any fire department, and he should be removed on the first sign of insubordination. It is such men who cause all the petty quarrels and ill-feeling between different members and different companies in a department.
Now, what are the best means of maintaining discipline? To maintain good discipline in a fire department the chief officers should have no favorites and should not extol the merits of any one member or members, or company or companies, to the disparagement of others, as that has a tendency to create dissatisfaction and factions in the departments.
My experience has been that a member reported and found guilty of any certain offense should be punished, and punished severely and that the next man reported for the same offense should have double the punishment of the first. My experience is also that a fine of 15 days pay, compelling the member to work is equal to thirty days suspension. On this line I believe that no difficulty will be experienced in maintaining discipline, provided that there are no favorites who are allowed to do as they wish with perfect immunity from punishment.
I know of a department where certain members were allowed to do as they saw fit, while others were summoned to the carpet if the line of hose laid by their company had a crook in it, and was known by every member of this department that one officer who was under the influence of liquor at least two-thirds of the time, came to one fire and fell from the apparatus in a state of intoxication in the immediate presence of his chief and nothing was said or done in the matter. Such proceedings can have but one result, viz:—the utter demoralization of discipline in the department.
As to political considerations, I believe that a fire department should be entirely separated from political influence or domination and that any City Council or Board of Fire Commissioners is justified in removing the chief of any department who places or allows his department to be ptaced in politics. In one case with which I am familiar, the chief openly asserted that it made no difference to him what a man’s politics were so long as he performed his duty, yet he had no penalty to prescribe for infraction of the rules committed by political friends in the department, but those who took him at his word and made no secret of their political leanings, had a hard road to travel.
The inevitable result was that there were factions in the department and every fair minded man in the department irrespective of political principles, voted for men who were supposed to be opposed to that method of conducting a de partment, and as a result men were elected who removed him from office. But his work did not stop here. An attempt was made to cripple the department by organizing a strike and taking as many men as possible with him, but it proved to be a dismal failure, as only nine men responded to his urgent solicitations. As a result of the change the department was placed under a rigid discipline, politicians were kept out and that department is to-day working in perfect harmony. But our friend is not through with it yet and at the present time is nightly visiting ward political meetings, qualifying his successor and the department in general, and calling upon the electors in the approaching city election to elect men who will put him or some of his creatures back into office. Such conduct is certainly unbecoming in a man having an ambition to become a chief of a fire department and should convince anyone of ordinary intelligence who has anything to do or say in the premises, that such a man is utterly unfit to take charge of men.
I believe that a fire department should be conducted in the same manner that a man would conduct his private business and if so conducted the result cannot be but satisfactory to the people. _