Chief Murphy of San Francisco Sustained

The controversy which has been going on for a month or so in the city of San Francisco, Cal., between Chief Thomas R. Murphy of the fire department and the Board of Fire Commissioners has finally been settled, the board rescinding its orders as regards assignments and sustaining Chief Murphy. One result of this occurred at the fatal fire in the Berkshire Apartment House, which happened on February 9. Chief Murphy for the first time in ten years gave five alarms for that fire. This would have automatically caused a certain company in the outlying district to “move in” to cover a district vacated by another company. Chief Murphy claims that a this Order Was COUtennanded by Alexander George, for whom the position of Supervisor of Assignments was created by ordinance at the request of the commission. Chief Murphy, who has been at the head of the department for twenty years, at once protested the action of the board and declared that it had no legal right to interfere with his prerogative of assignment. At its meeting in which the matter was settled, a mutual understanding was effected between Chief Murphy and the board, in which his authority as to the assigning of companies, assistant chiefs and battalion chiefs was confirmed, subject to the approval of the board. The matter which brought this difference to a focus was the assignment of two additional engine companies to respond to alarms on the water front district owing to the elimination of two fire boats. This action was approved by the board, which was a reversal of their former decision. This assignment of Chief Murphy had been protested by the assistant chiefs, and the board at that time took upon itself the authority of assignments which caused the trouble. In settling the controversy, Commissioner Sykes said:

A great many unpleasant things, particularly about me, have been said in this discussion. Many of them arc untrue. The board has taken the view that it feels it docs not wish in any way to hamper the efficiency of the department or the authority of the chief. 1 move than any assignments that have been made by the chief be approved and that any further recommendations he may make in connection with assignments will be approved. The only thing the board wishes to retain is the final authority. We want to co-operate with the chief and want him to co-operate with us.

Among the supporters of Chief Murphy in his stand were men prominent in insurance and shipping circles and among them the foreign trade club, composed of more than four hundred exporters, importers and manufacturers, which sent the board the following resolution:

Whereas. In accordance with reports in the daily papers, there is an attempt to curtail the powers of the chief engineer of the fire department to detail additional men and fire apparatus to take care of this condition; and

Whereas, Knowing that the lack of fire-fighting apparatus and men on the water front, the elimination of the two fire boats, and the curtailment of the powers of the chief engineer of the fire department, will do us inestimable harm at home and abroad, and eventually paralyze, if not destroy, the business of this port.

Therefore, Be It Resolved, That the members of the Foreign Trade Club as taxpayers and merchants of this city, petition your board to see that this condition ceases; that the two fire boats be placed in active service immediately, and full control of assignments be given chief engineer of the fire department, as is authorized in the Charter of the City of San Francisco.

One of the supporters of Chief Murphy in his contention was Jav W. Stevens, Manager of the Fire Prevention Bureau of the Pacific, who, in commenting on the controversy between the board and Chief Murphy, said:

The fire commission should rescind the amendment to the rules diverting to itself powers which the charter gives to the chief of the fire department. In every other city in the country the chief of the fire department is the executive officer and has authority to deal not only with the fighting of fires, but everything pertaining to the service, particularly the assigning of companies.

In amending the rules the commissioners took the stand that there was a difference between Chief Murphy and his assistants. No difference should be considered, for the chief is supreme according to the charter. Chief Murphy has had twenty years’ experience fighting fires, and the public knows what he has done.

Thomas H. Murphy, when Battalion Chief of San Francisco

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