FIRE DEPARTMENT OF ROME, ITALY, A MODERN AND EFFICIENT UNIT
Fire College an Outstanding Educational Institution; Fire Losses Low; False Alarms Negligible
THE Fire Brigade of Rome, Italy, is not one of the attractions for the tourist trade in Europe this summer. The reason for this is that there are so few fires in the Italian capital, the fire brigade seldom has to respond and, consequently, visiting pilgrims get no glimpse of Rome’s otherwise efficient, well equipped, and scientifically trained fire department of 586 officers and men.
This pilgrim took a scrutinizing look behind the scenes and found that Romans are a careful, cautious and circumspect population of 2,000,000 Italians residing within 38 square miles. They are protected from fire first by the type of building construction; second, by their personal adherence to a clean and careful and sanitary city, and finally by a vigilant fire corps that has so little extinguishment to do (as compared with the average American city) that scientific prevention of fire in the first place is the reason that Rome no longer burns in the second place.
Rome fire losses for the first half of this year were 97,355,500 lire, or about $156,000. Buildings are made of stone, concrete, marble, brick, or stucco and are built to withstand centuries instead of generations.
Fires that are caused by negligence are apt to cost the careless occupant a heavy penalty if it can be established that the fire could have been prevented. Matches, like soap, are very scarce and lighter fluid is “artifizio.”
Stairways and hallways are generally of marble. There are no fire escapes but there are many balconies. Inspection of garages, shops, service stations, and industrial hazards is made once a month and is punctiliously done. Benzina (gasoline) pumps are located in profusion along the open curbing of the streets where you fill up, at 80 lire (12 cents) a litre. Every store is inspected. Inspection fees range from 300 to 10,000 lire (50 cents to $15) a year, depending on the type of building and the potential hazard of occupancy.
Fire apparatus in Rome is strictly native. Repairs are made by the brigades own mechanics. There are 140 pieces, ranging from Magirus ladders of 147 feet and less down to motor pumps of the topolino (little mouse) size. Some pumpers carry individual water tanks. Others are tank trucks without pumps. A small portable boat in the central fire station can be carried on a trailer to the Tiber River, which looks more like a canal. Among the miscellaneous fire engines are such specialties as foam trucks, a crane (55 tons), two ambulances, a floodlight and ventilation truck, a wrecker, rescue wagon with inhalation equipment, 11 transport carriers, one bus, 7 motorcycles, 9 officers cars, air compressor truck, acetylene torch truck, 7 vehicles with 15 KW generators, 2 radio service cars and a radio station.
Fire engines in Rome have no bells—sirens only—and a flashing red light which helps clear the way in cooperation with a very efficient traffic police.
Rome has no telegraph system. Alarms of fire—1,099 last year—reached the brigade via telephone by calling Rome 44444 or 55-555. Telephones in Rome have no call letters. In addition to the 1,099 fires last year, the brigade rolled to 163 calls for collapsed buildings, 193 for flooded cellars, 202 for ambulance service, and 905 miscellaneous runs—a total of 2,562 calls, aggregating 28,801 hours of service and requiring 17,898 man power with the use of 4,229 pieces of equipment. False alarms in Rome are unheard of.
Rome has no post fire hydrants. Instead, there are sidewalk outlets flush hydrants hidden in traps covered with hinged plates. The average pressure is 60 pounds. The water comes from a reservoir in the mountains. These outlets are found by means of a symbol painted on the facade of the building abeam of the outlet. The symbol is the letter “I” in a white circular 20-inch disc with black border.
The (canvas) hose lengths are 60 feet. Suction hose is 4.72 inches and the pumpers discharge 750 GPM.
The Fire Service throughout Italy is known as Corpo Nazionale Vigili del Fuoco (National Corps of Fire Watchers). It is organized on an efficient quasi-military basis. There are 92 separate corps (one for each Province) throughout the nation and all are under the General Director of the Ministry of the Interior, who is Prefect, Joseph Pieche. The Inspector General and Commanding Officer of the Central School of Instruction in Rome is Doctor-Engineer Fortunato Cini. The Chief of the Rome Fire Brigade is Osvaldo Piermarini, a veteran of World War I, who was later an officer in the Venice Fire Department and was transferred 16 years ago to Rome where he served as First Officer for 14 years prior to appointment as Chief of Brigade two years ago.
The National Fire College is located at the Capannella outside the walls of Rome and is near the Ciampino Airport. The airport has its own fire brigade. The training school covers an area of about 20,000 square yards. It contains several expansive new buildings of three and four stories. The drill tower is 84 feet. The predecessor fire school was destroyed in 1943 by the Luftwaffe. The new school has the touch of the proverbial “fine Italian hand” and when completed (now 95 percent finished) it will be the pride of the scientific fire fighting profession of the world.
Dr. Cini and Commandante Piermarini just beamed with pride as they piloted this reporter about the grounds and through the various buildings and explained* the numerous features of the course of studies and practical training.
The curriculum embraces, in addition to the ordinary “know-how” of the extinguishment, the technique of fire fighting with the use of breathing apparatus. There are no “smoke-eaters” in Rome. All firemen carry a breathing mask. They put them on when they feel the need, according to one’s endurance.
Other subjects on the college agenda are building construction, hydraulics, electricity, chemistry, photography, air conditioning, etc. The school lias a library filled with technical books; a room for conferences, calisthenics, officers club, writing room, music room, billiard room, dining room, and a bar. The dormitories are “palatial.” There is also an infirmary and a chapel. Saint Barbara, the Patron Saint of Fire Fighters, is the subject of one of four large mosaics on the facade of the new Fire College. The others depict fires, wrecks, floods, and salvage—all jobs done by the fire brigade. The Rome Tire Department holds an annual memorial service with a parade. Names of all fire fighters who fell in action are on a memorial plaque.
The school is divided into three groups: officers: non commissioned officers; and the men. All officers must be engineers and attend the school for six months. They have a thorough knowledge of the main industries in all parts of the country.
Firemen are not promoted to officer status. Italian Army vets are preferred if they have five years of elementary schooling. They must be skilled in some trade or craft that is connected with building construction. They are appointed at the age of 20 and ran retire on pension at 52 or earlier for disability or for what is called “privileged pension.” Height requirement is 5 1/2 feet with weight in proportion. Recruits who pass successfully through four months in the school are assigned to locations of their choice in the order of rating in the final examinations in written and practical subjects.
*Thanks to an efficient and personable interpreter. Miss Vera Franceschi, San Francisco. born concert pianist.
Average pay for firemen is 33,000 lire ($53) a month and more for each child in the family. They work 24 hours and are off 24 hours.
Prefect Joseph Pieche, General Director of the Ministry of Interior, said that since the size of the Italian Army is on a reduced basis under the terms of the treaty of Peace, the fire fighting reserves have been increased considerably so as to provide the nucleus for trained technicians.
The Rome Fire Department is not spectacular. It has science instead of showmanship. Rome newspapers seldom emblazon fire headlines—they have no .spectacular fires. They prevent them instead!