FIRE DEPARTMENTS AND BILLIARD TABLES.
Considerable talk has been created recently because of the dismissal of Fireman McGrath from the Fire Department, it being alleged that he was dismissed because he refused to purchase the interest of another Fireman in a billiard table belonging to the Company to which McGrath had been assigned. The funny man of the New York Times took advantage of the circumstance of McGrath’s application to the courts for re-instatement to write an alleged humorous article upon the subject, and criticising the Fire Commissioners for their action in dismissing McGrath. The fact is that this presentation of the case is an entirely erroneous one. McGrath was dismissed from the service for his disobedience of General Order No. 30, issued as far back as June, 1869, and signed by General Shaler. That order is as follows :
HEADQUARTERS FIRE DEPARTMENT,
OFFICE BOARD OF FIRE COMMISSIONERS.
NEW YORK, June 15, 1869.
GENERAL ORDER NO. 30.
The following preamble and resolutions adopted at a meeting of the Hoard of Commissioners held on the 14th inst., are promulgated for the information and guidance of the officers and men of the Department :
Whereas, The members of the several Companies have placed in their houses various articles of furniture and ornament which it is desirable should be retained with due regard to the rights of the various contributors, therefore.
Resolved, That each newly appointed officer or man shall purchase, on entering a Company, the share ot such property which belongs to his predecessor, and all officers or men transferred shall sell to’their successors, and purchase of those whose places they take, such interests in the propelty, etc., and that all persons resigning or dismissed front the Department, shall in like manner sell to their successors their inteiest in such property at its original cost, less ten per cent for each year’s use.
The wisdom of this order is readily apparent. The Paid Department had but recently come into existence. Under the old Volunteer system, various companies had gone to great expense in fitting up their houses, making them attractive and comfortable. Many of the old members of the Volunteer Department were retained under the new organization and, of course, retained their interest in the furniture of the respective houses. Such as were not retained in the organization were entitled to compensation for their expenditures on the furniture. They were so compensated by men who succeeded them. The new men thus acquired a proprietary right in the furniture of the houses. As the exigencies of their service required that they should be transferred from one house to another, or even dismissed from the service, it was simply a matter of equity that, on making such changes, the proprietary rights of individuals should be recognized, and the above order was issued in consequence.
The city of New York is extremely niggardly in its treatment of the Firemen so far as equipping their quarters goes. Beyond furnishing them beds and a limited number of chairs, the city provides virtually no furniture for the houses. The Firemen are obliged to make their homes in these houses, to spend their time there day and night, with limited intervals for meals. It is natural, therefore, that they should desire to surround themselves with some of the ordinary comforts, and also to provide themselves with means for obtaining recreation. In many instances this has been done, the men contributing irom their private purses to purchase carpets, chairs, pictures, books, billiard tables, gymnastic apparatus and other articles for their comfort, entertainment and improvement. When a member of a company which has thus provided itself is transferred to another company, it is but right and proper that his successor should purchase his interest in these articles ; but as some men are totally oblivious in matters of equity, it became necessary to compel them by general orders to recognize these rights. In the case of the above-mentioned McGrath, he was dismissed for a violation of this general order, he having refused to buy his predecessor’s interest in the furniture of the company to which he was assigned. It is true that among that furniture was a billiard table, which the company had purchased. When McGrath entered the service, he was sworn to faithfully perform the duties of a Fireman, and to conform to the rules, regulations and orders in force in the Department. If he were an intelligent man and had given the matter proper consideration, he knew of the existence of this order, and accepted the position with the full understanding that that was one of the orders to be obeyed. If he did not know of the existence of such order, it was his duty to know, and the plea of ignorance should not avail him.
As a matter of fact, the quarters of men connected with the New York Fire Department are furnished with less regard to comfort and convenience than any Firemen’s quarters we have ever visited. Little towns of five or six thousand inhabitants take a great deal more pride in the maintenance of their Fire Departments and the comfort of their Firemen than does the great city of New York, with its immense wealth, which it asks the Firemen to protect. In the cities of Albany, Troy, Syracuse, Rochester, and many other places in this State, as well as in other States, the Engine-houses have parlors and reading-rooms elegantly furnished with every comfort and convenience that gentlemen should surround themselves with. The fact that they are so well looked after developes an esprit de corps that could not otherwise be obtained. We wish that we had more of this in New York city. We should have more of it were it not for the frequent transfers that are made in the Service, at the request, usually, of outside politicians. It would be far better for the Service if the men were more comfortably cared for in their quarters. When any Company has sufficient pride to spend its own money to make its quarters worthy of the city of New York and the taxpayers, it should certainly be protected in its pecuniary interests, and the spirit manifested by McGrath should be deprecated, as it was in his case. It that spirit leads to a positive disobedience of orders, as in McGrath’s case, such punishment as was meted out to him was none too severe.