Fire Extinguishment and Business interests.
In our report last week of the annual dinner of the veteran firemen we were unable to produce the following very able speech of Simon Brentano:
It is certainly to be esteemed a distinction to be permitted to address this gathering—so deeply significant of a great, constant and essential force in all our municipalities, and to speak, however briefly, of the importance of efficient fire extinguishment in its direct relation to business interests.
On a previous occasion I have expressed the conviction that the business community of the city of New York owes to its fire department a debt that cannot be extinguished. Assuredly this debt has not become diminished—indeed, it has increased, and the opinion may be freely hazarded that it is one of the few obligations that all merchants will cheerfully suffer to rest over them. It may be said that it is a liability of which they never wish to acquit themselves but which, on the other hand, they will gladly owe permanently and acknowledge with gratitude to a dutiful and efficient fire department.
The conditions of to-day impose the maintenance of efficient fire departments. No American city can hope to achieve an abiding growth in population, in manufacture and commerce unless it has a capable fire service. None need hope to attain a place among our great municipalities, and to maintain it, unless it accords, supports and recognizes constantly the importance of that potent factor in its daily life—the modern fire department.
In no other land as in ours have the conditions of temperature, of building construction, of area and height of buildings, and the changing condition of human affairs presented such problems in practical fire extinguishment. The conversation of our material wealth is largely in the hands of our firemen who have been alert, determined and masterful in their resourceful and manifold accomplishments in meeting and mastering emergencies. They have transformed the act of fire extinguishment from an uncertain, disorganized effort to a positive result at the hands of a skilled, disciplined and intelligent army. They have converted the precarious means and methods attending the fire service of early days, and they have created the modern art of fire extinguishment—for fire extinguishment is a profession. It is a science nurtured peculiarly under the necessities of American conditions and brought near perfection by the active resources and intelligence of the American fireman.
The belief that any able-bodied man has the capacity to be a fireman and that the duties demanded are those requiring physical labor alone, is erroneous. There is no other human calling on which hang such far-reaching consequences, such fateful results, and where, in event of error, the matter is so utterly irreparable ; no other human calling in which so much depends upon doing the right thing in the right manner at the right instant, as in the art of fire extinguishment.
It is not to my purpose to laud the work of our fire department. It is, however, no exaggeration to say that the problems confronting our municipal authorities in the densely settled wards of this city could not have been met except for the vigilant and successful work of our fire department, and that the manner in which a large body of our citizens is forced to live could not have been so free of calamities and loss of life except for the zeal and efficiency of our firemen in protecting and saving life.
No weather, no hour, no circumstances release them from the eternal vigilance of their work. To the ship making our harbor with fire on board, the department sends the fire boat; to our homes imperilled by flame it sends apparatuses. Our alien population to whom our language is unknown recognize in the department their guardian and savior. To the merchant, great or obscure, it extends the quick protection and control of fire that alone can foster business and that assures him freedom from calamity.
I will not venture into language to describe the skill, the judgment and the resources brought into play in the control and extinguishment of fires in our city. Business men are pleased to illustrate the magnitude of their transactions by arrays of figures, but figures will not so clearly do this service here, as to say that, commensurate with the growth of New York’s commercial greatness, the fire department of this city has aimed at least to make no halting step.
Of the 4000 fires a year, over 2000 are attended by men and apparatuses, extinguished, and the men and apparatuses back in their quarters ready for duty quicker than a correct alarm of fire could have been transmitted thirty-five years ago. At a recent fire in this city, there were assembled under a prearranged system of alarms in a space of time less than hitherto known, a larger number of companies than were ever massed in the same period, at any time in the history of the world.
And yet this department, while conscious of its resources, is alike within knowledge that it is dealing with an element, and it recognizes that every fire can mean peril, and strives and hopes that it may keep away the danger of a conflagration.
Let us hope with it, for the sake of the community, for the sake of its business interests, for the sake of our homes ; let us hope for the fame of our cherished city and its cherished department alike, that its masterful control hereafter may be not less than it has been in the past, and that the fire department of the city of New York may never be vanquished.