Fire Service Personnel
Manpower is a key factor in both fire suppression and fire prevention, the commission declared. Therefore, changes in the manning of fire departments “affect the ability of those departments to control life and property losses from fire.” The changes the commission referred to include entrance requirements, training, physical conditioning and the way manpower is deployed.
Equal opportunity in entering a fire department is demanded by the commission, which cited moral considerations and federal law, which calls for entrance requirements to be related only to performance requirements of the job. The commission observed that “many fire departments have quite some distance to go” to eliminate discrimination against hiring minorities. Too few entrance tests relate to the skills a fire fighter needs, while too many emphasize administrative skills that seem to be searching for a potential chief in every fire fighter applicant, the commission charged.
The determination of the commission to press for equal opportunity in both hiring and promotion was spelled out in this statement:
“In the administering of federal funds for training or other assistance to local fire departments, the commission recommends that eligibility be limited to those departments that have adopted an effective, affirmative action program related to the employment and promotion of members of minority groups.”
The commission declared, “It is not enough for fire departments to establish fair standards in hiring; they must reach out to minority communities and actively seek recruits.”
Management weakness cited
Entry into the fire service only as a recruit and promotion through the ranks were criticized in the report, which declared, “Most American fire departments are strong in leadership and weak in management expertise.” The system “has guaranteed good leaders,” the report continued, “but fire departments could profit from competition for certain leadership positions from outside fire departments” and departments “need qualified planners, whose expertise lies in fire protection engineering, operations research, and systems studies rather than fire fighting.”
The commission urged fire departments “to recognize advanced and specialized education and hire or promote persons with experience at levels commensurate with their skills.” The report noted that the experience of other types of organizations “shows that thinking can become stale and practices inbred when no outside entry is permitted.”
Retirement systems are a deterrent to both the lateral transfer of men and officers from one fire department to another and the hiring of men from outside the department at any level above recruit, the report stated. The commission urged the vesting of retirement rights and the transfer of retirement credits to encourage “greater opportunity for choice for fire fighters and officers.” The commission also urged that lateral transfer be studied in detail with the objective of finding “ways in which personnel can transfer between fire departments and retain all retirement rights.” This study, it was suggested, should be a project sponsored by the proposed U.S. fire administration.
Quality of training varies
Turning its attention to training, the commission asserted that improvements in this area “can favorably influence a department’s effectiveness—in saving lives, reducing property losses, and preventing injuries to fire fighters.” It is not difficult, the commission added, to see why the “quality of training given America’s fire fighters and officers varies widely.” It explained that “there are no training requirements for firemen, and only 15 states have training standards which all firemen must meet.
“For volunteer fire fighters there are no financial incentives and sometimes little opportunity to further their training. For paid departments as well as volunteer ones, training is an expensive undertaking that removes the trainees from useful service for a period of time. Many communities, if called upon to augment their fire department training, simply could not afford to.”
Therefore, the commission urged “a program of federal financial assistance to local fire services to upgrade their training.” To get this aid, fire departments would have to present a master plan for fire protection that substantiated the need for further training.