Giving Fire Commissioner Retirement Powers
A bill now before the New York City Board of Aldermen, which has met with strenuous opposition by officers and members of the fire department, gives discretionary powers to the fire commissioner to retire any member who reaches the age of sixty years. The one element of danger in this bill is the discretionary clause. If passed the bill would inject into the fire department the poison of politics and this would result in demoralizing the present splendid organization.
Aside from the merits or demerits of the question as to the fitness of a man to perform the duties of an officer or private in the fire department at sixty years, the powers vested in the fire commissioner by this bill would hold over the officers and men a powerful club, wielded by an official whose office is distinctly of a political nature, the personnel of which is apt to change with the complexion of every administration. Where one such official might use this power for the good of the service alone, his successor might be tempted to abuse the authority vested in him to rank political ends in the control of the department.
If any discretionary powers are to be vested in an individual as to the control of the .retirement of members, that individual should he the fire chief, who has usually risen from the ranks, knows his business and what is right and wrong for his department.
But one of the greatest evils of this hill is the power it gives the commissioner of removing the fire chief, when he has arrived at the age of sixty years. Chief Kenlon, with his vigorous personality and efficient capability, is in better shape mentally and physically to perform the duties of his office than ever before, and is an excellent example of why the hill under consideration is against the best interests of the city as a whole. The fire chiefs in this country under the age of sixty years are quite in the minority. The average fire chief has spent thirty or forty years of his life in attaining his present rank and it would not only be unfair to him to relieve him just as he has reached the top of the ladder, but just as unfair to deprive the community of the services of an official whose long experience means so much to its welfare.
It is well known that Chief Kenlon has kept the New York fire department out of politics during the twelve years that he has been at the head of the city’s fire-fighting forces. Chief Kenlon has never dabbled in politics and his clean, straight-forward, efficient way of doing things has made it hazardous business for politicians to interfere. The passage of the bill now pending will be the first step toward making a political mess of what is now one of the most efficient fire-fighting organizations in the world.