HOW FIREMEN ARE TRAINED
Former Chief Instructor H. W. McAdam, of the New York city fire department, who has just resigned his post after twenty years’ service, was the first member of the department to hold that position, and, with the exception of four or five battalion chiefs in Brooklyn, every officer and man at present doing duty as a paid fireman has been drilled by him. That means that some 35,000 men, including former Chiefs Bonner, Shay, and Croker. and Acting Chief Purroy, have graduated from his school. In addition to these, twenty-five men have been to New York from as many different States in the Union for sixty days’ training, at the end of which period they, in their turn, have instructed the men of as many fire departments in those methods which are altogether peculiar to Instructor McAdam, who has, besides, been sought out by many commissioners from abroad and many foreign chiefs of fire brigades from the old world and from the Antipodes, all of whom are now training their men as they learned from him.
The school originated in 1882, after a disastrous fire had taken place in one of New York’s high buildings. None of the ladders could reach the flames, in consequence of which people had to drop from the window sills—many to their death— or fall back into the fierce fiery furnace behind them. The first instructor was Chris Hoell, of New Orleans, inventor of the pompier scaling ladder, to instruct the firemen of this city in its use Lieutenant McAdam, as the former chief instructor then was, was foreman of engine company No. 21. and one of the first set of volunteers who offered himself for training. On Hoell’s departure for New Orleans, the latter recommended him for chief instructor. He was appointed by the commissioner, and was retained in that capacity till the dav of his resignation. His course of training is spread over sixty days, of which thirty are devoted to firefighting methods and thirty to life-saving. The success of the school has been phenomenal. Of the 35,000 men who have passed through it only five per cent, have failed, and these because they lost their nerve, not because the instructor rejected them. Just so long as a man was willing to stick to practising he was kept at it, till by the end of the sixty days there was nothing in the way of climbing, leaping, and life-saving that he was not able to accomplish. The first stage in teaching is devoted to operating the scaling ladders. The men are shown how to raise the ladder to hook it on to the window sill so that it may not slip, how to climb it to fasten themselves to the top, how to pass a ladder, make connections, and go up one story higher, till at last, however high the building may he, they are able to get a chain of ladders to its top. Next comes straddling and standing on window sills, and swinging from window to window. This is followed by a course with the life-line, down which they are taught to slide alone or carrying another fireman. Dummies representing human beings are also utilised as burdens, some of them weighing as many as 100 or 175 pounds. This is probably the most difficult part of the training, as the men must learn not to drop their load when halfway down the ladder or life-line. When once proficient at this they cannot drop anyone whom they are carrying down without also falling themselves. There is not so much trouble when the person being rescued is conscious. As a rule he or she hangs on like grim death—too tightly, generally speaking. The hard part is when they are unconscious, and lie like a dead weight in the fireman’s arms. But the men have been taught a method of holding the victims of smoke and flames, by which it is impossible for them to let the persons go, no matter how difficult the descent. The fireman who has once got hold of someone to be rescued, if he acts up to his trainer’s methods, must bring his burden to the ground or else fall with it. The Bonner life-saving net is the next piece of life-saving apparatus with which they come in contact, and although it is not intended primarily for firemen, yet they are taught how to jump down into it, in order that they may at the same time learn how to hold it properly. The men jump into it one after another in turn from as high as the fourth story. It is somewhat risky, but in all these twenty years there have been only four accidents, and none of these fatal nor sufficiently serious to disable the man more than tern porarily. Chief McAdam does not pretend to deny that many of the green men arc frightened on first attempting to scale a high building. Yet, within four weeks after leaving the school these very men will be winning medals for bravery or having their names inscribed on the Roll of Honor for some plucky achievement. They saw what the older firemen did, and soon were able to do whatever any one else did.
It must be remembered that as no two fires are alike in every particular, so the instructor must study the peculiarities of those at which he is present, attending to their several varying points, summing them up and explaining them to his class, and teaching the men how to behave under similar conditions. It may also he noticed that every company is drilled alike, and that no more training is bestowed on one than another. Nor must it be for gotten that while the civil service has done much for the New York city fire department, its value would be increased (former Chief McAdam holds), if more credit were “given for physical and less for mental development. At present the mental examination stands for sixty-five per cent., the physical for thirty-five. As a result, young men just out of school, with muscles untrained and unaccus tomed to hard, steady work, head the list. Men who have worked all their lives, longshoremen, sailors, truckmen, and machinists, because they are not specially prepared for examination questions, find themselves at the foot. No one knows more than myself that you can’t make a good fireman out of one who is mentally weak; but every time give me a chap of ordinary intelligence, with muscles of steel and a nerve tried by hard work. If they would even up the percentages—say, half and half, fifty per cent, mental and fifty per cent, physical. we should recruit a better class of firemen than those the civil service sends us today.”
The illustrations accompanying this article are as follows: Instructor McAdam training firemen to use the life-net—the instructor is in the foreground on the extreme left; training firemen to shoot the life-line—the instructor is on the extreme right (the above two by courtesy of the proprietary of the New York Tribune) : pompier ladder drill, with the instructor in the foreground.