HOW NEW CHIEF RAISED HIS DEPARTMENT TO HIGH EFFICIENCY
On Taking Hold He Found It in Poor Condition, as to Discipline and Methods—How He Went About the Accomplishment of Wonders
WORK in the organization of a fire department which has, fallen below par as regards efficiency is of great interest and the accomplishments of Chief Joseph W. Fisher in restoring the fire forces of Dubuque, Ia., to a standard of fire fighting which should make them second to none, as told by himself, contains much that should be of help and inspiration to other chiefs similarly situated.The first experience Chief Fisher had in the line of fire fighting was when in November, 1898, the then head of the Nashville, Tenn., fire department, Chief Carrell, appointed, him as the department’s mascot at the age of ten years. In referring to this appointment, Chief Fisher says that no promotion or appointment since received by him has brought one-hundredth part of the pride which this act of Chief Carrel I gave him. In March, 1907, Chief Fisher joined the Nashville department as a regular member. After eleven years of service he resigned on September 15, 1918, and on September 30 of that year entered the government service at the Old Hickory Powder Plant at Jacksonville, Tenn., as fire inspector. On July 13, 1919, he was appointed assistant chief of the fire department of this plant and on September 11 of the same year received the appointment of chief. He retired from the government service on December 15, 1920, accepting the appointment as chief of the Dubuque fire department, and moved to that city on January 15, 1921,, and took up his duties. What he accomplished in the Dubuque department is best told in his own words :
After a careful study of the Dubuque department, I realized that a number of changes would be necessary before the department could be built into an efficient fire fighting machine and the work of reorganization was at once begun. The officers of the Dubuque department consisted of men who had been in continuous service from twenty-four to twenty-nine
tears and who ranged in years of age from fifty-eight to sixtyfive. These officers, while being of the finest type at individuals, had reached an age where it would be next to impossible to instill into them modern fire fighting methods and very little assistance could be expected of them in the work or reorganization. I found it necessary therefore to ask that these men be placed on pension and younger and better qualified men be appointed as officers in their stead.
While in the government service I was obliged to come in constant contact with all classes and types of men and there formed the habit of studying these men individually and speculating on their qualifications to become officers; this practice assisted me greatly when selecting the men who should become officers of the Dubuque fire department; as being in Dubuque but a short time and not having had an opportunity to become acquainted with the men personally, or to thoroughly investigate each man’s qualifications, I was obliged to trust almost entirely to judgment when selecting my new officers. Right here I wish to state, that in this selection, I have not been disappointed, as each man selected has developed into a capable and efficient officer.
Realizing that the department was in need of additional men and equipment before beneficial results could be obtained, I went before the city council and explained my needs. I requested that twenty-four additional men he appointed, but due to the financial condition of the city at that time, it was necessary to reduce this number to eighteen, which were appointed. When the city manager notified me of his intention to add the eighteen men to the department, I recommended that a competitive examination be held and that the men be selected according to their qualifications, both mentally and physically, in this way making it possible to secure men of ability for firemen.
I was successful in having a new pumping engine purchased, also considerable equipment, such as hose, turret nozzles, deluge set, cellar distributing nozzles, and numerous pieces of minor equipment.
Another matter of importance that I immediately noticed, was the lack of training in the department and the lack of team work among the men. This was especially noticeable when working at fires. I organized a systematic method of training and within a few weeks the benefit of this was apparent. Within a year after the training had been begun the men advanced in their work to an extent where they were considered the best drilled firemen in the state. A spirit of friendly competetion exists among the different companies, as a result of the training and the aim of each is to outdo the other. This friendly feeling among the officers and men has greatly increased efficiency and discipline.
My next step was the organization of a fire prevention bureau, the need of which was plainly visible Prior to my arrival in Dubuque, building inspections were held twice a year, or in the spring and fall, the result being neglected hazards which were allowed to exist during the greater part of the year and were responsible to a great extent for the large loss from fire in Dubuque.
Under our plan of continuous and systematic inspection it is impossible for the careless business man to get by with building or premises that are congested with waste material and which are in danger of causing fire. Out of the first one thousand inspections made in 1921, it was necessary to issue eight hundred orders for the removal of inflammable waste material; but since the people have become accustomed to the firemen calling, the cases are rare where conditions are found bad enough to necessitate the serving of a written order IO clean up. Our inspection work has been responsible for a reduction in the number of fires and our losses have been greatly reduced.
The department school, which was organized in 1921, is another branch of the service that has increased the efficiency of the department. The subjects taught in the school fit the men for advancement and when a man is called in to take the examination for a promotion he knows his stuff. Prior to my coming to Dubuque all promotions were made according to senority and men were often selected as officers who were not qualified to fill the positions. This method of advancement discouraged study among the younger men; as they felt that to become an officer, they must wait until the men holding senority rights above them must be taken care ofbefore they would have a chance. Officers are selected now according to their qualifications, rather than their years’ of service. The older man, however, is given preference if his rating is on an equality with the men who have seen less service.
To our city manager, O. E. Carr and to the members of our city council is to be given a great deal of credit for the strides forward, made by the Dubuque fire department, as they have been very generous in their co-operation. City Manager Carr, serving under the laws of the city manager governing cities, automatically becomes official head of various departments of the city, one of which is the fire department and too much credit cannot be given Mr. Carr for his efforts to build up the Dubuque fire department, as he has expended his personal energy and every dollar available, few the purchase of equipment for the department and also toward paying the firemen a living wage, he is stern when necessity demands, hut otherwise kind and considerate of the men and always willing to assist them in a difficulty.
(Continued on page 181)
How Chief Raised Department’s Efficiency
(Continued from page 178)
I have gone to considerable length in writing this article, hut being enthusiastic over my achievements, I am desirous, through the courtesy of your magazine, perhaps encourage some other fireman who reads this article, and who like myself, a few years ago. was holding down a job on the home town department as a private, possibly arouse his enthusiasm and cause him to prepare himself for bigger things.