How the Efficiency of Fire Departments May be Improved
NEW YORK, AUGUST, 1921
Efficiency without co-operation is impossible. Accuracy in definition, clarity of expression, and implicit obedience, are essentials of effective co-operation.
IT seems hardly appropriate to issue the first instalment of serious study matter at mid-summer, hence the article in this issue, of the technical department, is of a lighter character than those to follow.
There are many questions of a semi-technical character which may fittingly be considered in the technical department, and the present seems an appropriate time for the development of one of these questions. In the foreword, which appeared in the July issue of this magazine, it was stated: “There is no purpose to question the contention that sufficient may be learned from practical experience to enable men to fulfill, in a fairly satisfactory manner, the duties which devolve upon fire officers in districts wherein residential buildings predominate, but it is contended that much more is, at least desirable, in fitting men for the task of successfully solving the problems of fire control that are presented by the conditions encountered in commercial districts.
From this may be seen that the writer wishes to distinguish between the educational needs of officers who are destined for service in business and manufacturing districts and those who serve in residential districts. This distinction is deemed necessary not because the education recommended for officers in commercial districts would not be good for those serving in residential districts, but rather in answer to objections that will be raised by officers who have seen little or no service in commercial districts, and who are entirely satisfied that the educational opportunities now accorded to fire officers are fully adequate to fit them for the proper performance of their duties.
We do not believe that a statement ever has been made that is clearer or more forceful than the one with which Chief Flanagan introduces this article. Every man can well memorize it, for it cannot fail to be a guide in all circumstances —Editor.
A variety of conditions, affecting fire control, not encountered in residential districts, prevail in commercial districts. Conditions which render it especially desirable that the fire officers who are to deal with them should be men of well trained minds. Conditions, the proper surmounting of which, necessitates, among many ofher things, smooth working co-operation among the members of companies and between the various companies.
Problems of fire control encountered in residential districts are for the most part extremely simple and may be dealt with in a fairly satisfactory manner by any one of reasonable intelligence and vigor, who is familiar with the equipment and appliances of the fire department, and who has observed how others have handled similar fires. None of the grave problems of fire control that are encountered in commercial districts prevail. Rooms are small, access to them and to buildings is easily gained, the location of fire can generally be seen and the proper procedure is almost always evident to the lay-man, it is seldom that more than one or two streams are necessary to subdue a fire in a residence building.
There are four classes of fires encountered in residential buildings which present difficulties of some gravity, and gives rise to a question of the sufficiency of experience alone as a teacher of the fire officers that have to deal with them. After careful consideration, however, I am of the opinion, that it would be unprofitable for a city to incur any especial expenditure in the education of fire officers whose services are rendered in resident districts, except, perhaps, in the case of chief officers. The four classes of residential district fires that present especial difficulties are:
- fl) Stair hall fires in tenements, hotels, etc., with wooden stairsT
- (2) Cellar fires in old tenements, hotels, lodging houses, etc.
- (3) Fires in any kind of multi-tenanted structures which extend to courts or light shafts before the arrival of the fire department.
- (4) The conflagration hazard fire of frame building districts.
Difficulties encountered at fires of this character are of a visible, tangible nature and may, and must, be overcome by prompt and vigorous action, in the direction of which no very fine deductions are necessary.
Among the problems of fire control encountered in commercial districts are many of an elusive, intangible, complicated character, which often require the closest possible reasoning and the finest discrimination in order to determine how best they may be solved. They are solved at present, it is true, but the rough and tumble methods employed are costing a good many millions annually; as will become quite evident to any one whe follows these articles.
Before further substantial progress can be gained in the development of efficiency in fire departments it is essential that the officers be so trained that they may be able to build up and develop an organization capable of operating in close fitting and smooth running co-operation. The importance of developing capacity for co-operation in the fire service can hardly be overestimated. The proper performance, of the duties of a fire company, at a fire in a large commercial building, is as dependent upon co-operation among the members of that company as the successful performance of a trapeze act is dependent upon co-operation among the members of the performing acrobatic troupe. It is true that the members of many fire companies display very creditable co-operative ability in the performance of company work, and upon the whole, the deficiency in fire fighting displayed by fire departments is due more to want of co-operation between companies than to any defect in the co-operative capacity of members of distinct companies.
Chief officers may be observed putting streams in operation from the outside of buildings under circumstances that would indicate that they have given very little thought to the nice distinctions in strategetic operations, while few company officers seem to realize how a stream from the outside may increase the difficulties of companies trying to get at the seat of the fire on the inside. The prime cause of all these errors is want of a comprehensive understanding of a common procedure, i. e,, want of the faculty that would enable men to co-operate effectively. Discipline is another matter that is rendered difficult, not to say impossible, for want of a common understanding among fire officers. To bring home the true significance of this latter statement it may be necessary to state what the objects of discipline, in its military sense, and as it should be applied in fire service are:
(1) To instil into men confidence in their officers. (2) To promote confidence and stability among men, themselves. (3) To enable officers to hold the weaker of their men up to the performance of dangerous or disagreeable tasks. Discipline of this character cannot be produced by fear; it is of slow growth and has its inception in outward manifestations of respect for authority that is fairly and intelligently exercised.
Tt is essential to the development of discipline of this character that the manifestations of respect, out of which it grows, are recived with uniform consideration and unwavering approval. Where manifestations of respect as a salute are received with contempt or with a display of indifference or an yform of disapproval, rancor, not respect, is aroused in the heart of the saluter. It would be much better for the discipline and general efficiency of fire departments if the rule requiring the salute were revoked until some method is devised of compelling officers to recognize the salute in the manner in which it is always recognized by gentlemen. Which, in military and naval circles, is by a dignified and properly executed return salute.
It is not, however, in the work of fire fighting nor vet in the matter of discipline that the efficiency of the fire service is most seriously damaged by want of cooperation. It is rather in the work of fire prevention that the absence of co-operation causes the greatest loss. The extent to which the work of fire prevention may be enhanced, by the development among firemen of uniformity ofinterpretation, coupled with ability to co-operate, is one of the major topics in the subject of scientific fire control. But it is a topic so big, so many sided, and so delicate, that it can only be touched upon in an article of this character. It is want of uniform agreement among firemen, upon specific features in the subject of fire control, that has rendered it impossible for legislatures to enact fire prevention laws that are at once sufficient, suitable, and comprehensive. Nor can suitable and comprehensive laws, upon fire control, ever be enacted until there is something like agreement among fire officers upon the various phases of that subject. Uniformity of interpretation is essential to uniformity agreement and both are prime requisites of ability to co-operate. There is yet another essential requisite of co-operation. That is implicit obedience to orders, for while there is diversity in the manner in which orders are carried out there can be no effective co-operation. To meet this latter requirements it mav frequently be necessary for officers to subordinate their own judgments and to base their actions upon exact interpretation of orders.
Anyone having even slight familiarity with the work of building inspection knows that there is not a fire department in any of our large cities that has a definite policy in this phase of fire control and a staff of inspectors who understands the laws and who are in agreement upon their application.
Although, as may be seen from a survey of the editorial columns of any one of our great metropolitan dailies, fault finding is the most popular form of present day literature, still a sufficient amount of carping, for one issue, has been indulged in. This seems true even though the issue be a mid-summer one, and midsummer the period when the jaded mind is peculiarly susceptible to the receipt of solace from the criticism of others. For the remainder we will endeavor to point out the manner in which the defects, to which attention has been called, may be remedied.
What can be done to promote co-operative ability among fire officers is the question that naturally springs to the mind as a result of the conditions to which attention has just been called.
In no other circumstances, perhaps, does the significance of the proverb “a fool can find more fault than a wise man can mend” come to the mind with greater force than when, after poining out the defects in the operations of a great organization, you pause to consider the remedies that may be applied.
So far no program has been discovered or devised whereby staffs of highly efficient managerial officers can be secured. It is highly significant, however, that the only armies and navies that have survived the race old struggle for supremacy are those in which the officers have been accorded the advantages of extensive liberal mental training. It is also significant that those to whom we refer in grave trial are members of professions that maintain exceptional educational standards. These circumstances, coupled with many others that might be mentioned, lead unavoidably to the conclusion that oganizations officered by men of learning are, upon the whole, more efficient and reliable than organizations officered by men who force their way to recognization under any other system of selection.
It is unnecessary to offer proof that American people understand the advantages of securing the services of persons of liberal training for the direction of important work, but, how fully, deep thinking people appreciate this understanding should aid firemen to an appropriate recognization of its completeness. If we wished to quote men’s words in proof of the value of mental training, selection might be made from those of almost any man who gained international fame from Solomon or Caesar to Wilson, Harding or Lloyd George. But it seems better to let actions speak in this matter, for when the motive for an action is understood the truth is always discernible. By analyzing the motive of that master publicity getter, Mr. Edison, in the matter of his now famous questionnaire, it may easily be seen that he fully appreciates the understanding of the American people in this particular.
When a man suddenly changes his policy it is never well, for those who are interested, to accept his word for the purpose of the change, better inquire into the conditions and see, if possible, what marked change has taken place in the man’s circumstances or business. If this test be applied to Mr. Edison’s affairs it is found that in the management of the manufacturing and sales departments the same conditions prevail as have prevailed during the growth and development of his great industries. But it is found that in one particular there has been a very decided change in recent years, that is, in the amount of free advertising that Mr. Edison and his enterprises have been receiving from publications. The war, international relations, labor troubles, the shipping board, profiteering, Henry hord, etc., etc., pushed Mr. Edison out of the limelight. Many things, in addition to the need, go to show that it was for this publicity, and not to select a bunch of poll-parrots as managers, that Mr. Edison prepared the questionnaire. The question, then, is why did not Mr. Edison get the greatest possible amount of advertising out of his bid for it. This is the sole phase of the subject in which we are especially interested. Had Mr. Edison scoffed at and derided college men he would have gained far more publicity than he has, but lie is keen enough student of men to know that public confidence, in the college man, is so deeply seated that not even his own great prestige would save his proposition from ridicule, were he to venture so far, and ridicule is the one treatment that makes even free advertising undesirable.
Although the need for more extensive training for fire officers, to serve in commercial districts, is very evident, still if there were in operation, or on an advanced stage of preparation, a school, or other institution, for their more comprehensive training w’e might well adhere to present methods of education pending the advent of officers from that institution. But as there is no such institution in existence, or in prospect, it behooves us to furnish the best substitute within our command. The best that seems possible at present is to develop the principles involved in fire control, reduce these principles to rules, and separate those that are of universal application from those of more limited scope.
If firemen will master the principles just referred to, and the scientific principles involved in fire fighting operations (which latter is already available) they will possess the essentials for the development of fire fighting into a scientific engineering profession. Yet this knowledge will prove of little value, except to aid those possessing it to excel in promotion examinations, until firemen also develop the faculty of co-operation. To the development of which faculty the following are essential:
- (1) That each evolution executed and operation performed, and each appliance, implement and tool used, be known by one and by only one name.
- (2) That verbal orders be issued in language so clear, concise, definite, exact, and explicit, as to leave no excuse for their being mis-interpreted.
- (3) That written orders be so worded as to bear but one logical interpretation.
- (4) That officers be held responsible for the proper interpretation of all orders and for seeing that they are obeyed in exact conformity with their wording.
Or, as this thought is conveyed in the introductory phrase:
Accuracy of definition, clarity of expression, and implicit obedience, are essential to effective co-operation. Co-operation is the prime requisite of efficiency.