How to Organize a Volunteer Department

How to Organize a Volunteer Department

THE subject of the Volunteer Fire Department organization and conduct is one of wide scope and is likely to cause differences of opinion. While the following are my own ideas, they are merely suggestive and not concrete.

It is the first duty of any community to form the organization of a township and proceed with the election of a set of officials. One of the first duties of the newly elected city officials is to look to the creation of a water system and a Fire Department.

In the matter of a water system, I advise that officials give this deep study and before the plans are formulated it is advisable to call upon the Board of Fire Underwriters, who will, upon request, send an engineer from their office to survey the town and advise upon the water supply requirements. This engineer will inform what size plant will be needed, the capacity of the mains, placement of fire hydrants and any other data necessary to create a water system that will be adequate to future needs.

This engineer will advise upon the requirements necessary for the purchase of fire department equipment, and will, in all probability, recommend either a combination wagon or pumper, according to the pressure of the water system attainable for the district.

We have found that a number of towns have built their water system and then called in the engineers from the Underwriters to make the necessary survey for fire insurance rates, only to find that their water system was not of the proper construction and capacity to give them the hoped-for insurance rates.

Suggested Fire Station

The Town Council should cause to be erected a building for Fire Department requirements, which should contain a room suitable for the storage of a fire truck, a room for meeting and club room purposes, and at least one sleeping room that will accommodate not less than two men. Fire apparatus should never under any consideration be stored in public garages or in any other place where there might be fire hazard, as the danger of fire to equipment is great and in case of fire in the building woidd seriously handicap the efficiency of the department.

Adequate provision should be made for a fire alarm system; there should be two systems in every town, if possible; the telephone system and one Gamewell Fire Alarm box system properly distributed about the town.

Hose and Ladder Equipment

The Council should take the necessary steps for the purchase of enough 2 1/2-inch fire hose to lay out two lines from the two nearest fire plugs to the seat of a possible fire in the business district. There should be several hundred feet of extra hose kept at headquarters in case of emergency. I recommend that at last oneseventh of the total footage should be supplied each year for replacement, this because we find that the smaller towns do not purchase the best grade of hose and the life of fire hose is about seven years. I believe this stagger system of purchase to be best, as it relieves the burden on the city of a complete new purchase of hose at one time, which might come when funds are low.

The town should also see to the purchase of the proper ladder equipment necessary to properly handle the work of the department. In small towns at least one 35-foot extension ladder, two 20-foot wall ladders and one 14-foot extension ladder. This equipment should be standard fire department ladders. This ladder equipment does not include a combination roof ladder, which is usually included in the purchase of apparatus. Some provision should be made for the transportation of these ladders, either by a small truck or a trailer.

Fire Apparatus

The smaller towns are purchasing combination fire wagons, and are doing away with the chemicals used in the past, and replacing with booster pump and tank. One advantage in this is that in answering rural alarms, the tank may be drained of water and refilled at the destination, therefore lightening the load. Most tanks are of 200-gallon capacity, and since water weighs 8 1/3 pounds per gallon, this means 1,600 pounds less weight in transportation.

In towns with less than 60 pounds pressure and adequate volume the purchase of a pumper of 350-gallon capacity is necessary, and a 500-gallon capacity is preferable. When apparatus is equipped with booster pumper tank there should be supplied about 200 feet of l 1/2-inch hose with shutoff nozzle.

The Council should pass the National Board of Underwriters building code covering buildings and electrical installations, and provide for their inspection by competent men.

Organization of Fire Department

An ordinance should be passed authorizing the organization of a Fire Department composed of a Chief and the necessary number of men, and giving the Chief proper authority to conduct the department and also authority to make all fire inspections.

It is my opinion that the first Fire Chief should be selected by the Mayor and confirmed by the City Council. A man should be sought for Chief who has had some experience along this line and who will be able to perfect the organization of the Fire Department. The term of office of the officers of the departmnt should be governed by the by-laws of the department, and I believe that they should be elected from the department each year. The department will need, besides the Chief, an Assistant Chief, a captain and a lieutenant for each company and a live-wire Secretary and Treasurer.

A department for a town of 500 population should consist of 20 men, and one of 1,000 population should have 30 men, and if the town be situated near a large city it will be necessary to have at least a one-third increase in the department, owing to the men working within the city and not being able to answer calls from the Fire Department.

Two-thirds of the department should be young men, who will form the working basis of the department, and the other one-third should be older men who will act as a balance for the department. I believe some of the older men should be influential business men and city officials, who will understand the needs of the department and work with it in securing these needs.

I believe there should be an enlistment limit to a department and in my town we have a five-year enlistment with no reenlistments, which gives us the younger men always and still retains on our honorary list the older men who have had experience and who can be relied upon to help out in an emergency.

Rules and Regulations

Every department will need rules and regulations by which it will be governed, and I venture to offer a few for the information and consideration of Fire Departments: The following rules have been provided and approved by the officers and members of the Kentucky Firemen’s Association, and I am much indebted to them for their assistance in compiling the following:


The members of……………………Fire Department in order to maintain a perfect union among themselves, establish discipline, define duty and promote the objects for which they are associated, do adopt the following code of laws for the government of this company.


Section 1. This company shall be known as………….. ………………….Fire Department.

Sec. 2. This company shall consist of…………men.


The officers of this company shall consist of: Chief, First Assistant Chief, Second Assistant Chief, Secretary, Treasurer.



This company shall have the following committees, each composed of six (6) members to be appointed by the Chief as soon after the annual meeting as is practical. All committees to serve for one year.


It shall be the duty of this committee to inquire rigidly into the character and competency of all persons making application to the company for active membership and report on the same in writing in the order in which they are received. It shall also be the duty of this committee to examine the books and accounts of the Secretary and Treasurer annually or whenever directed by the Chief and report on the same at the following meeting; also to examine and report at a subsequent meeting, or at the meeting then convened, all bills which the company may refer to it. It shall in connection with the Chief, cancel orders delivered to it by the Treasurer annually, and see that the same are properly filed with the Secretary. It shall also take a true and complete inventory of all company property immediately after appointment by the Chief, a copy of which shall be immediately thereafter submitted to the Mechanical and Electrical committee. This committee shall also prepare all amendments to the By-Laws, resolutions and advertising matter for all hose company events.


This committee shall take charge of all social affairs of the company: arrange the program for the Christmas Party and arrange for the Hose Company Carnival and all other events of the company.


This committee shall have charge of all company apparatus: maintain the alarm system at all times: recommend the purchase of new equipment when needed: report at the following meeting any misuse of the company property and investigate and report the applicability of all new apparatus suggested for the company.


This committee shall investigate the causes of all fires. estimate the amount of damage caused, amount of insurance covering the damaged property, the name or names of the owners, the address of the property and of the owner and keep an up-to-date report of all fires; check reports of fire hazards and report to the company: keep a record of the time of all fires, the time the apparatus responded to the alarm and the time of return and the number of members present at each fire; attend as many public gatherings in the town as possible and be on the alert to prevent fires at all times: make fire inspection as provided by the ordinance of the town.


This committee shall prepare a budget of the expected expenses and income of the company for the ensuing year, a copy of which shall be presented to the Town Board upon request by that body: it also shall apportion each month the amount of money to be deposited in each fund by the Treasurer; this committee shall be responsible to the company for the financial standing of the company at all times.


Section 1. The Chief shall be at the head of the department, subject to the state laws, the ordinances of this city, and the rules and regulations herein adopted. He shall be held responsible for the good order and efficiency of the department.

Sec. 2. It shall be his daily duty to examine the condition of the fire station, apparatus, hose and all other property of the department. In this connection he shall keep or cause to be kept in a permanent, accurate and neat form, records of the extent, nature and cause of fires, the amount of hose laid, apparatus used and the names of members attending. He shall also keep or cause to be kept an up-to-date record of all Fire Department property, and of supplies purchased, payrolls, and of all fire prevention inspections of buildings and their premises, fire hydrants, etc., and of schools and drills held and the names of members attending.

Sec. 3. The fire alarm signals shall be such as prescribed by the Fire Chief and it shall he his duty to test or have tested at a regularly designated time each day, the fire alarm system and to see that it is working properly.

Sec. 4. He shall inspect or cause to be inspected by members of the Fire Department, the fire hydrants and cisterns every three months, and, during the spring and fall inspection of each year, hydrants shall be flushed and oiled and fire cisterns examined, overflowed, and left full. During freezing weather cistern caps shall be salted and fire hydrant barrels examined to see that the latter are kept dry. Defective conditions shall be immediately reported to the proper authority.

Sec. 5. He shall thoroughly instruct and drill all members of the department at least monthly in the use of apparatus and equipment, in addition he shall also hold one or more meetings a month for the purpose of discussing fire prevention and fire fighting methods, state laws and ordinances, inspection of buildings by the entire department and life saving. The chief shall also familiarize himself and instruct all members as to conditions in the waterworks system, its possibilities, location and sizes of water mains, fire hydrants and other water supplies, and such other business in the line of duty. In this connection he shall cause to be safely and neatly filed publications, maps, etc., on fire prevention and protection and such other educational literature provided the department and to make use of it to the best advantage of all members.

Covered Fire Apparatus Made in England A covered type of fire apparatus was manufactured by Merrywrather & Sons, England, for Newark-on-Trent. It has scats in the front for driver and officer. On the inside are two seats placed lengthwise. The seats are provided with lockers for hose, tools first aid outfit, etc. Where the running boards would normally be placed are two additional lockers. A door is provided on each side of the driver's seat, but the rear of the body is open. The roof is streamlined shape, six feet high above the floor. In the center of the chassis is fitted a 165 g.p.m. pump.

Sec. 6. He shall attend all fires, when not providentially hindered or excused by proper authority and direct the officers and members in the performance of their duties.

Sec. 7. He may in his judgment suspend members from duty and shall make a report of such action to the proper authorities as soon as practicable thereafter.

Sec. 8. He shall report any officer or member of the department who for reason of age, disease, accident or other incompetence does not properly perform his duty.

Sec. 9. It shall be the duty of an Assistant Chief when so appointed, to yield ready and implicit obedience to all orders from his superiors, to familiarize himself with the rules and regulations of the Fire Department and compel all members under his command to do likewise. It shall be his duty to closely superintend the department under his charge and to do everything in his power for the best interests of the Fire Department.

Sec. 10. In the absence of the chief the assistant chief shall command the department, in his absence the senior captain, in the absence of a captain, the senior lieutenant shall command.


Section 1. A captain shall command his company and the first captain to arrive at a fire shall exercise command until the arrival of his superior officer.

Sec. 2. They shall preserve the discipline of their respective companies and instruct the members concerning their duties and see that each member knows the location, name and use of each piece of equipment.

Sec. 3. They must inspect all equipment, regularly and frequently with the driver or engineer and see that all of the equipment is clean, placed in its proper position and ready for service on the apparatus. In this connection once each month they shall make a report to the Chief on the condition of the apparatus, hose and other equipment under their charge.


Section 1. A lieutenant shall, in the absence of his captain, exercise the same duties and have the same powers as devolve upon the captain. At all other times he shall perform such duties as the captain may direct.


Section 1. Engineers and drivers must inspect their apparatus frequently and always after each run, also check the oil, gas, battery, water, and tires, and keep a record of the time in pumping and pressures maintained and make their report to the captain.

Sec. 2. Equipment found broken or needing attention as to minor repairs and adjustments shall be taken care of if possible by the engineers and drivers.

Sec. 3. The cleanliness of the apparatus, motor and pump is most strenuously insisted upon and after returning from fires the apparatus must be rinsed off before backing it into the station.

Sec. 4. When driving apparatus speed limits shall be such as are consistent with safety, considering traffic, weather and road conditions. Special care shall always be taken upon approach to all intersections, the apparatus kept under control and ready to stop. Violations of this rule shall be held as reckless driving and punishable by dismissal and liability for damages incurred. Should an accident occur the officer in charge will be held as responsible and the testimony of reliable eye witnesses, if any, taken to fix the blame. In the absence of an officer the driver is solelv responsible for his apparatus. In any event, the driver’s testimony shall be considered before fixing the blame.


Section 1. It shall be the duty of all members while on duty to give strict obedience to the lawful orders of the officers duly elected and appointed over them and under no consideration shall any attention be given to the orders, suggestions and criticisms of unauthorized persons.

Sec. 2. On alarm of fire, members in the neighborhood of the fire station shall promptly respond with the apparatus, others shall respond for service by the best possible route.

Sec. 3. All members must assist in the work of the department, whether it may be their assigned duties or not, and in the absence of any specific orders or apparent work to be done they shall report to the officer in charge of their company.

Sec. 4. At fires and drills when the work at hand is completed. all working tools and equipment shall be replaced in its proper position by its assigned members. After same is done all members shall help uncouple the water lines if laid and wet, roll up each section, and load on apparatus.

Sec. 5. No one not a member of the department unless authorized by the Chief shall be allowed to ride on the apparatus or to handle equipment. Each member is charged with the enforcement of this rule.

Sec. 6. The officer in charge shall ride on the seat at the side of the driver, ladderman on top of seat at the side of driver, the pipemen on the rear running boards, and all others on top of the apparatus. No member is permitted to ride on the side running boards, except with the permission of the Chief.

Sec. 7. The regular meetings and drills of this department shall be held at such regular time and place as may be directed by the chief. All members must attend. Any member absent from three successive meetings without permission shall be dropped from the roll.

At these drills the Chief or other officer in charge shall arrange and conduct such appropriate instructions as to increase the efficiency of the department. However at no time shall instruction periods spent be less in total than four hours per month.

Sec. 8. Fire prevention being one of the most important functions of the Fire Department, all members shall study and learn the State Standards of Safety, be at all times on the alert for fire hazards and take steps to have them removed.

Sec. 9. The fire station and all appurtenances and the premises in general shall be kept clean, orderly and in a sanitary condition. Every member of the department shall be held individually responsible for any act or negligence on his part which may contribute toward the violation of this rule.

Sec. 10. All members shall learn to fold and spread salvage covers and to use them to advantage on orders from the officer in charge, and after all fires, where possible, the premises shall be cleaned up and left in as orderly and safe condition as possible. When roofs are damaged and subjecting building contents to weather, temporary covering shall be provided until repairs are made.

Sec. 11. Each member shall keep his fire helmet, coat, hose hook and spanner, secured on the apparatus near the place where he rides. Boots shall be kept at home or in the fire station bedroom made up into “Night Turn Outs.”

All members are responsible for their fire clothing and tools and when resigning shall return all Fire Department property in their possession to the Fire Chief.

Sec. 12. All members shall notifv the chief when sick or when desiring to be excused from duty, and no member shall be permitted to leave a fire for any reason unless excused by the officer in command. Wandering around the fire grounds and engaging in unnecessary conversations with others will not be tolerated.

Sec. 13. Any member of the department may be dropped from the roll for any of the following offenses, to wit:

  1. Intoxication.
  2. Any act of insubordination.
  3. Any act of oppression or tyranny.
  4. Neglect of duty.
  5. Neglect or disobedience of orders.
  6. Absence from fire or drills without permission.
  7. Immoral conduct.
  8. Conduct unbecoming a gentleman.
  9. Any violation of the rules and regulations governing the department.


Section 1. For the purpose of teamwork and efficiency in handling the apparatus, all working tools and equipment, the Chief shall cause each captain to number and assign each member of his company to specified duties. In volunteer companies the company shall be divided in a suitable manner into the ladderman, pipeman, fire marshals, and engineers’ or drivers’ details respectively.

Sec. 2. Duties of Laddernian: The captain acts as the number one laddernian in charge of this detail, in his absence the number two laddernian, etc.

The duty of the ladderman shall be to quickly remove the axes, plaster hook and necessary ladders from the apparatus, carry them to the building and to use them there as directed. In a single engine company when a water line is ordered laid from the fire to a hydrant or cistern, all laddermen’s tools must be unloaded and laid at the curb nearest the fire before the apparatus leaves to connect for suction.

General duties of laddermen at fires shall be to make speedy rescues, raise ladders, ventilate burning buildings and open same for pipemen. When doing such work care should be taken that no unnecessary damage be done.

The laddermen shall keep their ladders and working tools clean, bright spots polished, working parts oiled and when assigned to hose and ladder carrying apparatus shall clean and polish that side of the apparatus upon which most of the ladders are mounted.

Sec. 3. Duties of Pipemen: The lieutenant acts as the number one pipeman in this detail, in his absence the number two pipeman, etc.

The general duties of a pipeman are to handle the small chemicals, the chemical and booster line and water lines, and to extinguish fire with the minimum amount of water damage. At fires in buildings the line shall be advanced into the burning building, if possible, and with the nozzle shut off and shall not be opened until actual fire is seen. When the main body of fire is extinguished, shut off the nozzle and clean up the balance with a section of small hose or a small tip on the shut-off nozzle.

When laying out a water line from a hydrant to fire as with a hose company, the highest numbered pipeman present pulls off one section of hose and wrench, connects hydrant and stands on the alert for the signal for water. After starting the water he will immediately report at the nozzle and straighten out any kinks in the hose on the way.

The apparatus arriving at the fire, after laying in from a hydrant, pull off hose enough to reach the fire with one section over, and when pulling it off, pull off in long section loops and do not pile in the street.

When laying a water line from the fire to a hydrant or cistern, as with an engine company, the lieutenant and the lowest numbered pipeman pull off hose enough to reach the fire as mentioned above for hose companies, (during this time if only a single engine company is in service, the laddermen’s tools are unloaded) and as the apparatus pulls away the two highest numbered pipemen present, or in their absence others who may be ordered, shall always ride with it and connect for suction. After connections are made and the water started, they report at the nozzle and on the way straighten out any kinks in the hose line.

The selection of the proper size nozzle tips shall be governed as follows for single lines:

On a short line up to 400 feet, connect a 1 1/4-inch nozzle.

On a medium line up to 800 feet, connect a 1 1/8-inch nozzle.

When a line is divided at a fire on a medium or long lay, connect two 3/4-inch or smaller tips.

For nozzle sizes of 1 3/8 to 1 5/8 two lines siamesed shall be used.

The pipemen shall keep their couplings, nozzles and fittings and chemical booster tanks clean and charged, all bright parts polished, and shall see that all working parts operate easily and properly: thev shall clean and polish the side of the apparatus opposite the laddermen.

Sec. 4. Duties of Engineers and Drivers: Number one, the chief engineer, is in charge in his absence, number two. etc.

On alarm of fire the first engineer reaching the apparatus will drive to the fire, but shall not depart until one officer and two members are ready to go with him. Arriving at the fire he will operate the pump or chemical tank valves or lay out such water line as may be ordered by the officer in charge.

Working pressures: When working the pumper on a water line, engine pressure shall be figured starting from the nozzle end of the line as per following rule:

For a 3/4-inch nozzle pump pressure equals 50 lbs. for each 100 ft. of hose in the line.

For a 1-inch nozzle pump pressure equals 50 lbs. plus 10 lbs. for each 100 ft. of hose in line.

For 1 1/8-inch nozzle pump pressure equals 50 lbs. plus 17 lbs. for each 100 ft. of hose in the line.

For l 1/4-inch nozzle pump pressure equals 50 lbs. plus 25 lbs. for each 100 ft. of hose in the line.

Should several lines be connected to the pump the proper pressure shall be figured on the longest line and the discharge gate cramped to a degree on the shorter line to give the approximate nozzle pressure of 50 lbs.

When a line is divided at a fire through a Y connection, pump pressures shall be figured as for a one and one-eighthinch nozzle on a single line.

For each 10 feet the nozzle is above the pumper add 5 lbs. to the pressure for each ten feet the nozzle is below the pumper, subtract this amount.

If larger nozzles are used, and lines siamesed, pump pressure is figured on one. line only in the layout as follows:

For a 1 3/8-inch nozzle pump pressure equals 60 lbs. plus 10 lbs. for each 100 ft. of hose in one line.

For a 1 1/2-inch nozzle pump pressure equals 60 lbs. plus 15 lbs. for each 100 ft. of hose in one line.

For a 1 5/8-inch nozzle pump pressure equals 60 lbs. plus 20 lbs. for each 100 ft. of hose in one line.

If more or less pressure is called for 20 pounds increase or decrease shall be given unless a specified amount is called for by the officer in charge.

Care shall always be taken by the engineer that he will not try to operate his pump at a greater capacity or pressure than that for which designed. Should the water supply be not enough or the hose layout connected in such a manner that the proper pressure cannot be maintained the attention of the officer in charge shall be called and the nozzle tips reduced or a better water supply obtained.

Particular attention and study shall be given the instruction manual sent with the apparatus by the manufacturer and that oil is changed when necessray, and other details of caring for the apparatus as a whole are given the proper attention.

At fires or drills those engineers not actually driving or operating the pump will ride on top of the apparatus and shall act as extra pipemen or laddermen as may be ordered by the officer in charge. Drivers of hose, ladder, or chemical apparatus shall act as extra pipemen or laddermen on arrival at fires, as the case may be.

When taking up at fires or drills the engineers and drivers shall check all equipment back on the apparatus and see that none is lost or left.

Sec. 5. Duties of Fire Marshals: The fire marshal and his deputies shall compose this detail. In the absence of the chief fire marshal the next ranking deputy in numerical order shall be in charge.

The general duties of the fire marshals shall be, on alarm, of fire, to proceed to the scene of the fire in the most quick and direct route. Arriving they shall take charge of the fire scene, prevent interference with the department, driving over hose, etc. Should furnishings and merchandise be removed from buildings they shall see that it is placed safely, covered if possible, and allow no unauthorized persons to molest such materials.

After the fire is extinguished, they shall see that the building is secured, and the proper owners or occupants left in charge. Should none be present a guard should be secured to watch the premises.

In case of suspicion or incendiary fires, they shall, working in conjunction with the Police Department immediately secure all evidence possible relating to cause of the fire, such as the plant itself if possible, photos of actual conditions found upon extinguishing the fire, names of persons connected with the case, etc. This evidence should then he carefully preserved for future use in the case.

(From a paper read before the Third Annual Fire College of the Colorado State Firemen’s Association.)

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