Insurance Companies vs. Volunteer Firemen.
A destructive fire recently occurred at Clinton, Ill., near the Illinois Central depot, breaking out on a very windy day in the attic of the Ziegler hotel. To save contiguous buildings, all of which were of wood, and the hotel itself from complete destruction, required the hardest fighting yet known in the history of this department. Several of the firemen were hadly hurt, and many of them, in addition to losing their time and undergoing the severest and most dangerous exertions, had their clothes ruined ; but the building and contents were saved to such an extent that the loss to the insurance companies did not exceed $2000.
The department appointed ex Chief Moffett, one of the founders of the Illinois Association, to call on the adjusters and solicit a small donation for the department whose services are entirely voluntary, and whose treasury is only replenished by the occasional contributions of generous and appreciative citizens. The committee was politely informed by the pompous spokesman of the well-fed corporation which has grown fat by the salvage of brave firemen, that his company would not do this ; that to donate anything to volunteer firemen would he a bad precedent and cause the companies to be often called upon for money. This answer indicates, first, by the readiness and promptitude of its utterance, that there is a concerted understanding among insurance companies to do nothing whatever for volunteer firemen, ami, secondly, it iadicatcs with strange divertment of hypocrisy the governing principle actuating all such corporations, properly called by a great legal author “soulltss”; trying to get all they can, to get it in any obtainable way, to hold on to it and treat with contemptuous disregard any such thing as the sent’ment of justice, gratitude and generosity, and further, to yield up nothing unless compelled to do so by the strong arm of the law. Yet there is no law by which this could he done, and the mere attempt to pass such a law would doubtless cause a swarm of lobbyists 10 descend upon the legislature from these corporate interests like b’acksbirds on a cornfield.
It is proper that the gallant volunteer firemen, who show by their constant benevolent and unrequited sacrifices the greatest charity for the ingratitude of howling croakers at a fire, should know these facts and not be impelled to lavish the same charity on non-resident cormorants who feast and grow fat, or at least are prevented from growing poor, under the protecting arm of the heroic firemen’s service.
The statistical department of the Illinois Firemen’s Association has endeavored in the last year or two to show with some degree of approximation the amounts annually saved to insurance companies by firemen, and the sum, on any basis of calculation, reaches up into millions. As an instance, a leading company has done an extensive business in Ottawa for twenty years, and in all that time has paid but $38 in losses. Yet its insured patrons have been repeatedly exposed to fearful fires.
The answer of the company’s representative could lie clearly put in these words: ” We don’t have to ; we are only interested in the revenue we get from these towns ; we are not responsive to any such foolery as justice, generosity or gratitude ; we don’t give up more than we have to.”
It is not to he argued that insurance companies, even when they have been spared awful losses, should make a business of dividing swag with the firemen, but by imitating the chivalrous largeness of heart that many citizens show, they could deepen the friendship and encourage the knightly valor of the firemen instead of laying the foundation for an estrangement that might be most undesirable. These blunt refusals, or, rather, snubs, are numerous, so much so that the ordinary adjuster is in nearly all cases cocked and primed for the fireman, whose scars, whose sweat and blood, unrequited as they are, tell of his brave work.
Substantial gratitude is an oil that makes the wheels of duty run gladly, but the repeated absence of it will exhaust any sentiment of devotion or chivalry in time at least.
The idea of such rich corporations establishing the awful precedent of giving a few dollars to a volunteer fire department is explained by their subordinates by the ingenuous but false statement, that the companies are compelled, because of the gallant firemen, to reduce their rates of insurance in towns under volunteer fire protection. This will silence the casual inquirer who has not the means at hand to show its falsity. We have never been able to find a town in which fire companies have been organized where there has been a scintilla of variation in insurance rates. A cast-iron rule is adopted as to the cost of insurance on town, farm and other property, which is classed without any more regard to the presence of firemen in the town than the companies would exercise for the presence of a flock, of pigeons that might chance to make their nightly roost in the court house.
The salvage of all, or a great part of some buildings, as in the Ziegler hotel at Clinton, is not a criterion of the tremendous protection afforded insurance companies by firemen. All the contiguous houses were of wood and insured, but by timely and heroic exertion all were saved. Two of the firemen were severely injured ; one of the richest companies in the United Stales w’as spared thousands of dollars. This company was more the beneficiary of the fire service than even the transitory occupants, yet not one dollar of a simple donation could go to the volunteer firemen without establishing a desperate “precedent” that might greatly injure these suffering corporations.