MUNICIPAL ECONOMIES MUST NOT BE AIMED AT FIRE DEPARTMENTS
Decreasing Size of Force or Operating Appropriation May Result in a Serious Financial and Industrial Loss to Community
WITH the paring of yearly budgets becoming a general practice by municipalities throughout the country, fire executives must courageously oppose slashes in appropriations to guard against undermanned and underequipped departments.
The Fire Department is one branch of the city government that does not have any less work to do because of the depression. In fact, the fire business is on the gain, accelerated by an unprecedented increase in fire of incendiary origin, a direct result of the depression.
If at any time during its organized existence the fire department needs men and equipment, it is today. With economy an absolute necessity for many communities, it would be entirely out of the question to ask for increased appropriations, but such a course would be much more sensible than braving disaster unprepared, the potentialities of fire.
Many facts emphasize the wisdom of making an exception of the Fire Department when swinging the economy axe. If business is to carry on with any prospect of success, industry must be protected so far as fire danger is concerned. If fire visits some industrial plant, the Fire Department must essentially be able to cope with the emergency and cannot offer any apologies, unless unwise cutting of manpower and equipment or failure to replace weaknesses in both, gives a legitimate reason.
A fire can, or cannot, develop into a serious catastrophe, depending largely upon the efficiency of the Fire Department. If the Department is efficient and has maintained its component strength as regards men and equipment, the chances of the fire being mastered with slight damage is good. If on the other hand a budget has been cut at the expense of the Fire Department the chances that the fire will be of serious proportions is improved.
A big fire means to any community increased unemployment, a condition that is certainly unwelcome at this time. Another possibility that should not be overlooked is that the industry may be abandoned entirely due to failure to rebuild or that the plant may be moved elsewhere, making a permanent wound in an already stricken community.
While there undoubtedly is real cause of care in municipal spending, there could be no economic emergency that would justify neglect of the Fire Department and its needs. Equipment wears out during bad times just the same as during times of prosperity and the city that tries to get by without any expense for upkeep or new equipment is treading dangerous paths.
Some municipalities have gone to the extreme of reducing the man power as a hysterical measure to reduce the salary account. This is a grave mistake because an over-manned Fire Department never has existed and the under-manned department is a sorry excuse for an efficient fire protection organization. Cutting wages, while perhaps the least obnoxious of all of the reduction ideas, is a disciplinary measure that should only be resorted to w’hen necessity demands and no alternative is apparent. High w-ages are likewise unknown among fire executives and men, and a cut of any kind means less money for local circulation. The fireman is almost invariably a free spender.
The saddest blow of all to the fire service would be the abolishing of the two-platoon system which some nearsighted communities are considering. The two platoon system which is not yet a general practice for all municipal departments is the nearest thing to a humane compensation for the various rigorous deeds that firemen are called upon to perform. If the fireman’s life was in reality a life of case and rest with nothing worth mentioning to do, the twoplatoon system would be ambiguous.
However, a firemen’s work is real work with plenty of hard jobs and often few if any breathing spells between jobs. This means that a 24-hour period of off-time between shifts or the shorter time of the 10-14 system is frequently a physical requirement rather than a recreation period.
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False Economy and Fire Departments
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To abolish this would be to take away the only real privilege that the fireman has ever had which permitted his normal association with his family. While workers in other lines were working eight-hour days and getting paid for overtime, the fireman works a seven-day week with nights: thrown in, and has only an occasional day off to let the children see who provides their upkeep.
The day off is subject to withdrawal in the event of a serious fire and even today with the two-platoon system, the fireman can expect to be called back for duty if an extra alarm comes in or one of his comrades reports sick.
Surely city executives are practicing false economy whem they risk Fire Department efficiency for the sake of imposing working conditions that are out of place in our modern humanitarian age. It is probably true that the two-platoon system in practice takes a few more men than the old perpetual system but it represents the difference between a Fire Department of stale discontented men and an organization of alert, happy men who are energetic and ready when the test comes.
Looking at the situation from an optimistic angle, there is no better time than the present to buy needed equipment and apparatus. Prices are favorable and purchase would be in compliance with the government’s urge that business be promoted through the spending of money which would make for increased employment.
Fire Chiefs find it incumbent upon them to urge municipal authorities to keep things up. and if possible, to improve. They must do everything to prevent any kind of curtailment.