NATIONAL PENSIONS FOR FIREMEN

NATIONAL PENSIONS FOR FIREMEN

The matter of pensions for firemen is naturally of vital interest to every fireman and to the wives and children of every fireman throughout the entire United States. The interests of all firemen in this subject are identical, it matters not whether the man is a resident of Maine or California, of Florida or Minnesota, he needs protection for those dependent upon him for support, he needs the assurance that if he is killed or incapacitated for work while in the performance of his duties, or if he, after long years of faithful service is no longer able to answer the alarm that in his declining years the spectre of want and privation will not knock at his door. We, in this country, have long ago become accustomed to the pensioning of our soldiers and our sailors and their families. Our Federal Government has adopted the policy of maintaining and protecting those who have taken up arms for her to save her nationality, to protect the lives of her citizens and to guard the property of her people. Realizing that the least our Government can do to repay the men who have sacrificed their lives, their limbs or impaired their strength and ruined their health is to guarantee them from suffering and misery by means of pensions, such system has been adopted and meets with the almost unanimous approval of the people of the country. Nor has the Federal Government been alone in its adoption of the pension system—year by year great employers of labor are coming to realize that their faithful employees who have devoted years of their lives to the furtherance of the interests of their employers, have by their industry, faithfulness and skill made such employers rich, while gaining little, if anything, more than a bare living for themselves, should be assured of a decent living after they are no longer able to toil in the factory, the mine, the store or upon the railroad. The wisest employers have come to realize that the money which they expend in the pensioning of their aged employees is doubly repaid in the character of men they arc able to get to work for them and to remain with them year after year, in the loyalty of their employees and in the confidence their workmen have in the institutions for which they labor; the men realize that their employers are human, that they have the interest of their employees at heart and therefore they give them better service. Government, after all, is simply a great business; our Federal Government is the greatest business institution of the land. It being admitted that our soldiers and sailors are entitled to Governmental pensions, is it not well and right that other men whose lives are also devoted to the saving of the lives of our country’s citizens and the protection of her property should likewise be protected? It being conceded that pensions are right for one class of men who offer up their lives for the preservation of our country and the safety of its citizens, is there any reasonable or logical argument why other men performing a like service should not also be included among the pensioned? For ravery, heroism and the facing, unflinchingly, of untold horrors no class of man can compare with the firemen of this nation. The fireman goes into the fiery furnaces of death, seeking not glory, but seeking only to save human life, knowing that his deeds will not be appreciated by many others, but receiving his reward only in the realization of a duty well performed. Saving, not destroying, is his aim, and when he pulls down his helmet and, gritting his teeth, climbs into the raging furnace to save human life, he does all that any hero has ever done—he has offered up his life—encountered the risk of the most awful of all deaths for the sake of humanity. Nearly always underpaid, he knows that if he dies or is crippled in his attempt to help others that his loved ones will not have left to them an estate sufficient for their sustenance. Is it not right and proper that some agency of Government should so provide that these men will at least have the satisfaction and consolation of knowing that none of theirs will suffer for the necessities of life because their husband or their father has unselfishly given up his life or his health for the protection of the property and lives of others? It seems to me that this is the least that we can do for these men. Some Governmental agency, either municipal, State or national, should care for them. Now arises the question—How can this great question be best handled? Is it best that each city, each village that has within its limits a body of firemen handle the pension question for itself? Or is it advisable that each State and Territory enact laws covering each of such divisions of our Nation?—Or is it best that the Federal Government take charge of the entire matter and enact the necessary legislation to bring all the firemen of the country within the provisions of a uniform pension system covering the entire land?

The Federal Plan.

The Federal plan appeals to me as the best. It is true that the question may arise whether this is within the powers of the Federal Government without a Constitutional amendment. Laws concerning the health of the people, of transportation, of pure food, against white slavery, for the protection of the animal and bird life of the country, regulating the shipment of liquors between the States, and other kindred subjects have been held to be proper subjects for Federal control and legislation. Why, then, is it not within its power to take charge of the pensioning of the men who, throughout our land, daily go out to save life, limb and property, in the uniform of firemen. And this leads to another thought—Would it not be best that for each municipality being a law unto itself, making its own regulations, we substitute a National Department, similar to the Post-Office Department, and place in its hands the business of fire control? And soon would come all over this country, not to one fireman, but to every fireman who goes out to risk his life at a fire the pension system. It will come, anyway, slowly, a little at a time; first this city, then that, then this State and the other, and in many years the whole country, perhaps, will be covered, but it will take many, many years: when the various cities and States adopt various schemes and plans they will not be uniform, some will be good, some bad, some pensions adequate, some inadequate. When the firemen of Murphysboro are fighting for a pension system in their city they will not be helping their brothers in Bushncll in their fight; or when the firemen of Illinois arc fighting in the Legislative Halls of Illinois they will not be helping in the fight in Indiana or Missouri.

Why not concentrate the fight, even for a Constitutional amendment, if necessary, all get together for a uniform country-wide law, giving protection to you and your brothers, in whatever city, in whatever State they live? Get them to help you—take it up with your Congressmen and your Senators. Make the fight hard, earnestly, with vigor, expecting success not to come at once, but continuing with persistence and faith until the victory is won and every fireman who rushes to answer the call to danger knows that though he may never return to his family the country that he loves has provided for the protection of loved ones, and that the Stars and Stripes wave above his home a shelter for his dear ones, a guarantee of their comfort, and inspiration to every member of the families of all the firemen in the United States.

*Honorary Member of Murphysboro. Ill., Fire Depart* ment. Abstract of paper, presented at Convention of Illinois Firemen’s Association.

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