New York and Its Fire Department.

New York and Its Fire Department.

Fire Commissioner Joseph Johnson believes the annual loss by fire in New York to be not only tragic, but declares that, were it not so serious a matter, it might well be termed ridiculous, so unnecessary is it. This waste, he declares, is characteristically American, and, in a way, on a par with the unnecessary waste of human life in this country through railroad accidents, In the strife for money getting, which exists to such a tremendous extent in the United States in the present day, the commissioner Deneves that in many cases human life is regarded as being of less importance than the dollar. He announces his intention of attempting to lessen by every possible means the danger to life by fire in greater New York. Pending legislation at Albany, if passed, he thinks, will do much in this direction. “The legislation now under consideration,” he said, “is designed to give the fire commissioner of Greater New York almost police prevention I mean not only the removal of conpower in the matter of fire prevention. By fire ditions which invite fire, hut conditions which will also serve to guard against fires that endanger human life. This, it is hoped, may be largely brought about by the establishment of a bureau of fire prevention, to work in conjunction with the present uniformed force. The Asch building fire, a few months ago, proved to the city authorities very plainly that a building could be erected which complied with all the existing requirements of the building department laws and still was an atrocious firetrap. Nevertheless, the Asch building was no better or worse than are hundreds of others in New York to-day. The danger to the occupants is as great now as it was to those in the Asch building. Of course, these buildings are termed fireproof, and, in fact, could not have been erected unless they conformed with the building laws. They had the approval of the several necessary city departments, but, nevertheless, when the fire started within the fireproof walls of the Asch building, 118 men and women lost their lives as the result of some one’s neglect of duty. It will not do to say that this loss of life was due solely to the fact that the victims were not conversant with the means of exit, nor that sufficient exits were not provided. Of course, there should have been fire drills, but other precautions should also have been taken. Just as long as lofts, as they are termed, are used in high, fireproof buildings, the fact that they are fireproof should offer no excuse whatever for their not being equipped with fire escapes. Now. the fire commissioner hopes to have the power to peremptorily correct such conditions wherever found. It is my intention to get at the facts about any conditions dangerous to life and property from fire in a thorough, scientific, businesslike manner. In other words, we hope to prevent a large number of fires by correcting conditions which arc favorable to them. Personally, I believe, that very much indeed can he done along these lines, but certainly this cannot be done unless full power is given to the lire commissioner. A very large number of fires arc due simply to the careless and unclean condition in which the cellars of houses are kept. For instance, people pick tip kindling wood on the street and store it in cellars. Then they take candles downstairs at night for the purpose of obtaining kindling, with the result that the flames comes in contact with the kindling. The result is a fire which may cost the lives of many persons. Such conditions can easily be remedied by thorough inspection on the part of the fire department, although, of course, the department now does everything pos sible in that direction, but with greater powers conferred on it by law greater prevention would be possible. Another step in the safeguarding of the public from possible death or injury from fire would he the proposed systematic survey of all buildings where large numbers of persons congregate for any purpose, whether it is places of employment, of amusement or other sorts of buildings. While I am no alarmist, yet I may say that the public does not realize the grave danger to which it is subjected, particularly at, places of amusement at seashore resorts, because of the lack of exits. The Dreamland fire at Coney Island a few weeks ago suggested the necessity of inquiring into the lack of fire exits in large amusement resorts here in New York. In Europe the construction of flimsy buildings such as at Coney Island and elsewhere is not per initted. In my opinion, the fire limits as to con struction should be so extended as to include such places around New York. At times there are more than 300,000 people at the island. Imagine the situation if a fire should start in some of the larger amusement placethere on such a day, with a strong wind blowing directly from the sea and with no means of exit except the main entrance, which is a condition which exists at certain places down there. A veritable holocaust would follow, not alone because of the fire, hut localise hundreds of people would become panicstrickeit and either trampled to death by others or terribly injured and burned to death because unable to save themselves. There are innumerable instances where terrible disasters have followed panics caused by fire. Another means which we have in view for the probable saving of life, as well as the saving of immense sums of money represented in property, is the plan to supplant every piece of apparatus in the New York fire department now drawn by horses with apparatus propelled by gasolene or some such means. In other words, we hope to have an automobile fire department. The department has been developed into an excellent system for tne extinguishment of fires. It is not only the largest of its kind in the world, but I am firmly convinced, and it is the general opinion of the public everywhere, that the fire department of Greater New York is the best in the world. Of course, the physical standard of firemen should be as high as possible, but we are getting excellent men. When you obtain men who combine mental and physical qualifications there is nothing more to be asked. I have to sit here and see that the affairs of the department are properly conducted, the apparatus kept up and also properly cared for; various buildings kept in repair, etc. This is purely administrative. In good truth, the fire commissioner is really the business manager of the fire department, outside of his disciplinary duties. The uniformed force does not have to pay any attention to the commissioner or receive orders from him because he is simply present in a business way. Of course, he is supreme in all disciplinary measures as to the force, SUCH as conducting trials of delinquents, etc. Ihe policy here is to permit the men to he as free as possible and untrammeled as long as they do their duty, but to lie as severe as justice requires and the law permits when they do not. The result is that we have comparatively few trials in the department, not nearly as many as was the case some years ago. Men are appointed to the fire department on certification by the civil service commission. It was only a day or two ago that I appointed 20 men on their merits—on their percentage rating under the civil service rules. No human being interceded for them or urged their appointment. The same rule exists in the matter of promotions in the department.

If a man knows that he is bound to receive absolute justice, he is proud of the service and likes to work in it. He knows that he is in line for promotion, and that when the time comes he will receive it. This helps him in his work. That is the situation here.”

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