PELHAM MANOR FIRE DEPARTMENT REORGANIZED BY PAID CHIEF
Retired New York Battalion Chief Takes Hold Opposition Overcome by Vote—Former Firemen Refuse to Serve Under New Chief
“SHALL the Fire Department run the Village or shall the Village run the Fire Department ?”
Thus did the trustees of the village of Pelham Manor, N. Y., on the border of New York City, between the Borough of the Bronx and the city of New Rochelle, place before the voters of that community on May 28, the question for a referendum vote which was answered by 258 against 203 in favor of the Village Trustees running the Fire Department — consequently the incorporated Volunteer Fire Department was legislated out of office and the volunteers went on strike, all because the Village Trus tees, recognizing the need for improving the fire department, decided to engage a paid fire chief.
The vote was the largest expression of the voice of the people of that community ever cast in the entire history of the village. The volunteers (not all, but enough of them) rebelled against the principle of selecting a trained fire fighter to lead them. The man whom the Village Trustees appointed Fire Chief, is John J. Brennan, former Battalion Chief in the New York Fire Department, retired on a pension two years ago. after 22 years of active service, to engage in business for himself. He is 46 years of age.
Chief Brennan Takes Hold
Chief Brennan is regarded as one of New York’s most progressive fire fighters—a man of executive ability and capacity, possessed of initiative and decision. He is now resorting to those attributes in reorganizing the personnel of the Pelham Manor Volunteer Fire Department. He has five paid-part-time firemen with him now to handle two pieces of apparatus, but he has not up to this writing had a fire to cope with and therefore does not know just how many of the former volunteers still have enough civic pride and interest in their community to respond when the village whistle blows for the next fire.
The situation is no doubt similar to that confronting many growing communities in this country today, especially those suburban communities on the edge of large cities and which have been built up mainly by the home owner seeking a countryfireside within commuting distance from his place of business. Therefor a brief review of the Pelham Manor after should be interesting to the fire fighting profession in general.
Pelham Manor a Progressive Community
Pelham Manor is one and three-tenths miles in area, with a population of 5,000 persons which is an increase of 100 per cent in the past two years; it has an assessed valuation of $22,000,000, its annual assessments amounting to sixty per cent of the property values, and it is one of the most exclusive colonies of suburban New York. Most of its residents are New York business men, leaders in finance, commerce, law and other industries and professions.
It has 900 dwelling houses. The homes of its residents are considered among the show places of the metropolis, furnished and decorated in the finest and rarest of style, some of them containing furniture and ornamentations invaluable and irreplacable. Its houses and mansions are set far apart, which accounts for such a small community, having twenty-five miles of roadways.
The Volunteer Department
Its former volunteer fire department was commanded by a tradesman, a sort of neighborhood contractor on a small scale, whose career in the village started years ago when he was hired to light the street lamps in the gas and kerosene age. He had forty-nine volunteer firemen and the same five paid-part-time firemen now serving under Chief Brennan.
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Pelham Manor Department Reorganized
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The department has a 1,000-gallon American-l.aFrance pumper, and a fifty-five foot city service truck, each equipped with a forty-gallon chemical tank. The pumper has 800 feet of canvas-rubber lined hose. There is no fire alarm telegraph, although 30 dummy box locations exist. Alarms are telephoned to the Village Hall, where the paid police sound the fire call on the village whistleone round for a brush fire, two rounds for an automobile and three if the fire is in a building. One of the largest buildings, or group of buildings, is the country club house of the New York Athletic Club on Travers Island, a step off the mainland of Pelham Manor.
What Caused the Change
Last winter, an unoccupied mansion burned to the ground. The Village Trustees—all far sighted and matter-of-fact business men—asked why. They answered themselves by waiting on Fire Chief John Kenlon of New York City to ask him if he knew of anybody who would take the job of reorganizing Pelham Manor’s volunteer fire department. Chief Kenlott looked over his list of recently retired chief officers, and he sent for Chief Brennan who at first was not inclined to entertain the offer, having in mind the recollection of the turbulent reorganization of the Yonkers and New Rochelle volunteer departments near by.
The Pelham Manorites met Brennan’s terms and conditions and lie accepted, but before appointing him, the Trustees, however, satisfied they might have been with Chief Kenlon’s recommendation, sought to test Brennan themselves. They asked him to devote a month’s time to making a survey, which he did and some of the conditions he brought to the attention of the authorities startled them. Water mains supposedly four and six inches had corroded to the size of a garden hose. In brief. Chief Brennan told the Trustees the naked truth. He exacted from them a gentlemen’s agreement that he would have a free hand. They said in effect “Go ahead—the job’s yours—we’ll hold you responsible.”
There is a Village Law in New York State which provides that if the Fire Department of a Village is to be abolished in whole or in part, it must be by a referendum vote of the taxpayers of the village—the owners of real property who have resided four months in the county and 30 days in “the district.
Result of a Lively Campaign
A lively campaign was waged by both sides and it was most acrimonious. Both sides resorted to paid newspaper advertising, handbills, mass meetings and personal solicitation. Chief Brennan maintained a neutral attitude. The quarrel was not his, he said, so much as it was a domestic spat among old neighbors. The Village Trustees publicly charged that the F’ire Department w as inefficient; that the volunteers had not kept in training; that the Trustees had no control over the department because it was a separate incorporated institution. The volunteers, or such of them as constituted the campaign committee. fired back and reminded the Trustees that the firemen had been faithful in the past, etc. They appealed mainly to Auld Lang Syne.
The Trustees caused hold headlines to be published like this:
“SHALL THE FIRE DEPARTMENT RUN THE VILLAGE OR SHALL THE VILLAGE RUN THE FIRE DEPARTMENT?”
The announcement by spokesmen for some of. the firemen that they would not serve under a paid fire chief caused them to lose ground with the people. The volunteers advertised that the village treasury would suffer from extravagance, that Chief Brennan would spend so much money that he would bankrupt the place, that he intended to get all paid men on full time, a lot of new apparatus and similar charges, but it was all in vain— the result is now history.
Board of Fire Commissioners Appointed
Mayor Alliot C. House has appointed a Board of three Fire Commissioners to replace the former volunteer fire fighting authority. This Board will handle the administration of the reorganized Fire Department of Pelham Manor and to the Board will Chief Brennan be accountable.
When the volunteers disclosed that they would not respond to fires under the new chief, Brennan immediately communicated with Chief Kenlon of New York, Chief Jones of New Rochelle and Chief Gibson of Mt. Vernon, all of whom promised him apparatus and men if any emergency should arise. With such reinforcements to the south, the north and the west (nothing lies east of Pelham Manor) a strike by volunteer firemen would be only a gesture.
Coincident with his appointment. Chief Brennan bought a cozy home of his own in Pelham Manor and is now a landowner himself.
Portland, Ore., Extending Fire Alarm—Portland, Ore., has invited bids for supplying sixty miles of wire to be used in extending the fire alarm system.