Persons in the News
Chief Blamey Retires
Chief James T. Blamey, of Spokane, Wash., retired Sept. 1, 1955, after 45 years service, the last ten as Chief of the Department. Chief Blamey leaves a host of friends both on and off the department and will be long remembered for his work on the many committees of the department. He was a charter member of Local 29, I.A.F.F. and led many of the early day fights for better working conditions and wages.
Assistant Chief W. A. Dunham was appointed by Public Safety Commissioner, Carl Canwell to succeed retiring Chief Blarney.
Joining the department in 1927, Dunham was promoted to Lieutenant in 1938, Captain in 1941, then Assistant Chief, where he has served the past nine years.
In announcing the appointment Commissioner Canwell said, “It is my personal belief that I have chosen a man well qualified and deserving of this honor. The men with whom you work speak highly of your ability and character. A man who has enjoyed the respect and confidence of his fellow workers throughout the years should be well qualified for the position.”
Chief Dunham has always been known as a worker for any improvement. He is past president of Local 29, I.A.F.F. and has served on every committee for wages, hours, conventions, welfare, etc.
Chief Grenfell Honored
Fire Chief Edward Grenfell of Portland, Ore., was honored upon completion of his 50 years’ service in the fire department at a banquet tendered him by over 300 friends and associates at Portland’s Columbia Athletic Club, during Fire Prevention Week.
The occasion brought leaders of the Pacific Coast fire service, members of civic and other groups together to applaud the veteran on “Chief Edward Grenfell Day.”
An old comrade of Chief Grenfell’s rookie days, Jay W. Stevens, Executive Secretary of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, led those paying tribute to Grenfell’s long, successful career as fire fighter and leader in fire prevention.
Joining in the tribute, was Chief William Fitzgerald, newly elected president of the International Association of F’irc Chiefs.
Chief Grenfell was presented with a gold placque and other gifts honoring his long service. In his perpetual honor also will be an Edward Grenfell plaque to be presented each year to the Junior Chamber of Commerce member who does the most for fire prevention.
Greenfield Heads Jersey Chiefs for 36th Year
Not one, but a number of records, were broken Sept. 10th, last, when at the 50th annual meeting of the New Jersey State Fire Chiefs in Sussex, N. J., Charles W. Greenfield of Kearney, was elected to his 36th one-year term as president of the organization.
“Charley” as he is known to everybody, now 75, had been chief in Kearney for 17 years when he retired in 1922. He also was fire chief for many years of the E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. plant in Arlington, N. J.
An active member of many fire service organizations, Charlie Greenfield has been a member of the International Association of Fire Chiefs for 47 years; a member of the N. J. State Firemen’s Association for 50 years and an honorary member of firemen’s groups in some 15 other states.
Other officers named were: vice-president, Arthur Bilby, Chief of Montclair; secretary-treasurer, Clarence H. Dougal, former Livingston Chief; and Director, Russell Hunt, Chief of Haddonfield.
Another widely known and popular New Jersey veteran, George L. Mitchell, 85-year-old retired chief of East Orange, was elected a life member and treasurer emeritus. He ended a 34-year term as treasurer, at the meeting.
Chief Alderson May Retire in L. A. Racial Integration Fight
Chief Engineer John H. Alderson of the Los Angeles Fire Department, target of frequent attacks by political and race conscious elements, has announced his intention to retire by January 1, 1956, over an integration battle boiling for two years in Los Angeles.
Chief Alderson said he would remain only if certain conditions were met, or if politics entered into the choice of his successor.
One of the most honored fire chiefs in the history of this nation’s fire service, Chief Alderson became the center of a racial integration controversy instigated by outside professional minority pressure groups abetted by a political administration with powerful backing that unseated Reform Mayor Fletcher Bowron in 1953.
The chief, who is 57, emphasized that his retirement plan has nothing to do with a recent illness which hospitalized him for several weeks.
Chief Alderson’s dramatic announcement came amidst an investigation of charges made by three Negro firemen that they were hazed shortly after they were transferred from an all-colored station to a downtown company where Battalion Chief John A. Dick was quartered.
Three fire commissioners, all lay Los Angeles civic and business leaders, ordered Chief Alderson to discipline and transfer Chief Dick, who was to make a public apology to the three firemen. Moreover, Chief Alderson was to personally appear at the fire station and at a lineup of men himself apologize to the three Negroes. Furthermore, the chief was ordered to transfer four white firemen into the station.
“I just wouldn’t do it, that’s all,” Chief Alderson said. “I refuse to discipline a man for charges that have not been proved against him and I don’t believe Chief Dick was responsible for conduct that went on at Engine 10.” The chief gave his unqualified reaffirmation of confidence in Chief Dick.
Three members of the commission who met with Chief Alderson for four hours before he called a press conference to announce his plan to retire, later denied any such demands were made of the chief.
In an exclusive statement to Fust ENGINEERING’S Southern California correspondent. Chief Alderson had this to say:
“It is my present intention, not later than January 1, 1956, to apply for retirement to which I am entitled. I have done this in order that the Department of Civil Service and the City of Los Angeles may have an opportunity to conduct a proper promotional examination from which the Board of Fire Commissioners have the legal authority to choose my successor, such choice to be restricted to the first three names on the eligible list.
“One reason for this announcement is that no legal reason will occur for the choice of a successor even ternporarily outside of the uniformed ranks of the department.
“There should be no question in the minds of observers who have followed the Fire Department that my retirement has been desired and sought by the present administration since July 1, 1953.
“Since that date I have had the opportunity to work with 14 different fire commissioners who have been removed or appointed by the incumbent Mayor. There certainly must have been some reason for the numerous changes in the membership of the Board of Fire Commissioners, and more and more it has become apparent to me that the reason for these numerous changes was the desire on the part of the incumbent Mayor for a change in the management of the Fire Department.
“I have stated repeatedly that I would not continue as General Manager of this department if the control of personnel was removed from me. I have been given definite notice that such control will be removed and I simply refuse to accept assignments which have been placed in my lap, which I believe to be detrimental to the efficiency of the department and which means that they would be detrimental to the lives of more than 2,000,000 people and the protection of more than $2,000,000,000 worth of property. Without the control of personnel and the assignment of personnel, no man can fairly accept the responsibility of this position.”
FIRE ENGINEERING asked Chief Aiderson if the wording “present intention” of his statement indicated there was any possibility he might change his mind. He replied:
“If, by an act of the City Council, the ruling of the City Attorney or an action formally by the Board of Fire Commissioners, the control of personnel was returned to me, that is the one condition under which I would remain after January 1.”
Several days later, Chief Alderson said he would reconsider his decision: “If there is an injection of politics to prevent an honest, forthright and nonpolitical civil service examination to keep the right man from being chosen as my successor, then I will stay on the job.”
When Commission President G. William Shea asked the chief if he would cooperate in the steps necessary to choose a successor, the Chief said: “I will, but I warn you that it has been my policy for many years to go one, two. three down the civil service list. I would have to be entirely convinced that number one was incompetent before I’d recommend any other man.”
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Chief Alderson told FIRE ENGINEERING that if he does retire from his post, he will rest and perhaps do some writing on professional matters of interest to the fire service.
Chief Alderson. if not the most, certainly one of the most honored fire officers in this nation’s history, has held the following positions:
Past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the Southern California Fire Chiefs Association and the Pacific Coast Inter-Mountain Association of Fire Chiefs. He also served two terms as fire representative with the League of California Cities, was a past board director of the National Fire Protection Association and served on numerous civil defense agencies and was a member of the State Advisory Committee.
Chief Alderson won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University while studying for the Methodist ministry at the University of Delaware. He was never able to take advantage of the scholarship because they were canceled at the beginning of World War I.
If Chief Alderson leaves, he may be giving up a proposed pay increase for Los Angeles city department heads which would have made him the world’s highest paid fire chief at $20,000 a year. His retirement now would be at two-thirds of his current salary, or roughly $10,000 a year. He’s been eligible for retirement for 12 years, a fact which makes his long and determined fight seem all the more remarkable.
The drawn-out battle has been marked by a campaign of villification that probably has no parallel in the history of the fire service.
Public apathy, confused even more by one of the nation’s most peculiar public information combines, helped create an aura of bitterness and misunderstanding over a problem which Chief Alderson inherited when he suddenly became chief in 1940 with orders to clean up a job sale scandal during the administration of a former mayor. Many of the Negroes now on the department, it is alleged, were illegally appointed, some of them being jumped over 300 white eligible candidates.
To the public, at least, the long racial integration battle has been described as a “Jim Crow” affair between Chief Alderson and the men of the department on one hand, versus the fire commissioners, with Mayor Norris Poulson only occasionally publicly entering the fray at politically opportune moments.
Actually, the fight has two aspects: one racial, the other political.
The crux of the racial issue is over the integration timetable. Chief Alderson’s long range policies have always called for integration during the next 5 to 10 years. The opposition insists that integration come about almost overnight, a stand which has caused loud protest among the rank-and-file who have consistently backed Alderson. They feel outsiders are cramming integration down their throats.
The department’s gradual theory of integration is directly opposed to the broad policy of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The truth of the matter is that Chief Alderson heretofore had been years ahead in his integration policies and at least one Negro organization went so far as to commend him for his progress in integrating the city’s 78 Negro firemen. When the fight first came to the public’s attention. Chief Alderson’s detractors failed to recognize that several Negroes had already been transferred from the city’s two All-Negro stations 14 and 30 into the Fire Prevention Bureau and other assignments usually performed by white members of the department.
Ironically, the Los Angeles Fire Department was at one time integrated, but Negro personnel petitioned and were granted their own stations. The arrangement worked well for many years.
The entire problem became greatly complicated when politics entered the picture. Although Los Angeles’ politics are non-partisan. Chief Alderson as a private citizen voiced his concern at the handling of a congressional probe into the city’s public housing program.
The congressional investigation was timed just before a municipal election in which anti-Bowron forces determined to oust him from office for his pro-public housing position. Bowron. who had installed Chief Alderson. was subsequently voted out of office and the Poulson regime took over.
The race issue became a convenient smokescreen for political retaliation against Alderson and groups which heretofore had never distinguished themselves as champions of NAACP policies, joined forces to squeeze him out of office and to alter Civil Service Commission policies.
The local Communist daily newspaper also played up the statements made by Alderson’s enemies.
The campaign of bate took even more insidious turns.
Chief Alderson’s wife and family have been the targets of sinister early morning telephone calls threatening bodily harm. His school-age grandchildren are chaperoned every foot of the way to classes.
Late one night a group of squad cars circled Engine 10, site of the alleged charges of hazing, and a police lieutenant said he was sent by a high police official to investigate a “riot.” The three concerned Negro firemen meanwhile were peacefully asleep in the bunkroom.
When he told reporters of his intention to retire after devoting more than 30 years to the department, Chief Alderson added:
“I hate to leave like this, but here I am. This is a sorry way to end a job I’ve carried on for more than 30 years. 15 of them as chief engineer. I’m a good soldier, I hope.”
The NAACP in a statement issued after Alderson’s press conference said:
“The effect of Chief Alderson’s announcement remains to be seen. This may be a grandstand play. Even if he does actually retire, he leaves behind a staff of underlings who have been an integral part of his program of racial bigotry. Our sincere hope is that democracy will now prevail within the department.”
Speculation immediately arose as to Chief Alderson’s successor. Several names have been proposed, but all of them bear the indelible stamp of Chief Alderson’s training and views.
The Los Angeles Herald-Express in editorializing on Chief Alderson’s dis-
tinguished career called his announcement “deplorable.” Equally deplorable to observers both inside and out of the department was the utter silence following the announcement from various organizations and the public as well which has enjoyed low fire insurance rates.
It is indicative of the confused misunderstanding over the issue that the potential loss of a chief whose administrative abilities have built one of the world’s finest fire protection and prevention organizations fails to elicit leadership with the avowed intention of retaining Alderson or at least arriving at an equitable solution to the problem for the welfare both of the City of Los Angeles and the Eire Department.