Philadelphia Fire Department Inquiry

Philadelphia Fire Department Inquiry


The special committee of the Philadelphia city council appointed to investigate charges made against the fire prevention bureau and fire department of that city has held several sessions. Councilman Morris Conn, who preferred the charges and is chairman of the investigating committee, says that he has evidence which shows that under the present fire marshal the service is insufficient and that firemen had been detailed for duties not connected with the department, such as clerical work, drills, fire prevention inspections, messenger service, etc., that the repair shops were closed and that captains of the fire companies had been used to advance the sale of a particular design of fire prevention apparatus. The first, and one of the most important of the many witnesses summoned, was former Chief E. A. Waters, who resigned last April. Chief Waters said that the public safety director had gone over his head in assigning men to other duties, had weakened the effective firefighting force and had delegated undue authority to Martin H. Ray, the “systematizor” for the department; that members of the department were assigned to do fire prevention work under the fire prevention commission, of which Powell Evans is chairman; that with these men away, together with transfers to other companies, men sick, crippled and unfilled vacancies, had greatly reduced the efficiency of the department. He said that the motor apparatus of the department had been placed under the direction of the public works department, which is far removed from the fire department; that “Systemitizer” Ray had issued circulars with witnesses’ names attached without authority to the members of the department; that physical culture and apparatus drills had been ordered at intervals without the knowledge of the chief, thus leaving a section of territory without protection; that his orders at a threatening fire to increase the high pressure service had been countermanded, allowing the flames to ignite other property. Chief Waters said that in his 39 years as a fireman he had never heard Powell Evans spoken of as authority on how to put out fires, nor of Mr. Ray as an expert, and yet the latter had been called to Philadelphia as a “systematizer,” when in reality he had proved a “demoralizer.” Rather than be responsible for what might happen under such circumstances, Chief Waters resigned last April. Chairman Conn said that neither Evans nor Ray had been certified by the civil service commission, but had been delegated by Director Porter to do about anything they pleased.

Former Deputy Chief Samuel Cook, who succeeded Chief Waters in command of the department as acting chief and who soon after also resigned from the service, gave evidence along the same line, and cited a number of fires where the loss had been much larger than it otherwise would have been, because of the demoralizing conditions brought about by those who had usurped control. He said that he received orders from Powell Evans to inform all captains that the first engine to reach a fire must connect to the interior sprinkler system if the building had one. “I explained to Director Porter,” said Chief Cook, “that this was a poor idea and told him it would only mean a great loss by water in a burning building. At one fire, I recall, a factory’s sprinkler system did $10,000 worth of damage, while the fire itself did only $150 to $200 damage because we shut off the system.” Cook said he believed that the first engine to reach a fire should make for the heart of the blaze and try to put it out at once. He denied that a building was lost because the first engine failed to hook up to the sprinkler system, as had been charged by Powell Evans.

Both Waters and Cook said that a double shift of men. to work 12 hours each, no man to leave the fire house, even for meals during his time on duty, had become almost imperative for adequate protection in the central part of the city; that if a number of men were injured in a big fire one day and another big fire should occur the next day that the department would have to ask assistance from other cities. Waters and Cook, in replv to questions about Philadelphia and its fire fighting force, said the city had 73 engine companies to cover 129 square miles of territory. Baltimore has 10 engine companies to cover 36 square miles. “If Baltimore is right, we are mightily wrong.” said Waters

Acting Fire Marshal Joseph S. Mallory, whose department is included in the investigation, defended what he called the “double advantages” of the fire prevention idea. He explained the value of placing one man in each company in the capacity of inspector, and showed how the company could accomplish its work more efficiently when one of its number knew all the details relative to the location of the fire.

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