Politics in the Fire Department

Politics in the Fire Department

One of the most vicious and at the same time one of the hardest things to combat is politics in the fire department. There are some cities in which the chief is entirely removed from this sinister influence and where he holds his office under civil service rules. But there are, unfortunately, too many municipalities in which the head of a fire department is a creature of the political party in power, or at least holds his office subject to the dictation of such a party as represented in a “boss.” The unfortunate chief who is in this case, if he is a conscientious officer who honestly wishes to do his duty by the taxpayers and bring his department up to the top notch of efficiency, finds himself hampered and constricted by this influence. If a member of the department transgresses the rules and has any political backing it requires a chief with considerable sand to go against the powers-that-be and risk his head to punish the offender and if he is not punished, then discipline in the department is at an end.

Similarly if the violator of Fire Prevention ordinances exercises his political influence the chief finds himself against a stone wall and the city and the department again are the sufferers.

The only remedy for this unfortunate state of affairs too frequently existing in fire departments is to take the office of the chief absolutely out of politics and place him and it under rigid civil service rules. By so doing the chief is given a free hand to enforce both discipline and Fire Prevention regulations and those who would use their political influence to nullify his acts are powerless to do so.

The prominent business men and other citizens who are interested in the welfare of their cities in cases where the chief is subject to political influence should at once take up this matter and act to remove the head of the fire department entirely from the dictation of politicians. This matter is in the hands of the citizens and they alone can correct the evil.

A peculiar situation developed in Gutenberg, N. J., when a series of wells used by the residents for water supply went dry owing to the blasting of adjoining rocks for the excavation of a sewer. The residents in the section have been compelled to request water supply from the Hackensack Water Company.

One of the largest bond offerings of this year was that recently placed on the market in New York City for $8,520,000, by the city and county of San Francisco—4yi per cent, gold water bonds. The object of this issue is to complete the great Hctch-Hetchy system of water supply for the city of San Francisco. This great work, which is one of the largest every undertaken in this country, is now nearing completion and this bond issue is the final for the project.

Politics in the Fire Department

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Politics in the Fire Department

We have often referred to the evil effects of the introduction of politics in the administration of the affairs of the fire department of a city or town. There can, in the nature of things, be very little chance of or incentive to efficiency for the chief or other officers of a department when they know that at each election there may come a change of administration and the newly elected powers that be will have the power of removal to make room for some political favorite, no matter how lacking in ability or knowledge of his profession he may prove. So that, whatever good work has been accomplished bv the outgoing officers, it may go for naught and be undone by the new incumbent. A condition of this kind, with the added uncertainty of his position, certainly does not work to the stimulation of the chief’s ambition nor for the efficiency of his department. A case in point seems to be revealed in a communication received by the editor of this journal from the chief of a Southern city. We cannot do better than quote his letter, which displays a very natural and righteous indignation: “I am sending a clipping from one of our city papers which shows the high handed methods taken by dirty politics in its dealings with the officers in the different departments. First, off came the head of the superintendent of the water department ; cause, efficiency. Next in line came the chief of police; cause efficiency. Lastly, yours truly, as per the clipping enclosed. This on the face of it, shows the one man power of the kaiser—the commissioner of public safety—elected by the dear people to work for the best interests of-. Must the fire chiefs in this free United States put up with such high handed methods? Will we continue to take our lives in our own hands when duty calls, and then know that such men will be placed in power by the people, only to turn around and thank us in this manner?” The clipping enclosed in this letter of the chief is taken from the local daily, and seems to bear out the charge that politics is the cause of the removal of the heads of departments referred to in the chief’s letter. The chief, according to this paper, has held his office continuously for six years, and during that time has taken no vacation. The equipment of the department has also been added to considerably during his incumbency. So apparently this is another of those only too often recurring instances where the efficiency of the fire department must be allowed to suffer for the political preferences of an individual or a party, for, no matter how competent the successor of this chief may prove to be— and an appointee of this nature is very apt to lack sadly in competency—the change in the fire department administration and the uncertainty of the tenure of the new chief’s office will have a demoralizing effect upon the men and will work against their efficiency. There is only one reason for which it should be possible to remove so important a city officer as the chief of the fire department, and that is for incompetency and neglect of duty, and such a charge should be proved before his removal takes place. This matter of political interference with the fire department should be taken up at the coming convention of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, and vigorous action taken to remove from the fire service of the cities and towns once and for all this menace to its efficiency and well being.