Politics in the Fire Service.
The following paper was read by Chief Hugo R. Delfs, president of the Michigan State Firemen’s Association, on the subject of “Should Politics Be Eliminated from Fire Departments?” at the recent annual meeting of the Illinois State Firemen’s Association: “In my own state, in central and lower Michigan politics are not tolerated, while the cities in the northern part are fairly well protected against them. In the larger cities in the state the fire departments are not contaminated with the political disease, and 1 wish to impress upon you. if you will look over the records of these cities, they rate very high for efficiency, due largely to the fact that politics never enter them. The moment politics get into the department trouble begins. You all know what General Sherman said about war; politics in a fire department comes under the same head. It is not a matter of great consequence whether your fire departments are governed by commissioner, commissioners, or council committee. The bodies will no doubt have some political complexion, although at the time of his or their appointment you are not lead to believe so. We should always distinguish between a citizen who accepts a position of this kind through patriotism and public spirit, from the one who sought it for political profit. In most of our Michigan cities where they have a recognized established policy and a harmonious administration politics are eliminated and they seem satisfied to let well enough alone. Political unrest and alternating changes in fire departments give no feeling of security to the chief or the members, and only naturally the efficiency suffers accordingly. Changes are sometimes necessary, but too many changes are detrimental. Take, for instance, a new substitute. He qualifies and is appointed on the regular force and makes good. A vacancy occurs, he is appointed a lieutenant. He has designs on a captaincy to which he is promoted, then to second assistant chief and after years of labor to first assistant. Through all these promotions he is loyal to his chief and his department. One day his chief retires. dies or is pensioned for old age, then the assistant chief who had worked up to that position, is appointed head of the department, and I ask you, brother firemen, should this system of promotion be changed by a few politicians and ward heelers? No, I say emphatically not. If he makes good in his position, keep him there. We have seen the time when a new administration took office, forthwith or a new chief would be appointed, perhaps a man who knew nothing of the workings of a fire department, and some of the best firemen removed for these same political reasons. This is wrong and it is my opinion that it will be entirely wiped out in the near future. At least let us hope so. I have a friend in a western city who is still connected with the fire department as captain in one of the stations. He had served his city nearly thirty years as a fireman and four years as chief, and proved himself an able and qualified firefighter. A young business man was elected mayor. His father was a fireman in the department and in one month after the son’s election the father was appointed chief. Why was this, and how was it possible that this time-tried and efficient chief could be replaced? Politics was the cause, and not one of you but will agree with me that this is wrong. Politicians know nothing of the hardships imposed upon firemen; they have a selfish idea that the position of a fireman is a snap. They do not consider that he is on duty practically twenty-four hours each day, and that on every alarm of fire, one of the men may go to his death. Besides this serious side of the case he is deprived of the associations of his home and family. The fireman is practirally a boarder in his own home, he is refused life insurance, or, if not refused, the rate is so high that it is almost prohibitive. Would the politician change places with this fireman ? Ask him and he would pass it up, the fireman knows why. In conclusion I would say that the firemen should be respected, paid adequately for their work, and all states should enact such laws to give compensation to a fireman’s widow and his minor children, should he be killed while in the service; also, that he should be retired on half pay for total disability, or having contracted sickness while in the discharge of his duty, and after twenty years of service as a fireman he should be retired on half pay. Too much praise cannot be given the Illinois State Firemen’s Association for bringing about one of the best pension laws of any state in the Union, and many states are trying to get similar laws passed. As a concluding remark, let me say, eliminate politics from your departments and you will have better, cleaner, and hardier firemen and that the efficiency of the service will be greatly increased.”