Politics in the Fire Service.

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.”





OUR contemporary, The London Fireman, devotes a considerable space to the consideration of the case of Assistant Chief McCabe, who was recently so summarily dismissed from the fire department of this city because of an alleged error of judgment in summoning more apparatus than was needed on the occasion of the fire in Harlem on July 5. Accepting the fact that the fire inflicted a damage equal to $200,000, our contemporary, like ourselves, concludes that while it was at its height, there was abundant reason to anticipate a serious conflagration, and that it was a move in the direction of safety for Chief McCabe to summon such apparatus as he deemed necessary to provide for any possible emergency that might arise. The event proved that the extra apparatus was not necessary, but had it been required he would clearly have been liable to a charge of neglect of duty if he had not summoned assistance in time. The result proves that at that time Chief McCabe was, to use a homely expression, “between the devil and the deep sea.” If he failed to have on hand all the apparatus required to combat any fire that might occur, he would certainly have been dismissed from the service ; and as he did take such precaution, he was dismissed for having done so.

But it was not because he did or did not summon the apparatus that his record of twenty years as a fireman—during which time he had been promoted from the ranks to one of the highest positions in the service, because of his fitness, capacity and experience—was to be ignored and his reputation smirched. The simple fact was that he was on the opposite side in politics to Commissioner Purroy, who is the supreme dictator in the Board of Fire Commissioners. It had been well understood for a year or more that Chief McCabe “had got to go.” He is a Republican in politics, and ar© there not scores upon scores of hungry, eager and open-mouthed Democrats, of the County Democracy stripe, followers and adherents of the supreme commissioner, who must have place, position and pay? Commissioner Purroy is the head and front of the County Democracy. The fire service is regarded as a part of the political machine, of which the commissioner is the great Poo-Bah personified. The places in the fire department, and the pension fund appertaining thereto, are wanted for the adherents of the / County Democracy. It is not surprising, therefore, that upon the charge of having done his full duty in the interests of the public safety, that Chief McCabe was dismissed, nor that various and sundry members of the department, after a long period of service and contributions to the relief fund have entitled them to consideration, have been summarily ousted from the service in order that they might not be a tax upon that fund, which may be made to serve political ends by being kept exclusively for the use of members of the department who belong to the dominant political party. Mr. Purroy was appointed to this position with the understanding among politicians that he would provide for members of the party, and as he, like most politicians, has few scruples when party ends are to be served, he has contrived to make a good many desirable places for his political friends.

It is exceedingly unfortunate for the propertyowners and taxpayers of New York that the fire department is now, or ever has been, a political machine. Possibly it is no worse under Commissioner Purroy’s administration than it has been under others; but however it may have been in the past, the fact remains that the announcement, virtually made by the authorities at the present time, that the department is being run in political interests, tends to demoralize the men and to decrease their efficiency as a protective organization. As evidence of this there is a lack of subordination in the department that it is sad to see. Certain men who have what is known as “ the pull ” politically can do about as they please, regardless of department orders and of the instructions of their superior officers. Within the past thirty days several cases have occurred where privates have committed assaults upon the captains or other officers of their companies, and, so far as we know, no punishment has been vouchsafed to them. Disobedience of orders and abuse of superiors is reported as having become an every day occurrence, while drunkenness and absence without leave are offenses that, we are informed, have never been so common as at the present time. What better can be expected when the old, experienced, veteran firemen in the service know that the men at the head of the department are not practical firemen, and know only so much about the business as they may have learned while holding their present positions ? There is not one of the three commissioners who is competent to command a company or to direct its operations at a fire. They are not there because of any superior qualifications for the position, but simply to run the department in the interests of politics. One of the commissioners is a Democrat of the County Democracy stripe; another belongs to the Tammany wing of that party; and the third, who was recommended by the insurance interest, is a Republican. ‘Each is put there to watch the others and see that his particular political faction gets its share of patronage and appointments. These men have the disbursement of upwards of $1,500,000 yearly for the maintenance of the fire service. The larger portion of this is paid out in salaries, making very nice little plums to be gathered by the adherents of the various political factions.

At the meeting of the National Association of Fire Engineers held at Providence last month, the following preamble and resolution were adopted:

Whereas, The fire departments of the United States are organized for the protection of the lives and property of its citizens, therefore for the successful and faithful performance of such duty a special training and experience are essentially requisite ; therefore

Resolved, That it is the sense of this National Association that appointments to the fire service and promotions therein should be made solely upon merit, capacity and education and experience, so that no political considerations whatever should be allowed to influence those in authority in their management and direction.

This expresses the sense of the practical firemen of the entire country upon this subject. These fire engineers are the men who are charged with the executive management of various departments. They know how injurious it is to have politics interfering in any manner with the personnel of the service. These chiefs feel the absolute necessity of having at their command a corps of men selected because of their-peculiar fitness to discharge the duties required of them. They want capable, energetic, practical men, having a special training in the line of their duty. It is immaterial to them what political party they belong to or what ticket they may vote at the various elections. What they require is ability, capacity and skill as firemen. But all these men have had their plan and the efficiency of their departments interfered with by the meddling of local politicians who insist upon having incompetent men appointed or promoted over the heads of experienced and competent men. They have seen their efficient men transferred from one company where they were of value to another where they could be of little service. They have seen contracts for apparatus and supplies given entirely for political consideration, and while they might protest against these acts of injustice and of interference, they have been powerless to prevent them. In their National Association, however, where eash, appreciating the full importance of the subject, can give full expression to his ideas, the above preamble and resolution were adopted without a dissenting voice. This expression of opinion on the part of these practical men should receive attention at the hands of propertyowners, who should insist that the fire departments should be entirely divorced from politics. Until this is done we are not likely to have that superior service of which we are so free to boast. It would be useless, of course, to appeal to the present heads of departments to rectify the evils we mention, but in the selection of their successors in the future it may be possible to secure non-partisan officers at the head of the various departments. When this is done the chiefs may expect to have that degree of support and hearty co-operation that is now denied them. But so long as politics control, it is useless to hope for improvement in the fire service.