Report of F. H. Seymour, Statistician of the Michigan State Firemen’s Association, Submitted to the Convention May x, 1878.
[The following address and report were read by Mr. SEYMOUR at the last State Convention. Other equally interesting papers read on that occasion will appear in the future issues of the JOURNAL.]
The losses from which this State has suffered by fire during the past year, have amounted to the startling sum of $1,342,000.
The statistics herewith submitted, show that a large amount of this loss was occasioned by incendiarism and defective chimneys. The total loss from which the country has suffered, amounts to the aggregate of $100,000,000. Too little cannot be done to awaken public attention to such a glaring defect in our national economy.
If a like incredible amount of money as $100,000,000 was to be swept from the resources of the nation by hurricane, by earthquake, by insect-pest, or by any other unusual cause, public attention would be keenly aroused, the press would teem with the subject, ways and means remedial would be actively considered, and the attention of scientific men would be turned to the solution of the problem.
Public anxiety would not be quieted until methods had been devised, if possible, to avert a recurrence of the calamity. But such an ordinary occurrence as a fire attracts comparatively little notice, except when large, and is even then soon forgotten outside of the limits of the district affected. They are daily occurrences ; people have become accustomed to them; and fires almost imperceptibly inflict a burdensome tax upon the industries of the nation a tax which. If applied in a more perceptible way, would almost occasion revolutionary results.
The cause of this great loss and the occasion of public apathy has been often explained, and may afford food for thought by every public-spirited citizen, and particularly by such as devote their time and risk their lives in the protection of life and property from this terrible element. The history of the growth and development of the service of fire protection, like everything else, has been remarkable.
Hardly thirty years have elapsed since the invention of the Steam Fire Engine, and it seems but yesterday since the principal cities of this country emerged from under the control of the Volunteer Departments, which had grown from being organizations of public-spirited citizens into gigantic political combinations, corrupt, inefficient and expensive, and regularly Paid Departments were instituted, conducted upon scientific principles, with military disclipline as a basis. Thdugh Firemanship is rapidly rising to the dignity of a science, and American ingenuity has contributed in a great degree to this result, yet to-day Departments in large cities of the United States where there are military organizations under scientific leaders, conducted upon correct principles of civil service, may be numbered on the fingers of a hand. Political economists argue the necessity and benefit of partisanship, but it is doubtful whether this great nation owes its prosperity so much to the conferring of unlimited franchise upon the ignorant and criminal ; the foisting of incapable men into public positions, and the bargain, sale and corruption and utter disregard of business principles with which public business is conducted throughout the length and breadth of the land, or whether the tremendous natural resources of the country enables the American nation to hold its head high among the nations of the world under a load that would crush any other to the earth. These defects affect the entire social organization of the United States in the service of fire protection as severely as anything.
It has to contend with, first, lack of preventive laws, to which is largely due the enormous loss by fire every’ year. There are those who consider legislation as a panacea for all evils, and it is too true that our statute books are nothing more nor less than monuments of ignorance. What we want is not much legislation, but good legislation. If perchance our Solons would spend the time occupied in wrangling over a bill, for instance, “ to propagate blind polliwogs in the Podunk River,” or “to reimburse a claimant for a lame mule,*’ shot by himself while fighting on the opposite side during the rebellion, in the enactment of laws directed to the reform -of some paramount evil, the country would be the gainer. When it is generally’ understood that incendiarism which stalks like a destroy ing fiend throughout this fair land, sweeping millions from the surplus production of its industrious people, and that to the door of reckless insurance this crime may be laid, our legislators will have to stop wasting time over quarrelling about doorkeeperappointments, and inflating their individual financial bubbles, standing enraptured the while at the gorgeous hues of the bubbles of and will devote some of their precious time to theUodnrthe country, instead of politics and personal advancement.
Hut there is another cause from which the country suffers; that is the general inefficiency of Fire Departments. In many of the principal cities politics, like a blight, lays its cursed hand and crushes out everything ennobling and chivalrous in firemanship, setting the seal of commendation on ability to “ pull wires,” “ fix caucuses,” ’‘run the polls,”and under the cursed doctrine of “to the victors belong the spoils,” ruthlessly setting aside tenure of office during good behavior; promotion for ability; esprit du corps, and everything that history and experience has shown to be requisite for success in a military calling, or in a general business. Firemanship is a military calling. The two are analagous ; the same elements contribute to the success of the one as the other. The Firemen fights the enemy of all men, and the soldier wars upon his kind. The discipline that nerves the soldier to obey orders to the death, to carry his life in his hand, and lay it down without a murmur, should actuate the Fireman in his noble warfare upon his insidious enemy.
But politics lays its blight upon all such feeling, and under the peculiar state of our franchise already hinted at, municipal governments are generally given over to those who have the time and capacity to figure at caucuses and pull wires. Ignorant men are placed in positions they should not occupy, and, however honest, are by mutations of politics not allowed to remain in position long enough to become efficient. Is it to be wondered at that the efficient Fire Departments of large cities of this country can be counted on one hand ? Truly, in the words of Madame Roland, we may exclaim, “Oh, liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name !” In despotic Europe the ignorant are compelled to do right; that they are not happier and more prosperous is not owing to wise laws. It is no wonder, then, that American cities are built like tinder and burn like brush-heaps. It is a wonder how grandly American ingenuity has striven to meet these overwhelming circumstances and that gallant Firemen are able to battle away worse catastrophes than those which occur. Let us turn our attention briefly to the defects in fire protection in smaller towns and cities throughout the United States, and it must be owned that we find a most deplorable state of affairs. An utter lack of building laws and an almost lack of protection, apparatus often ill cared for and neglected, little or no water supply, and rarely any discipline or organization to the Force ; and worst of all, the absurd practice of electing officers is generally prevalent, so that generally not the best Fireman, but the best fellow or best figurer is chosen.
The Department is oftener found in acrimonious debate regarding elections than in devoting its time to perfecting its drill. A commanding officer under this system has no time to gain experience in that position before the time of a change rolls around. It is a pfactice alike ridiculous, absurd, unbusiness-like and unmilitary. The Chief should be chosen for his ability and retain his office during good behavior. His authority should be as supreme as that of a military leader, and his commands obeyed implicitly, as a soldier obeys the behests of his superior officers. With such discipline there would be efficiency ; without it there can be none. Drill is just as important in a Fire Department as in a military company.
Gaudy red uniforms and shining leather helmets do not make Firemen. This country Is cursed with play-firemen. The creature is as gaudy as he is useless, and without courage, skill and discipline is as worthless for practical purposes as a child with a tinsel dress and toy sword would be at the storming of a redoubt. The rural districts and the small cities and towns of this country are just teeming with such officers, and when the time of trial comes they are always found wanting.
Firemanship is a science—it is not play—and if it is made play, it is literally playing with fire. Gaudy uniforms, or handsome quarters, or even shining apparatus, do not constitute a good Fire Department any more than yells indicate courage. The true nobility and dignity of the calling lies in the skill and scientific accuracy with which the weakest point of the enemy is detected, and in the avoidance of the destruction of property by water in trying to save it from fire, as well as in the courage and endurance with which a position is maintained in the face of crashing ruins, blinding smoke and torturing heat. Firemanship is a stern calling; high moral courage and physical endurance are its requisites. These things are partly natural, and partly acquired. A natural-born Fireman is just as much a distinct creation of nature as a singer, a painter, soldier, or a poet. Firemen are born, not made. His genius is called out and made effective by discipline and drill, and it is just here that these things nearly touch the ends and aims of this Association. I have taken the occa sion before to say that it is high time that play-firemanship was swept out of existence I again repeat it. I have said that tournaments are a humbug. I reiterate that statement. I have been told that without tournaments the interest in the Fire Departments would flag, that they are necessary to attract the attention and interest of the men, that they are productive of efficiency, that they tend to create fraternal feeling. He that says that without tournaments the interest of the Firemen will flag, utters an insult to the citizen Firemen of this State. What! do they join the Engine Company just for the purpose of a good time ? Are they without public spirit and desire to do good? A bummer forsooth ! I do not believe it. I will not believe it. Just as soon tell me that the noblemen who laid down their lives on Southern battle-fields went from home for the paltry pay. I cannot believe that the sense of the intelligent Firemen of this State is with that Company which will raise money to take themselves and their machine from home, the field of duty, like thesoU dier deserting his post in the face of the enemy, and with jyj^xpensive band transport their machine miles away and subject it to the severest trial and possible injuryin the effort to out-squirt some other machine, while their native village lacks a cistern, or their Department is in want of money to buy hose. any man tell me how such a victory will endow that Company with skill to battle a difficult fire or with anything that cannot be gained practice at home ? I am told, too, “ that the success of this AssociaTfmvdemands that it encourage these things ; that it will die without it.” Then lel’it die. But, mark you, my word for it, it will not die. I am sorry to believe that it may flag—more the shame—yet the seed is sown in the inauguration of this Association. That day is rapidly approaching when play-firemanship will be a thing of the past, and all that relates to the prevention and extinction of fire will become the subject of intelligent thought and discussion. That man who joins for fun, in the shape of cultivating fraternal feelings with a neighboring Department by going there and quarrelling about a tournament, will be shelved, and pleasure will be found in considering the subject of fire in the grand beneficent aspect of a great national public economy. The annual depletion of national resource is bound to be generally known, and that day will inaugurate the new era, a time that every man who loves his calling will feel happy to welcome, and a time when, relieved from everything that is not aesthetic, Firemanship will take the rank its greatness deserves.
FIRE STATISTICS, 1877.
MICHIGAN FIRE DEPARTMENTS AND THEIR EQUIPMENT.