PUBLIC OPINION ON POOR FIRE HOSE

PUBLIC OPINION ON POOR FIRE HOSE

Most of the daily papers of New York have again condemned the methods of purchasing hose employed by the heads of the lire department in this city, as will be seen from the following editorial extracts:

The Journal of Commerce points out the “tests of the new high-pressure service are incidentally showing that much of the hose is still defective. The commissioners have found evidence of other defective supplies and of graft’ in furnishing them, though they acknowledge that it is difficult to get proof. It is always difficult to prove political and official ‘graft,’ because of the honor among participants in that peculiarly despicable kind of thieving. * * *No risks should be taken in the efficiency of the fire department service * * * There is no economy in taking chances of destruction of property by fire in this city. The personnel of the department, in spite of occasional derilections in the administrative service, is admitted to be of the best. All its mechanical equipment should be equally so. Above all, there should be no defect or deficiency allowed in the system of quick and certain alarm, when fires start.”

Under the heading of “Living on Its Reputation” the New York Times has the following: “Because it found in Hugh Bonner the greatest firefighter the world has known, because of the inventions and innovations he introduced that made a science of fire protection, and because of the spirit and discipline that, mainly under his influence, became characteristic of the paid firemen of this city, his department achieved and held a unique reputation for efficiency almost up to the death of Bonner last winter. Then came the fatal Parker building lire, the rotten hose scandal, and Commissioner Lantry’s resignation. Other resignations or dismissals will follow, if the report of the investigating commissioners of accounts, just submitted to the mayor, is upheld. The report plainly intimates that Mr. Michael F. Loughman. now deputy commissioner of the department of water supply, gas and etectricity, misused his friendship with Fire Chief Croker and Deputy Chief Callahan—and these officials allowed it to be misused—to have the stipulations for hose of safe tensile strength canceled in the contract with his jobbing company. * * * A system of graft, espionage, and special privilege honeycombs the uniformed force, all of whose members are off duty one day in five, besides enjoying four additional twelve-hour leaves a month, exclusive of annual vacations; while, on the plea of sickness, no limit is placed on further absences with full pay. Light penalties have produced a laxity of discipline. New York’s fire department, in its officers and men, is living upon its reputation. It no longer provides the best fire-fighting service in the world.”

The New York F.vening Post states that the commissioners’ report as to the fire department “will come as a shock to the public. The city has been accustomed to thinking that there was one department whose efficiency had not been weakened by politics. Not only does it now appear that the fire appliance company was permitted to defraud the city by selling to it inferior or rotten hose, but that the firealarm telegraph system is hopelessly inadequate, largely by reason of its condition of ‘advanced decay.’ * * * Evidently the commissioners of accounts have found that politics, or something else has crept into the trials under the present system. They were not able to substantiate the charges of graft; but, on the other hand, the firemen were so close-mouthed as to call for comment, if not to excite suspicion. * * * This is unpleasant news for underwriters and public.”

Deputy Commissioner M. F. T.oughman, of the water department of New York city, will be prosecuted in the civil courts, as president of the Windsor Fire Appliance company, as will, also, the American Surety company, which bonded that company in the sale of hose to the New York citv fire department which was far below the grade called for in the specifications. The suit will be for the recovery of the money some $25.000—which was paid for the hose, in the sale of which the commissioners of accounts say fraud was committed. The contract with Deputy Commissioner Loughman called for the best quality of Sea Island cotton duck, with a lining of fine Para rubber not less than 1-16-in. in thickness. E. W. Francis, director of the Philadelphia textile school, to whom samples were sent by the commissioners to test, has reported that it was far below the grade of Sea Island cotton, and that the rubber used was also inferior. Prof. Francis writes: “I herewith return the samples you sent me for examination. You will note that the length of the staple averages practically an inch, which signifies a medium grade of cotton. Sea Island cotton of the best quality (the specifications call for Sea Island) averages two and a quarter inches. The length of the staple for ordinary use of Sea Island cotton should run from i)4-in. to ijHs-in. in length.” Deputy Commissioner Loughman’s Windsor Fire Appliance company, although repeatedly called upon to replace the defective hose, “has never made a move to do so.”

The New York Tribune looks upon the forthcoming legal proceedings qgainst those who supplied the defective hose as a “prospect of better things.” It adds that where the hose “failed to comply with the standard prescribed in the contract” there should be an “unrelenting judicial inquest, the offenders should be made liable to the heaviest penalty of the law.” It discovers a “mournful irony” in the fact that the legal proceedings “are for nothing more than recovery of the money which was paid for the defective hose. Thus a few thousand dollars may be exacted in some case in which the contractors’ frauds were responsible for losses of hundreds of thousands of dollars and, perhaps, also, of many lives. It is exasperating to think of a fire’s spreading to a great and costly extent when it might have been extinguished at the outset, had the hose been good, and of the sacrifice of brave firemen’s lives through the bursting of hose supplied by a rascally contractor, and then of there being no recourse for the city but to bring civil suits for the recovery of the money which was paid for the hose. Yet even such processes, inadequate as thev seem from one point of view, may be effective for the abatement of the evil. There is nothing which the contractors and their sponsors fear more than being mulcted in cash, for thus they lose the very thing, for the gaining of which their rascalities were committed. It is, moreover, a most salutary and valuable precedent to set, that of holding contractors strictly to the terms of their contracts and of holding guarantors similarly to account for the doings of their clients. There has too often been a feeling that public, contracts were to be preferred to those with private parties, for the reason that exact fulfilment of them would not be enforced, and that, at worst, unsatisfactory supplies would merely mean the giving of the next contract to some other concern, or to the same concern, after it had gone to the trouble of changing its name. If contractors arc made to realise that for anv fraud or delinquency they will be made to pay in hard cash, they will be more scrupulous in the fulfilment of their contracts, and, if surety companies are made to realise that they will be held to a strict accountability for the conduct of their clients, they will he more careful as to whom they vouch for and will exercise more vigilance in making sure that their clients honestly discharge their obligations.”

Under the heading of “More than Rotten Hose” the Press says that “the rotten hose scandal in the fire department was not overdrawn at the time of the Parker building fire exposure is shown hv the investigation just completed by the commissioners of accounts. Their report to the mayor fastens the responsibility on his adminis tration. although there is question as to which of his subordinates are guilty.” The recurrence of such a fraud the Press considers to be now “inconceivable” and of “secondary imnortance to what the investigation of it has led the commissioners of accounts. Their inquiry brought them face to face with ugly rumors about the purchase of promotions and transfers, about false charges against firemen for the purpose of revenge or coercion, about favoritism in the purchase of department supplies. When the commissioners tried to get at the bottom of these stories thev found nearly every mouth sealed.” The commissioners state that their interviews with the uniformed men evinced a “deep-rooted desire to avoid any shadow of suspicion of furnishing evidence concerning oppressive measures adopted by their superiors. In some cases, our information pointed almost conclusively to certain individuals as in possession of knowledge of transactions such as those rumored; but, in each instance, when the men were examined by us under oath, they denied without apparent compunction all knowledge of the subject matter of the inquiry.” The statement of the commissioners the Press considers “amounts to a verdict ‘not proven’ as to the charges that the fire department is as much in danger from other kinds of graft and jobbery as it was from buying rotten hose. If conditions that common rumor reports do not exist, the inquiry of the commissioners would have demonstrated the fact. But the investigation manifestly has left the impression that there is coercion as well as graft in the department, which cannot be proved by tincommissioners of accounts for reasons well known to everybody familiar with the workings of such systems. It would be unfortunate for the community, if the failure of the first attempt to find out just how far the efficiency of our fire protection has been impaired by worse than rotten hose scandals should make an end of the inquiry. Public anxiety is not allayed by the report of the commissioners. It is aroused. If the fire department is not so badly paralysed bygraft as the police force has been, the people will want to be convinced of that, and the members of the department deserve to have the demonstration made. If our fire protection is going the way of police protection, the community will want to have drastic measures taken to avoid

such disaster.”

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