Putting Over Beneficial Firemanie Legislation
The Work Accomplished by the South Carolina State Firemen’s Association—Can Be Duplicated by Any Organization That Wishes
TO those state associations which have not gone thoroughly into the question of beneficial legislation for firemen or in fact cities which are contemplating such legislation, the following article by one who perhaps more than any other is qualified to speak on the subject should prove of great assistance. Chiefs Behrens has been very largely responsible for the good work done by the South Carolina Firemen’s Association along these lines.
The organization of a state firemen’s association should have as its chief feature the welfare of its personnel. By that I mean the best interests of every fire department in the membership as well as every firemen of each organization included in the association.
A state firemen’s association should be as much a business organization as an insurance company or any private corporation. We firemen know that the day comes when we no longer be able to respond to the gong, provided we are not taken away before that time in fighting to save property and life.
When a business man leaves his home he feels almost certain that he will return at the end of his day’s work and sit in the comfort of his family circle, but a firemen has no such assurance. He never knows what is waiting him at the sound of the bell as his apparatus rolls out to the call for assistance. With him it is a case to save property at every turn of the wheel and in many cases lives. He is called on to face danger every time he responds to an alarm.
Providing for Maimed or Families of Those Killed
It is for this reason that the firemen of every state ought to be organized into a solid group an organization that will reap them some benefits in the event of being maimed or killed in the discharge of their duties. I am not referring to unions, but to state organization by enactment of state laws that would provide benefits for the firemen without cost to the state government.
You say how is this to he done? That is easy. It has been done in South Carolina, and what South Carolina has done, other states can do as well, with the same perseverance on their part to have State Legislation enacted to protect every fireman whether paid, or volunteer. That is the answer.
How This Can Be Done
First you must organize a state association. Follow this up with a membership campaign that will bring into your membership every paid and volunteer fire department within your state or at least two thirds of them.
After this form a committee which is in harmony with your aims and is willing to put up a battle to the bitter end with your state legislature for the passage of a bill that would reap you a percentage of the insurance written in the cities and towns holding membership in the association. Two per cent, is desirable, but in some states only one per cent. is granted. This feature, of course, rests with the amount of business and the number of men involved in the association.
Following Up the Bill in the Legislature
The South Carolina State Firemen’s Association was organized in 1905 at a meeting held in the capital city at which there was only about fifteen men in attendance. Following the organization we launched a movement at once for state legislation and while we were clamoring for the passage of our bill, which was written by a special committee from our association with the help of an attorney, other departments of the state were seeking membership with the result that we had a large following when the matter came up for passage in the legislature. We had men who stayed on the job and followed the bill from one reading to another and from the house to the senate until it was passed.
On every floor we were being fought by the insurance people, who could not see why we firemen, who were protecting their property so to speak, wanted to get 2 per cent. of the insurance premiums written in the towns in which we worked and they had business. Think of that. They united together in the fight against our bill, but by being open and frank in our dealings and having only a just cause we won out in public sentiment and on all sides we were being urged to go ahead.
“First you must organize a state association. Follow this up with a membership campaign. After this form a committee which is in harmony with your aims and is willing to put up a battle to the bitter end with your state legislature for the passage of a bill that would reap you a percentage of the insurance written in the cities and towns holding membership in the association.”
Politicians Did Not Dare Oppose Measure
The politicians did not dare to oppose our stand as they had to answer for it at home, where the public, thoroughly awakened to the cause, mindful of the fact that widows and fatherless children were being considered in the movement, or a cripple fireman robbed not only of his health but also the power of providing for his family, was concerned.
Bill Declared Unconstitutional, But Another Passed
The legislature passed our bill. The next move was to bring pressure to bear on the governor and to have him veto the bill. The governor was too big a man to do this and having lost this card they took the fight to the courts, where we met them with a battery of the best legal talent in the state. It was finally ruled that the bill was unconstitutional on some minor point and we lost the fight, but this never stopped our association. We were too well organized to be halted in this manner and our fighting blood was thoroughly aroused. We went right back at them and put in a bill for 1 per cent., which was passed in 1910 and despite a second fight stood the test and today this bill is in effect in South Carolina.
$325,000 Collected Up to Date
To date we have collected $325,000 which has been distributed to the organized fire department that are members of the association and that means everyone in the state. This money goes to a fund to be disbursed under such rules as the Board of Trustees in every department may adopt and it is my pet boost that no fireman in South Carolina should ever become the inmate of an almshouse. It might also be proper to mention that from a membership of about 15 firemen in 1905 our membership at the 1924 annual meeting showed a membership of over 1800 with 64 departments enlisted.
Other Important Legislation Secured by Association
Besides the legislation with reference to the funds secured from the insurance companies through the business done in our territory, we also have improved conditions for the men. In 1920 we took a long step forward in the old Palmetto State in having the Legislature pass a bill adopting the two-platoon system which prohibits the employment of firemen of city or town fire departments for more than 12 hours during each day. In 1922 we had Legislature passed that in all public schools in the state that Fire Prevention must be taught in the state school system.
The legislation used in taxing the fire insurance companies of the state was modeled after the act of other states taxing insurance companies upon fire insurance premiums written within the incorporated limits of every city and town having an organized fire department.
Other States Follow Suit
We receive one per cent. from all insurance premiums written by these companies in cities and towns having departments equipped with fire fighting apparatus costing $1,000 or more.
It was after we had made our fight and secured the passage of our bill that North Carolina, Louisiana and other states followed with the result that I believe many states in the south have some sort of a similar law. The idea should be carried on until every state in the union has perfected a like arrangement for the protection and welfare of the firemen and their families.
The State Firemen’s Association also has been helpful in other ways. At our annual meetings we not only have a social program but also round table discussion—open discussion on matters of vital interests to the protection of life and property. These subjects are thoroughly discussed by members as well as others. Many of the speakers we have are often brought from a distance. We also have, as a rule, the insurance commissioner and governor to address us and frequently also experts in fire prevention, from whom we learn much. This exchange of ideas has resulted in many benefits to the public since it has brought about improvements in various departments. Then there is also the co-operative feeling with the result that todays every fire chief in the state is personally known to the fire chiefs of the other departments.
United Stand for Best Interest of All
We stand united in our state working for the best interests of the public at large, the insured and the insurance companies. We are aware of our duty and the loyal feeling throughout the state has been linked only because of our affiliation with each other and our annual meetings where we all gather to shake hands and swap ideas.
As a fireman for 48 active years in the Charleston fire department and president of the South Carolina State Firemen’s Association since its organization in 1905. I have as my motto. “No Fireman in South Carolina should ever become an inmate of an almshouse.”
I thank my Maker that I have been permitted to live to see the organization formed which has had such legislation passed that has made this possible. It is a dream that has come true and can be done in every state where no such legislation now exists.