Reading, Pa., Firemen Score Victory
By a vote of nearly five to one, Reading, Pa., at a special referendum election on June 33 decided to continue its volunteer fire department. The vote was on the question of adopting the paid system as provided for by the city council, and 9,384 voted against its adoption, and 1,908 for it, a majority of 7,476 against it, and in favor of the volunteer system. Every one of the 16 wards and the 5l voting precincts voted against it, the smallest precinct vote against the paid system was 3 to 1, and the largest 16 to 1. The friends of the volunteer system in their many public meetings held during the last few weeks, preceeding the election, claimed that they would win by two or three to one. but none claimed or supposed that they would win with only 156 less than five to one. Out of a total of about 17,000 registered voters, all but about 6,000 voted, which is 1,000 more than voted at the city primary election in May. The election cost $2,241, and will save the city during the last seven months of this year $31,441, vhich was appropriated to maintain the paid department during that period. The paid department movement started in the city council in January, was adopted April 1 to go into operation June 1, but before that date it was held up by the refernedum movement, and if it had been apvroved of at the election just held, it would have gone into operation Oct. 1 next. It is believed that it will not now be adopted until Reading becomes a second size city by the U. S. census of 1920. The volunteer firemen favored the paid system, and it would have been adopted and would now be in operation without any important opposition had it been brought about in a different manner, according to the press and the claims of those who favored the volunteer system during the recent campaign. The defeat of the paid system. it is claimed, is ascribed principally to the New York Bureau of Municipal Research, and their report on the fire service conditions of Reading, their recommendations for a paid fire department, in which they recommended things which many Reading people pronounced wholly’ inappropriate for local conditions and that volunteer firemen who are given no important credit in the report for many years of excellent service, are allowed no credit in selecting paid firemen. The report contained recommendations for every detail of a paid force leaving absolutely tiothing of importance for Reading people to decide for themselves. The people of Reading objected to New York people, who they claim are not experienced firemen nor real fire service experts: dictating to the city even to the smallest of details how it should govern its own affairs, and by their vote resented what they termed outside interference with local affairs. The Reading Chamber of Commerce invited the Research Bureau to Reading and by a vote of 331 to 39 voted to recommend the paid department and extensively urged the public to vote for it. When the result of the vote was announced the 5,000 volunteer firemen and their friends celebrated their victory with parades, etc. One of the most popular of transparencies in the parade was one which read: “This was decided by our own experts.” A band played a dirge in front of the City Hall and the headquarters of the Chamber of Commerce. The members of the city council acknowledged defeat and have signified their intention of working harmoniously with the volunteers in fire department affairs. The firemen of Reading are probably the first in the world’s history to receive an endorsement of this kind. The election is regarded as a two-fold victory—for the control of a fire department by firemen, and the control of a city’s own affairs by local experts.