Rebuilding a fire department

Rebuilding a fire department



How the Rochester, N. Y., Fire Bureau reversed a downward trend

General Townson, who recently retired as commissioner of public safety was appointed to his post on December 15, 1950. He is a Major General, United States Army, retired.

MORE ADEQUATE fire protection for Rochester, N. Y., is the result of a long-range plan inaugurated in the early 1950’s, based on relocation of firehouses and the reassigning of manpower in the various locations. This plan was developed after the National Board of Fire Underwriters surveyed Rochester in 1949. The report was a cause for concern by the city officials and the fire bureau because enough deficiency points were assessed against Rochester to place it in the position of a Class 4 city. Fifteen years had elapsed since the previous survey— then Rochester had been rated as a Class 3 city.

The 1949 report listed the following deficiencies:

Immediate steps were taken by the city manager to determine what could be done by the city to improve conditions. He met with representatives of the National Board and the New York Fire Insurance Rating Organization and discussed all phases of the report. The Rating Organization agreed to delay the mandatory rate adjustment accompanying the change from Class 3 to Class 4 with the firm promise that the City of Rochester was including improved fire protection as part of its over-all redevelopment program. The city manager also requested a detailed list of deficiencies from the Board. Study of these revealed that the Board’s greatest concern was insufficient manpower and insufficient number of stations to cover the city within the required response distances.

At that time, plans were already under way for the improvement of Rochester’s water supply. To augment its upland supply, a 36-mgd treatment plant was built near Lake Ontario to draw water from that source and was completed in 1954 at an approximate cost of $6,000,000. The supply mains of the upland supply from Hemlock Lake were cleaned and lined. By the end of 1955 more than 12 miles of new mains, 71 new valves and 143 new hydrants had been installed. In 1955 a five-year program for cleaning and lining the mains of the Holly High Pressure Water System was initiated. This project included the installation of new 16-inch main from the domestic water supply to feed the Holly pumping plant.

Apparatus replacement program has resulted in all modern first-line pumpers less than 10 years of age and ladder trucks not over 14 years old. Complement of reserve pumpers are all less than 20 years of age at presentClimatic conditions are sometimes severe in the western New York lake area. View of winter fire fighting scene is typicalExtensive use of ladders and heavy streams on business occupancy in downtown high-value area. Construction of modern highways and traffic loops is eliminating some hazardous buildings from center of Rochester

To consider the other deficiencies assessed against Rochester, a fire bureau recommendation committee was appointed. This committee was composed of ranking officers of each of the divisions of the fire bureau. At the same time the bureau of municipal research was studying the report. Weekly meetings were held by representatives of these groups. Their first consideration was to suggest changes in the fire bureau to reduce the deficiency points.

In order to comply with the recommendations of NBFU, it seemed that it would be necessary to build new stations to house two new pumpers and one new ladder truck at a capital expenditure of $500,000. This would also have required an increase in the yearly payroll of approximately $250,000. In order to properly man existing fire stations, 72 new firemen were needed. This would have meant another increase in the yearly payroll of $360,000.

The committee, after a detailed survey of response areas, recommended that a firehouse relocation program be started. This would eliminate five existing companies and permit meeting the manpower and response requirements without an appreciable change in the yearly payroll.

Rochester’s training program received severe criticism. Facilities were such that drills were limited to the summer months and modern training practices were impossible due to limited space and the age of the building. As part of the improvement program, the city council authorized the building of a modern and complete fire training academy.

The fire academy, located on the edge of the city, where there was sufficient ground to allow most modern training methods, was completed in 1954 at the approximate cost of $1,000,000. Also housed at this facility is the engineering and repair division. Actually a new concept in fire training, it is a model which has brought visitors to Rochester from all over the United States and Canada.

Fire fighting apparatus was in bad condition and rated poorly. Some firstline pumpers were 23 years old. Our ladder trucks included some with old wooden aerials and we had three quads. A five-year replacement program for equipment was started and has been revised each year.

Today all first-line pumpers are less than 10 years old and 12 reserve pumpers are less than 20 years old. Ladder trucks are all equipped with metal aerials and no first-line truck is over 14 years old. Many types of small appliances such as breathing apparatus, hose clamps, hose jackets, acetylene torches were purchased to provide proper tools and equipment.

The working schedule of the fire bureau was revised. A three-group system was inaugurated so that floating officers were eliminated and the groups, from deputy chief to fireman, worked and trained as teams.

The fire prevention division was strengthened and more authority and responsibility delegated to the fire marshal. A new fire prevention code, patterned after the suggested code of the NBFU was adopted by the city council. A system of building inspection by company members was started and has proved of great value.

The fire alarm division was scrutinized and minor deficiencies were corrected. Fire dispatchers were transferred from control by the superintendent of fire alarm maintenance and placed under the direction of the fire chief. They were assigned to the same working system as other members of the fire bureau and salary adjustments and promotional possibilities were provided. The communication system was strengthened by installation of radios in all stations and on all apparatus, and all interfering-type fire alarm telegraph boxes were replaced with the modern succession type. Modernization of the dispatching center is now under way and when completed will handle all emergency calls for Rochester and Monroe County.

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City officials and members of the city council have followed closely the several and various improvement programs within the fire bureau. With the vast changes made, it seemed logical to seek a supplemental survey by the National Board. In 1955, the fire services were surveyed again and the resulting improvement over 1950 is noted:

First in importance was the emphasis placed within the fire bureau itself. However, other improvement programs within the city reflect on the administration of the fire bureau too. High-density arterial highways in and around Rochester have replaced many fire hazards and these express arteries afford better response routes for fire apparatus. Rochester’s comprehensive off-street parking program in the downtown area has resulted in the demolition of old fire-prone buildings which have been replaced with fireproof parking ramps. Our downtown redevelopment and rehabilitation effort has and will continue to replace older structures with those of modern construction. At the same time, new street construction necessitated changes in fire alarm circuits with resulting improvements.

These many facets of municipal administration posed new problems for the fire bureau. These problems, however, made city officials aware of the importance of closer cooperation between the several departments and bureaus and made them realize the necessity of keeping the fire bureau informed of proposed changes. Today the fire bureau works closely with members of the planning commission, engineers, rehabilitation commission and building bureau of the city. The scope of their operation goes even farther. It extends to representatives of county and state government and to the engineers in the hundreds of private industries within this area.

Accomplishments of the Rochester Fire Bureau which are detailed in this issue could not have been realized in so short a time if it were not for the deep interest of the corps of employees who worked so diligently with me— the officials of Rochester and the members of the city council.

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