Recognize the Deception in Unification Terminology
It is axiomatic in any successful endeavor that identification of the objective must be the first goal. This is true in fire fighting as in any other profession. Before an extinguisher is selected for use, the officer in charge must determine what is burning and then conduct operations accordingly. In counteracting propaganda currently advanced by the supporters of fire-police unification or integration, as it is sometimes termed, fire fighters should not lose sight of this factor. Failure to do so can result only in ineffective efforts which may tend to further confuse a muddled picture.
The single department theory for public safety is nothing new. It was proposed in this country in the 19th Century although some researchers have mentioned it originated with the British who quickly discarded it. The first issue of the National Firemens Journal, ancestor of FIRE ENGINEERING, published November 7, 1877, reports an order by the Board of Fire Commissioners of Cincinnati, Ohio. It required that all firemen be sworn in as policemen to perform police duties. The commissioners hedged a bit by noting that the men should not be required to go an unreasonable distance from the fire station in pursuit of their police functions and that two men should always remain with the apparatus.
The good burghers proved they were excellent politicians in their final charge to the firemen: They left it up to the individual concerned to decide whether or not response should be made for an alarm of fire in case one occurred while in the performance of police duties. One can only speculate on the thoughts in the minds of the Cincinnati fire fighters at that time or their resulting actions.
This reference points out one well-known fact: History does repeat itself, but man seldom learns the lessons it teaches. Now nearly 85 years later, a vocal group of municipal government theorists proclaim to all who wall listen that they have invented a new method of organization which overnight will solve all the problems of fire and police administration.
In theory, a number of men are employed as public safety officers and are trained in the fundamentals of fire fighting and police work. In the event of fire or police emergency, the men simply change hats designating their proper function and turn to in response to the alarm. It is a simple proposition and many gullible people have been lulled into a sense of complacency by the deceptive terminology employed.
Close examination of the widely heralded examples discloses that it is nothing more than the time-worn system of paid driver-call man fire department which has existed for practically as many years as the fire service. It is common in this country, and Europe where the personnel on call are usually referred to as retained men.
In practically every community now’ claimed to have a unified public safety department there are several characteristics which identify the system as the drivercall man method. Usually there is one or more fulltime officer who directs fire fighting operations. In addition, a number of men are assigned full time to drive and operate pumpers and other apparatus. The manpower necessary to stretch hose, raise ladders and attack the fire is assembled at the scene from their other duties. In some cases these men are supplemented by volunteer fire fighters from the ranks of the citizens in the community. In effect what the system provides is a large police department together with a small paid fire force supported by a supposedly guaranteed group of call men.
All across this country the call-man system can be found in communities which feel they cannot afford a complete full-time fire department. The difference is that they are identified as call fire departments and operated as such. In some cases, public works employees and other community personnel, both call men and volunteers, have also been trained to assist under the direction of competent fire officers.
Because of these factors, the fire service has opposed and resisted this so-called new concept of fire protection. Many fire sendee officials recognize it for what it is, despite any name that it may be given. They also recognize that it is a substitute for fully manned fire companies which are the keystone of sound fire protection strategy.
As a result, when unification is proposed in a community all Hell breaks loose in the literal sense. The uproar is understandable when the facts are known. No one desires a substitute when they are accustomed to the genuine article.