Some Reflections On Retiring
The Editor’s Opinion Page
It’s hard to believe, but when I was appointed to the New York City Fire Department on March 1, 1938, the starting salary was $2000 per year. Harder still to believe is that I was soon driving a 1926 Seagrave hook and ladder. The tractor of this rig had solid rubber tires, a chain drive and two-wheel friction brakes. The trailer, which carried the aerial, was a conversion job built in 1915 that originally had been drawn by horses.
At that time, of the 600 some odd pieces of apparatus in the department, not one carried a radio. Breathing apparatus (Draegers) were carried only by rescue companies, with the exception of two “filter masks” in every battalion car.
Compared to the equipment I saw last September at the IAFC conference, this era represented the dark ages of the fire service. (Remember, however, that it was the time of the Great Depression.) Unfortunately World War II followed on the heels of the Depression and every fire department had to make do with what they had until sometime around 1950 when reequipping began in earnest.
This reequipping took a long while, but by the time I hit Fire Engineering in May 1962, any fire department worth its salt had discarded the wooden aerial, installed two-way radios in every rig and was cautiously looking at the diesel engine. Then there was the newly introduced Snorkel over which there developed considerable controversy vis-a-vis the aerial ladder—a controversy long laid to rest. And, thank heaven, self-contained breathing apparatus was worn by every man who went into a fire.
Training in the ’30s consisted of much raising and climbing of ladders and much aiming of empty nozzles at imaginary fires, with little else to while away the hours at probationary school. Training, of course, has increased in scope and effectiveness since those primitive days 40 years ago, not only at the probationary level but throughout the full range of a fire fighter’s career.
Alarm systems is another area which has seen tremendous expansion and improvement. Wired telegraph alarm boxes in 1938 were pretty much the same as they were in 1898. And for the volunteers in small towns there was only the telephone. Now we have two-way radio, pagers, encoders, computerized dispatching and what have you.
All in all, the fire service in 1980 is in the best shape that I have seen it since I first put on helmet, coat and boots 42 years ago. And with the advent of the United States Fjre Administration and the Fire Academy, the future looks even better.
I hope I haven’t bored you with this brief history of “my time in the fire service” but this is the last time my thoughts will fill this page, and I am understandably, I hope, nostalgic. As to my career with Fire Engineering, I leave the judgment to you the readers. In 18 years of flying around the country, I managed to touch down in 46 states, met a host of fire fighters, many of whom have become close personal friends and all of whom I will carry into retirement in my happy memories bag.
So, it’s so long, and so nice to have known you!