Some Suggestions for Efficient Two-Platoon Operation
Equal Night and Day Shift Plan—Two Corresponding Sets of Chief Officers—Increased Prestige of the Office of Captain Result of System
THE general adoption of the two-platoon system by fire departments throughout the country has developed certain points which are bound to come up for decision from time to time. Two of the most important and most often met with of these are the questions as to the most equitable apportionment of the working hours and the matter of the division of responsibility of the officers. Mr. Meek has given much thought to matters connected with the two-platoon system and has thoroughly investigated its workings. His opinions on the subject should, therefore, be of “value.
Two questions are most frequently presented to chief officers of fire departments in cities which have just adopted the two-platoon plan of organization: The division of responsibility of officers and arrangement of working hours. Chiefs of departments are, technically at least, always on duty, and regardless of the hours they spend in quarters or at their offices, are responsible at all times for the condition of their departments and are prepared to roll if multiple alarms indicate a dangerous situation.
Chiefs’ Responsibility Perpetual
In some cities the chief observes regular office hours and spends his nights at home, provision being made for his car to call for him in case of multiple alarms or other emergencies. But actually the responsibility for the department rests heavily on the chief’s shoulders at all times, and the adoption of two-platoons makes very little difference in the working hours of the chief of department, and relieves him of no responsibility at any time.
In most cities where the two-shift plan is in operation the deputy and battalion chiefs are subject to the same hours as the other members. There are, however, several notable exceptions to this rule. In Detroit, for instance, the chief officers elected to retain their former working schedule of every fourth day off, with meal privileges while on duty. Where this plan is followed there is no question of responsibility involved, but a majority of the twoplatoon cities give the chief officers below the rank of chief of department the benefits of the two-shift system and provision must be made for the relief of these officers. Opinion is divided as to the advisability of having dual sets of officers of equal rank in charge of districts or battalions on opposite shifts.
The Method Pursued in New York City
New York City may be taken as an example of the school of thought that argues for the undivided responsibility of a single officer for the efficiency and effective operation of a unit of organization. The New York department is divided into twelve divisions, each in charge of a deputy chief, and fortyfour battalions, each commanded by a chief of battalion. Battalion chiefs are assigned to relieve deputy chiefs on the opposite platoon and captains are designated as acting battalion chiefs.
By this method of organization there is one chief officer in charge of each division and district, and responsibility for discipline, manning and efficiency of each unit is definitely fixed. If a battalion is below standard, the chief of department holds the battalion chief strictly accountable and he cannot escape his responsibility by passing it to an officer of equal rank on the opposite shift. His relieving officer is inferior to the battalion chief in rank and is instructed by him in the administration of the battalion while in charge. Of course, the acting chief officer is accountable for the operation of companies while working on his shift. The tours are so arranged that chiefs of adjoining battalions or divisions are not off duty at the same time, and as more than one chief is assigned to practically all alarm stations, there are few fires where an officer of full chief rank is not present. According to the rules, an officer relinquishes command to the first officer of higher rank to arrive.
Two Equal Sets of Chief Officers
A large number of cities assign two chief officers of equal rank to the various districts and divisions. It is argued that as these officers perform the same fire duty and, on their shift, assume equal responsibility, they should have the same rank and pay. Chicago is one of the cities that provides for the command of its fire districts in this way.
While a number of cities have dual sets of chief officers, very few departments follow this plan for company officers. The majority of departments have captains and lieutenants on opposite shifts, although a comparatively small number of cities have given equal ranks and pay to the company officers in charge of the two platoons. Newark is the only city of the first fifteen to abolish the position of lieutenant and assign two captains to each company. Los Angeles has retained the two grades of captain and lieutenant because of charter provisions, but has given equal pay to these officers. My observation, when in Los Angeles, a little over a year ago, was that the effect had been to destroy any actual difference in the authority of responsibility of captains and lieutenants.
“I have before me data on the working schedules in one hundred and eight cities ranging in population from fifty thousand to six million. Eighty-five of these cities use some variation of the ten and fourteen-hour plan, while twenty-two of the departments work twenty-four hours on and off. One department reports that it operates 48-hour shifts.”
At the time of the adoption, of platoons in New York City there was considerable agitation on the part of the lieutenants to give all officers in this grade the rank of captain. The chief of department opposed the plan and there is little possibility of the successful revival of the scheme. Those who favor equal rank for company officers argue that the lieutenant is in full charge of his shift and bears a responsibility equal to that of his captain.
Prefer to Fix Responsibility on One Officer
The majority of chiefs, however, prefer to fix responsibility for the condition of houses and apparatus and the efficiency of companies on one officer. The captain assumes full responsibility for the discipline and efficiency of his company, imposes such rewards and penalties as are within the province of the company commander, establishes watches, assigns details, etc. If a company is below par, under this plan, the remedy lies in a checking up of the administration of one officer, the captain. Of course, this plan necessarily involves frequent changes of shifts by the company officers, so that the captain is in personal contact with all members of his company at least one-half of the time.
Increased Prestige of Office of Captain
In New York some companies have as many as four to six officers and it will be recognized that if all these officers in a station had equal rank that a division of authority and shifting of responsibility would necessarily result. Until recent years it was the practice in this department to house but one company in a station but with building of combination houses, it is now customary to assign one captain to the house, with as many lieutenants as are necessary to provide at least one officer for each company on each shift. This method of organization gives increased prestige and importance to the office of captain and effectually fixes in one officer definite responsibility for the general condition and efficiency of the units housed in the station. An added incentive for study is given to the more capable and ambitious junior officers.
I believe that an esprit de corps is secured by this plan that is not observed when two separate and distinct crews are in charge of a company on opposite shifts, and it is my opinion, after careful observation, that those who argue for equal rank and pay for all company officers, have not the weight of sound judgment and effective organization on their side. There is no argument, however, that under the twoplatoon system the lieutenant must be an officer fully competent to command the company and with a salary more nearly equal to that of the captain than was the rule in many departments when operating under continuous service.
Tours of Duty
Most of our large cities and a majority of all those with populations over twenty-five thousand, now operate their fire departments under the two-shift plant. There are, however, a number of chiefs of department who are yet planning for platoons and others who are giving thought to the best arrangement of working hours. For these reasons, I believe that a discussion of the relative advantages of the several plans for arranging the tours is in order. There are over seven hundred two-platoon departments in the United States. I have before me data on the working schedules in one hundred and eight cities ranging in population from fifty thousand to six million and these statistics probably give an accurate cross section of the comparative popularity of the several systems.
Analysis of Statistics
Eighty-five of these cities use some variation of the ten and fourteen-hour plan, while twenty-two of the departments work twenty-four hours on and off. One department reports that it operates 48-hour shifts. A pamphlet published by the Schenectady Firemen’s Association lists thirty two-platoon departments and shows twenty-five cities that change shifts twice a day, and five that use the 24-24 hour system.
Further analysis of the statistics of the one-hundred-eight cities indicates that the 10-14 hour plan is the most popular, being used in eighty cities. New York changes shifts at 9 a. m. and 6 p. m., two departments change tours at 7 a. m. and 6 p. m., while four cities report that the 12-12 hour plan is favored.
Cities Change From Three to Two-Platoon
For some time, Cleveland operated under a threeplatoon schedule, but recently changed to the 24-24 hour system on the vote of the members of the department. I have talked with several Cleveland firemen regarding this choice and their positive approval of the alternate day schedule indicates that there is little likelihood that the eight-hour day will ever be generally adopted for fire department purposes. Under the three-platoon system the tours changed at 8 a. m., 4 p. m. and midnight. The dormitories were closed and the shifts reporting at midnight had to remain alert on the apparatus floor until relieved. The greatest objection on the part of the men seemed to be that the eight-hour system did not allow any full 24-hour days off and there was not the opportunity for recreation trips that exists where the two-platoon plan is in effect. The advantage to the taxpayers of the latter system is obvious as fifty per cent, better service is secured with an equal number of men.
Toledo voted for the eight-hour system but a schedule of 48 hours on and 48 hours off has been adopted, the unique feature of this plan being that the men on duty are allowed time off for meals. I understand that the members accepted this plan in lieu of the eight-hour day as approved by the voters. It would appear that this system would result in the loss of many of the advantages claimed for the twoplatoon plan. The companies are not fully manned at all hours of the day and it is probably true that the response to multiple alarms by the off-shift will be affected by the number of men taking advantage of the forty-eight hour relief to go on extended trips out of the city.
Columbus, Ohio, originally adopted the 10-14 hour basis but later changed to the plan of relieving the men every twenty-four hours. I recently had dinner with the men at one of the Columbus fire stations and the majority of those with whom I talked preferred the present system because of the opportunity it gives for longer trips to the country and nearby cities.
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No Question As to Advantage of Two-Platoon
There is no serious question of the advantages of platoons where sufficient men are provided to properly man the apparatus. The men are better satisfied, the apparatus responds with full crews, and there is a trained reserve force always available for emergencies. Companies exhausted from several hours strenuous work are relieved by fresh crews and proper fire service can be rendered at all times.
A fire department is necessarily a semi-military organization in which a rigid discipline must he enforced and a proper respect for authority exacted. It has always been thought that a natural liking for the “business” was an essential in the make-up of a real “smoke-eater.” The natural-born fireman likes the engine house and the excitement of the job but, unlike the military forces is usually a family man with the responsibilities that attach to the established citizen. He is entitled to working hours that make possible a normal, healthy existence.
It is the duty of responsible heads of departments to provide working schedules that permit the most nearly normal home conditions, that provide proper recreation periods, and yet that exact from the men a close application to the job and create closely-knit companies working harmoniously as single units regardless of the fact that only half of the members are on duty at one time.
Night and Day Shift Plan Best
For the benefit of the men these requirements seem to call for as many meals at home each day as possible, an equal division of night and day tours, and twenty-four hours off at least once a week. It is to the advantage of the department to provide the least encouragement for outside employment, to secure the undivided interest of the force and to furnish the greatest possible opportunity for the training and control of the companies as co-ordinated units by the responsible company commanders. As one of the major advantages claimed for platoons is the possibility of calling the off-shift, the system adopted should assure the availability of the maximum of men off duty. These advantages are best secured by the night and day shift plan as perfected in New York and other cities.
When New York City decided to adopt the twoplatoon system of fire service, Chief Kenlon appointed a committee, consisting of a member front each grade in the uniformed force, to recommend the best system that could be worked out. The recommendations of this committee were adopted, the general scheme being that of the “Newark plan.” The tours of duty are from 9 a. m. to 6 p. m. and 6 p. m. to 9 a. m., the shifts changing each third day. The working of this system allows the members to have at least two meals at home five days out of six and gives each man 24 hours off every sixth day, at which time the opposite platoon works for 24 hours.
In order that all the companies will not be given 24 hour leaves on the same days, the companies are divided into three groups. Companies in the first group given 24-hour leave on the first and fourth days, the second group companies take the second and fifth days, and the companies in the third group give leaves on the third and sixth days. This plan means that only one-sixth of the department is on 24-hour leave at one time with a consequent minimum of men out of the city.
Method of Shifting Men From One Platoon to the Other
An interesting feature of this plan is the method of rotating members from one platoon to the other. After the fourth regular leave each month the company officers change from one platoon to the other, the engineers change shifts after each second regular leave in the month and one fireman in each platoon changes at the same time that the officers rotate to the other shift. In this way commanding officers are brought in personal contact with all members of their companies, cliques are broken up and the crews are trained to work together efficiently.
In New York, the members attend the fire college, schools, parades, funerals, etc., when on the off-tour. When a whole company is detailed to the school, funeral, or other service, the off-platoon of an adjoining company is ordered to report for duty to the quarters of the company on the special detail, and at all times and under all circumstances companies are fully manned. There are enough extra officers and engineers in each battalion to take care of sick leaves and vacations.
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In some cities operating under the 24-hour shift plan with two sets of officers. I have observed a tendency to consider the department as two separate organizations. It is only in these cities that I have heard the opposite platoon referred to as the “other company.” I have heard it argued that this means healthy competition between the two crews of a company, but I am of the opinion that cliques are formed and jealousies created that are not beneficial to the department.
Preference of Firemen for Twenty-four Hour Plan
I believe that the firemen generally prefer the 24hour shift plan because of the opportunity offered for undertaking excursions or doing work that could not be completed in a 10-hour leave. The plan is the most simple to operate but many chiefs are of the opinion that it results in a detachment of the men from their work and training as firemen. The “Newark plan,” as worked out in a large number of cities, appeals to many careful observers as offering the best combination of the good features of both the continuous service and two-platoon systems.