Technical Fire Fighting Service Proposed as Defense Measure
Chief Edward E. Wischer, Milwaukee Fire Department, Offers Plan for Integrating Fire Service with Government Defense*
WE need go no further back into the history of the United States than the treacherous attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, to reveal that our nation was not properly prepared to fight wartime fires. That attack was initiated by the use of explosives which in themselves were the cause of death and destruction of property; however, the resulting fires caused even greater damage to military and naval installations, planes, hangars, ships, docks, cantonments, as well as civilian property in the vicinity. In a matter of seven to fifteen minutes, complete barracks and cantonments were devoured by flames due to a lack of adequate fire protection.
Fire-fighting facilities at our various military installations at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack were wholly inadequate, but this tragedy awakened us to the necessity of building up these fire defenses. Consequently, the Federal Government requisitioned fire apparatus from the various manufacturers, although it was intended for municipal fire departments. Naturally, this struck a serious blow to the efficiency of municipal fire departments in the United States, creating a major problem for the Fire Chiefs who were delegated with the responsibility of providing adequate fire protection, particularly in cities of a highly industrial nature.
Pearl Harbor marked the advent of a new era in the annals of warfare and the initial experience of air attack on American soil; (and it found us woefully unprepared and incompetent to cope with this new hazard). This experience would indicate the need of preparedness now so as to avoid a repetition of this unfortunate circumstance, and assure proper and adequate fire protection for our property, be it military, naval or civilian.
One of the first steps to be taken to accomplish this, is to have the fire fighting profession properly recognized as a vital factor in the security of our nation. A trained firefighter cannot be produced overnight—the records will bear out the fact that it takes at least five years of training and practical experience. This is approximately the same period required to earn a degree as lawyer, dentist, engineer—or to become a journeyman in the carpentry, toolmaking, and other highly skilled trades. The average cost for the first year of instruction of a rookie firefighter is estimated at $5,000 for metropolitan fire departments, and this investment should be protected.
In time of war the profession of fire fighting should be so recognized and the drafting of fire department personnel be made from a pool of professional firefighters, for assignment to such specific duties in the various branches of the services. This pool of professional firefighters can best be made up of fully qualified men from the municipal fire departments in the United States, but the communities should be given assurance that not more than twenty per cent of the personnel of any individual fire department will be taken into this service and that adequate coverage will be assured for all communities.
* Paper presented before Wisconsin Fire Chiefs
The proposed reserve supply of trained firefighters to be available in time of emergency is comparable to the active reserve units of the various armed services as well as the National Guard units located in the states of the Union. In time of emergency, National Guard and Reserve units are relied upon by the active duty personnel of the armed services of our country to provide the nucleus of a full wartime service force. Because of their background of training and experience, they are given commissions and ratings, and placed in responsible positions in our country’s defense program. The firefighters in the United States are also a trained and experienced force upon which the general welfare of the country relies, and in time of war their services are even more valuable, and should be so recognized.
All such moves toward preparedness and safeguards should be made during time of peace, and should cover other fields in addition to the establishing of regulations to provide for the. drafting of civilian firefighters. A determined effort should be made to create a unit which for want of a better name could be known as “The United States Technical Fire Fighting Service,” to have supreme control of all fire fighting and fire prevention programs in the armed services, whether it be Army, Navy, Marine, Coast Guard, or Air Corps.
This proposed United States Technical Fire Fighting Service should be established with proper specialist ranks for all grades of work connected therewith, comparable to those in all other armed services. The head of this unit should be a recognized man in the field of fire fighting and fire prevention, augmented by a sufficient number of additional outstanding men with fire fighting and fire prevention reputations as may be necessary to adequately handle this large and important service. The personnel making up the actual fire fighting units in the various services to be composed of regular personnel from such services who have enlisted or been drafted from the pool of firefighters and hold specialist ratings of a grade commensurable with their duties.
With the creation of such Service, all fire fighting and fire prevention methods and practices would become uniform in our armed services. This is a most important factor, and one that requires particular emphasis.
Fire is an element that knows no boundaries, whether of human origin or whether fashioned by nature. This circumstance leads to the natural conclusion that fire fighting and fire prevention work must likewise be of a universal nature. All fire departments should be ready and willing to assist neighboring fire departments—and all departments should be properly equipped and trained so that this assistance will be practical and effective. To this end it is urged that all fire fighting apparatus and equipment be standardized so that it could be used by neighboring departments interchangeably, thereby avoiding any delay in combatting the mutual enemy when necessity demands. At present, in most instances the fittings, hose, threads on connections, and connections, are not of a single pattern, which fact alone virtually eliminates any practical benefit from aid offered by surrounding departments in cases of extensive fires.
Any program of standardization of fire apparatus and equipment naturally falls within the province of Federal Government regulation in order to be effective on a national basis. Incorporated in this Federal regulation there should be further controls to eliminate the purchase of inefficient, worthless, and unsuitable fire apparatus and equipment. At present there are communities whose security is based on apparatus and equipment which is absolutely of no practical value, because the apparatus and equipment was not suitable for the needs of the purchasers or because it was bought with insufficient knowledge of all the factors involved. Regardless of the particular reasons, however, the residents of such communities are living in false security, and their property is a potential source of catastrophe.
Standardization of training methods in fire fighting and fire prevention is a necessity and should be provided for in a Federal program. This program would realize the thoughts advanced by President Truman at the recent Fire Prevention Conference at Washington. President Truman advocated the practice of fire prevention on a year ’round basis in order to reduce the tremendous losses of life and property from fire. These losses in 1946 reached an all-time high.
The program for the standardization of all training methods could easily be carried out through the establishment of Federal Training Centers invarious areas of the United States. At these Centers, standard practices would be taught to the instructors of the fire departments within their designated areas, who in turn would bring these practices to their local communities. There are but three methods of contending with the danger of fire, regardless of where fire may be encountered:
- Efficient fire prevention programs to prevent inception.
- Cooling burning material below its ignition point.
- Smothering the fire.
The various methods to be used in applying the foregoing principles would be taught at these Centers, including fundamentals of the use of equipment and apparatus of a fire department. In addition, all necessary fire department sciences would be a part of the course, embracing construction methods and materials, exceptional hazards, methods of attack, hydraulics, and other related subjects.
Proper basic instructions are an important asset to the novice in facing his baptism of real fire fighting. The practical experience he receives under the guidance of his officers and co-w’orkers is the real education. Through practical experience the men learn that fire fighting is an assignment requiring efficiency, precision and dispatch—allowing little time for study or debate as to the best methods to combat the enemy. A quick survey upon arrival at the scene must suffice and the work of extinguishment begun immediately. An old adage of firemen that “attack in the first five minutes of the fire will save five hours in overhauling” holds true because immediate attack prevents the spread of the fire and permits quick confinement to the area of origin.
The writer does not wish to imply that no fire fighting or fire prevention programs were engaged in by the Armed Services, but desires only to point out that they were not sufficiently forewarned and prepared for the type of emergency presented by the new types of warfare, as proven by the disaster at Pearl Harbor.
Fire Service Not Wisely Used in War?
The Navy’s fire fighting school at Great Lakes was observed in action, and its program was very fine, but in some respects it was a case of locking the barn after the horse was stolen. The instructors at Great Lakes were men from the fire fighting services, but the men under their supervision, who would be given individual responsibility to a great degree after a short course of instruction, in nearly every instance were novice firemen. Many had never even seen a piece of fire hose, or handled any fire fighting equipment—but the instructors were frying to make firemen out of them. However, at the same time experienced firefighters had been drafted from the fire departments of the country and assigned to duties other than that which they had performed as civilians, for which they were trained and qualified. In the case of the 153 men entering the armed services from the Milwaukee Fire Department, a check revealed that forty-four served in fire fighting units, or approximately 25 per cent.
Extensive wartime fire fighting training would naturally be a slow process, but could be avoided with the proper fire fighting program in effect, whereby trained men would be taken from a pool of firefighters throughout the country and given a brief period of intensive training in the types of fires to be encountered, or anticipated from war hazards. They would not require the long indoctrination of a novice, as their background oi training and experience would give them the necessary fundamentals and personal confidence in approaching fires and attacking them, and would give our country an efficient fire fighting force in the shortest possible time in the event of a national emergency.
The proposed United States Technical Fire Fighting Service would also be the responsible authority for the correlation of fire fighting programs between the local fire departments, the citizens, Civilian Defense bodies, and other interested agencies, similar to that program of instruction and training engaged in under the Civilian Defense program of World War II. A further responsibility which would undoubtedly devolve upon this Service would be the protection of war materiel and supplies, civilian goods, etc., being shipped and stored on an inter-state and international basis.
During wartime, the problems of fire fighting and fire prevention are not confined to the armed services, nor to protection against air attack. The Fire Chiefs have the additional problem of contending with increased hazards created by the speed-up in production in the industrial plants in their community. Such accelerated programs result in careless or hazardous installation of machinery and power supplies because of war necessity. Overcrowding of storage spaces of raw and finished material creates a further hazard, eliminating the effectiveness of sprinkler systems where installed, as well as hampering the work of the firefighter when fire docs break out.
Hastily constructed manufacturing facilities. without due regard for safety factors, and manufacturing carried on in buildings not intended nor suitable for such purpose add to the possibilities of fire and increase the hazards native to industry. The owners and operators of these industrial plants, engrossed in the problems of production, often ignore fire prevention in their plants. A lack of properly instructed watchmen and tire brigades was found in our own community at the time the extensive production of war materiel was begun, which made the United States known as “the arsenal of the world.”
Milwaukee County’s Experience
The problems confronting the Fire Chiefs of Milwaukee County, who were responsible for the protection of a very vital industrial manufacturing center of the United States, soon became apparent, and a definite step was taken to combat the dangers by organizing the Milwaukee County Association of Fire Chiefs on March 5, 1941—more than nine months before the Pearl Harbor disaster. Fifteen Chiefs were members of the origina. Association, the primary purpose of which was to arrange for adequate fire protection of the many industrial plants in the County. In order to provide for the exchange of fire service to make this protection available, resolutions were passed in the many communities giving their Fire Chief authority to extend assistance to his neighbor if called upon. To make this exchange of service practical, it was necessary to establish uniform training in the use of equipment, and provide for the apparatus and equipment to be standard. It was agreed that each department send a representative to the Milwaukee F’ire Department’s Training School to receive instructions, and this representative was to pass this knowledge on to fellow members in his Department.
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The standardization and uniformity were carried out among the fire departments of Milwaukee County to the extent of having the equipment carried on the apparatus in a uniform manner. This was done to make it possible for the members of one Department to locate necessary tools or equipment on any apparatus at the scene of an alarm, whether it be from his own community or not, daytime or at night.
The hire Chiefs of the Milwaukee metropolitan district, realizing that their departments alone would be inadequate to cope with the tremendous hazards created by twenty-four-hour-a-day production programs, felt that greater fire prevention methods in the plants themselves would be the only solution to this problem. The Milwaukee County Association of Fire Chiefs then entered into a campaign to interest all the industrial plants in the county in the formation of plant fire brigades. At the time the program was launched, there were twelve plant fire brigades in the plants of the County, but with their immediate whole-hearted support to the plan, a total of 263 plant fire brigades were formed.
The facilities of the Milwaukee Fire Department Training School were made available to representatives from each of the plants, where they received instructions in first aid fire fighting, as well as the proper method of sending in an alarm. In all cases they were cautioned to call the regular fire department immediately, and not wait while trying to handle the fire themselves, thereby causing a delayed alarm, the bane of all good firefighters.
Due to the excellent cooperation received from the industrial plants in this area, Milwaukee was one of the fewcommunities that could point to an actual reduction in fire losses in industrial plants during the War period.
The Milwaukee County Association of Fire Chiefs did not dissolve their membership w-ith the cessation of hostilities —in fact, we have added one additional Fire Chief to the organization with the creation of a fire department in another village in the County. It is the belief of members of the Association that there is ample justification for the continuance of the exchange of service program in peacetime as well as during wartime.
We have found this program to w-ork most satisfactorily in cases of borderline fires. There is no delay in the process of extinguishment if a fire is found to be beyond-the normal limits of the department responding, which immediately goes to work and at the same time the hire Chief of the community in which the fire is located is notified so that he may take the necessary action for official records.
Monthly meetings of the Milwaukee County Fire Chiefs are held at which discussions take place pertaining to department matters, new ideas, new equipment, with any changes in methods of fire fighting being made county-wide through this Association. In addition, these meetings serve the purpose of a question and answer forutn where the problems confronted by the various chiefs may be freely discussed. A great amount of valuable information obtained through practical experience is thereby made available to the members of the Association.
The heads of the Industrial Plant Brigades are also a part of this association through the medium of associate memberships. Information is furnished to them in the same manner, and the facilities of the training schools of the regular fire departments are available for instruction of their personnel.
Under the Civilian Defense program during the War, the same uniformity of instruction of Auxiliary Firemen was carried out by the fire departments of Milwaukee County, affording the community the maximum in protection.
Later, when the Internal Security Division took over the responsibility of correlating the fire fighting and fire prevention services for the protecting of plants engaged in war production for the U. S. Government, the head of the service in our area was extremely surprised to find that Milwaukee County was one place which created no problem. In fact, it was stated that Milwaukee County had a plan in operation which even exceeded their demands and that many of the features could well be applied to the other areas under the jurisdiction of the Internal Security Division.
As an outgrowth of the training received under the Civilian Defense program as Auxiliary Firemen, a number of civic minded men organized a volunteer auxiliary unit known as the Milwaukee Fire Department Emergency Corps. This corps was formed for the primary purpose of a reserve supply of trained personnel to augment the regular force in the event of a major disaster. These men are continually receiving fire department instruction under the supervision and direction of the department’s Bureau of Instruction and Training. In the event of a greater alarm of fire, the heads of this unit are notified by the fire department dispatching bureau and the balance of the members of the corps are alerted by them, and report to designated stations to await further orders. The services of the Corps has been greatly appreciated by the regular personnel and provides a very valuable adjunct in the protection of our community.
The Milwaukee County Association of Fire Chiefs believes that the record for non-interruption of war production attributable to fires in the Milwaukee industrial area is primarily due to the broad fire fighting and fire prevention service program sponsored by the Association before our country actually entered the War.
The proposed plan for a United States Technical Fire Fighting Service to institute on a national scale a program similar to that which we have practiced and found extremely valuable in our own County is, therefore, regarded as highly feasible in peacetime and certainly a necessity during wartime. Such Service would also give proper recognition to the fire fighting profession, which it so richly deserves. The proposed plan will further result in assurance to the citizens and production centers of adequate fire protection from experienced personnel during any emergency. The standardization of apparatus, equipment and training would be of inestimable value to the nation’s fire service and provide a means for the development of a universal fire service for combatting our most persistent and dangerous enemy—FIRE.