THE BOSTON FIRE DEPARTMENT.
In a recent lecture to the members of the Insurance Library association, of Boston, Fire Commissioner B. W. Wells, of that city, spoke on its fire department. He divided his subject into three heads: First, the department as it was under the three-headed commission; second, as it was under the late Colonel H. S. Russell, the first single head; and, third, as it is today. He showed that the evils arising from a plural commission in the line of lax discipline, poor fire stations, the injection of politics, the lack of progress, and a general condition of going backward. Under the rule of Commissioner Russell, who, after filling for a few months an unexpired term on the old board, was appointed the first single commissioner in July, 1895, with full power to act as he thought best, politics ceased to form a basis for appointment, promotion or other form of favor from the department; “the houses were made more sanitary, cheerful and livable;” boozers and loafers were driven out; the standard of officers and men was raised; and the efficiency of the apparatus and methods of fighting fire were improved. Commissioner Wells, though he had been much mixed up in politics, said that, “even from a party point of view,” to have re-introduced politics into the fire department would have been “absolute folly” •—as great folly as for himself, because, he had been a consistant attendant at fires, to “interfere by suggestion or hy order with the work of the chief of the department.” He added that he did not enter the department as a stranger, (but had] had the advantage of knowing to a very considerable degree the personnel of the force in a way [he] could never have done as head of the department.”’ He declared it to be a “pleasure to be associated with the strong, earnest, brave characters who comprise the official family of the department”—men who have most heartily cooperated with him in every effort to increase its efficiency and made many valuable suggestions looking to that end. The only fault he had to find with Colonel Russell’s administration was, that it was “run on too close a financial basis for safety.” Whatever the economic conditions in other cities, those in Boston called for the expenditure of money to secure “necessary and proper protection against fire, and the difference between the really unsafe line lived up to by the late commissioner and the reasonably safe line” advocated by himself was “small compared with the very much greater margin of safety to be secured. One or two bad losses would cover the increased expenditure of years.” Since taking office on Maarch 20 he had had to “fit his garment to the cloth provided”—the appropriation for the year made in the previous February. He had brought the strength of the department up to 750 men—his maximum for the present. He hinted, however, that a considerable number of men “whose usefulness as firemen has passed” were “fairly entitled to a pension through length of service and because of infirmities.” Certain companies are at present so lightly manned that at certain hours of the day an engine company might go out with the captain in the box seat, the engineer and one man on the tender and one man driving the hose wagon. Without a driver at a fire there was no one to look after the horses, and an assistant engineer should always be on hand to look after the engine. “Quick effective work at the breaking out of a fire is the thing to strive for.” He had at once made a careful inspection of the department houses, and planned how to get the best results out of his appropriation by increasing the force and strengthening the weak spots as far as possible. He had shifted the second assistant chief to Roxbury to cover that section, still leaving at headquarters the chief and assistant chief of the department. The district lines were changed, so as to leave the upper end of the uptown shopping district amply covered and provide for the warehousing and manufacturing district. A new running card has been prepared, so as to lessen the amount of apparatus sent to some boxes and increase it at others. The rules and regulations of the department are also being revised, amended and brought up to date. A card system has been installed covering every man’s history very completely. It includes seven cards for each man. One gives his history as filled in by himself; the second has his photograph; the third is for remarks, including unusual leaves of absence or anything happening out of the ordinary; the fourth is a record of credits; the fifth, one of discipline; the sixth is the injury card; the seventh, the sickness card. By these cards, and especially by the last two, the commissiotler is thus brought into closer contact with the men; malingering is prevented; and the extent of each man’s injury is known higher up. A daily meeting is held (as when there was a three-headed board) by the commissioner, Chief Cheswell and secretary. Everything is made a matter of official record: the records of the preceding day are read and approved, and new business is taken up. As to promotions: Colonel Russell depended almost entirely on his own judgment in sizing up of men. The method of Commissioner Wells, who has made one district chief, three captains and five lieutenants, are different. After new men have been certified hy the civil service list for appointment, they are sized up by the chief of the department and examined by the department doctor at once -not as formerly, after they have passed the thirty days’ drill school. “I believe (said the commissioner) that the men. who are to be absolutely held responsible by the commissioner for the effectiveness of the work at fires—namely, officers of the department, should have some voice in the selection of the agents through whom they must work. This gives to the men an incentive to do their work in such a way as to secure the regard and ap proval of their officers and puts responsibility on the officers for their subordinates.” In the suburban districts, where the residents were annoyed by striking alarms of fire to summon the seventy-two call men in the service, the annoyance has been partially obviated hy placing switches in the firehouses where such bells are located and only striking such alarms as call men are required to respond to. This has been a benefit to the service, because call men now hearing the first blow on the bell start to get ready, where formerly they waited to hear the two rounds before knowing if it were a box to which they were required to respond. Every piece of apparatus is now regularly inspected by the superior officers in the yard of the Bristol street headquarters. The engines and engineers are examined by the assistant superintendent of the repair shop—an expert in that branch : the apparatus, by the superintendent of repair shop: the horses and harnesses, by the veterinary surgeon. The chief of department has an opportunity to meet every officer and the men under conditions more favorable for observation than ever could occur at a fire: and the commissioner completes his inspection and acquaintance with the department. Every bit of equipment, all tools and appliances are taken from the apparatus and carefully examined. Useless equipment has been discarded and such new up-to-date appliances as were needed arc being supplied, and every company will now carrv a uniform equipment. The men are instructed how to use the universal coupling, which has been supplied to the downtown companies, and a number are carried on the wrecking wagon, for use, in the event of other cities coming to the help of Boston, or Boston to their assistance, where hydrant couplings are different. The companies are put through a regular drill, under the direction of the chief of department, chief of the district from which the companies reported and the department drill master. The whole system of arrangements for co-operation between the fire department of Boston and other nearby cities has been re-arranged, and made workable, so that, if the Boston department is so engaged in fighting a big fire as to leave one or more sections in the city unprotected, the neighboring towns would cover it. Many new horses are required. Their selection is a work of great difficulty. “Fit horses are becoming scarcer every year. Such a horse must be big, strong, with the best of legs and feet, sound in every particular, heavy, but quick moving and of good temper and extra intelligence.” Discouraged in the Boston market, Commissioner Wells sent an expert to Chicago. From nearly 5,000 horses, he selected fourteen. A Chicago dealer now has a standing commission to ship from time to time, as opportunity may occur, one or more horses, when he finds such up to the standard. In this way, have been purchased some forty odd horses; all well reported of since entering into the service. As to future necessities : A new $75,000 fireboat is absolutely needed. There are only two in the department, one in service and not firstclass; the other is fit only to be used as a spare boat. The city’s water front requires that two fireboats should be always in commission. The growth of big wooden apartment houses in certain sections of the city calls for additional apparatus not of the size of engine companies; “but houses should be built looking to the installation at some future time of engine and ladder trucks, and occupied at the present time by so-called combination trucks— i. e., a light ladder truck, with chemical tanks, and carrying a company of, say, four men.” The city should look after incendiaries; that business should not be left to the State police, who have more to do in this way than they can get through in the country parts. The district police, also, have jurisdiction over what the city should look after—namely, the handling and storage of dynamite and explosives. This is looked after by that body, so that it may control such stuff in transit from town to town. The fire department “continues its careful inspection of all powder loaded upon teams from the water front; beyond that it takes no responsibility.” Commissioner Wells next defended his practice of attending fires. He pointed out that his predecessor during his ten-years’ tenure of office had ordered that he should be called to every second alarm fire occurring after 10 o’clock p. m.. and these he attended most scrupulously.
At Salem, Ore., tramps attempted to cook a meal in a kitchen stove, the flue of which was defective, causing a fire which totally destroyed ⅛⅞ house,