The Duties of a Fireman

The Duties of a Fireman

Little do the people of a community know of the duties of a fireman. Their knowledge of a fireman’s life is judged by seeing him sitting in front of his house in the summer, and it is natural for them to term it a lazy life. Almost nothing is known of the time he is compelled to give to the service of which no other body of men is required to give one-half as much. when other classes of workers clamor for shorter hours no one thinks of the man who is on duty all the time and who is called from his bed at all hours. The risk that he takes in responding to alarms is much greater than that of any other employe in any municipal service. A fireman is on duty 24 hours in a day and 365 days in the year, with the exception of his 10 days’ vacation and one day’s leave of absence in every eight here. If at his meal, or on his day off, he is expected to report for duty if an alarm sounds. A great many fires occur during meal hours. The men must then jump from the table and hurry to the fire, and often go without that meal, for should the fire last any length of time and hose be stretched in, there is immediate work to do to get things in readiness for another possible alarm as quickly as possible. Work begins in the fire department at 6 a. m., when one relief starts for breakfast; another cleans house and cleans out the stables. As soon as the first squad returns the entire house is swept, and at least once a week is scrubbed from top to bottom. The apparatus must be cleaned, all brass work polished and everything dusted and carefully looked after. At 11 a. m. the first squad goes to dinner. If there have been no fires during the night or in the morning (if there have been there is a good day’s work ahead) the actual work is finnished by 1 or 2 o’clock in the afternoon.

Then follows the monotony of a fireman’s life. Especially is this so in the winter months when he is confined to a room where he scarcely sees the sun shining. If he is a lover of literature that helps, for he soon tires of playing cards or checkers. Then follows a wearisome round of days which a great many men cannot entlure. Numbers of them quit after one day’s service. Some who join a department in the summer may hold out until the coming of the chilly days, which requires the front doors to be kept closed, and then seek other employment. When the men retire at night, and you may be sure they do so at an early hour, their stifflegged rubber boots with their pants folded over the legs, are placed beside the beds. At the first tap of the house gong the men spring out of bed, place their feet in the boots, pull up their pants, snap them fast, slide down the pole, and in 20 seconds the apparatus is rolling over the door sills. It is a bitter night indeed if time is taken to put on coats if the run is a short one. In this city we are short-handed. When the apparatus first reaches a fire there are one or two men to do the work of six or eight until help arrives; and the pay of a fireman will average from eight to ten cents per hour. We have a sufficient number of engine houses in the City of Plainfield, though none to spare, probably for all time to come if we do not add new territory, i. e., after all of the apparatus becomes motorized. The apparatus is and should be to a degree concentrated in the conflagration district, and still be able to reach quickly the outlying or residence portion of the city. We require more apparatus. We are very greatly in need of another engine, one which is capable of throwing from seven to nine hundred gallons of water a minute, with a sufficiently powerful motor to quickly reach any part of the city through snow of whatever depth. At every large fire we are short of ladders. In the year 1898 an engine house was erected in the west end of the city with the expectation of placing a hook and ladder truck there the next year. None has arrived yet. When the house in the east end was built a combination hose and chemical was to have been placed there the next year, to be followed by an engine later. The latter has not yet been supplied. Are we waiting until we shall be compelled to add this apparatus, and perhaps more? We were once ahead of any other city of Plainfield’s size in the State. Where do we now stand?

Some insurance men hold that instead of there being only 25 per cent, of incendiary fires in New York City, the proportion is more like 40 per cent.

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