THE EQUIPMENT AND EFFICIENCY OF A VOLUNTEER FIRE DEPARTMENT *
To my mind the most important piece of apparatus for the volunteer fire department is a chief engineer who has a mania for fighting and preventing fire, and who is also a man who commands the respect and confidence of the community in which he lives. He should be a diplomat, for the volunteer department is composed of men, boys, enthusiasts, and those who have an intense desire to wear a pretty uniform and parade behind a brass band. The chief of the volunteer department, and when I say volunteer department I mean a department of the average size town, say 3,000 to 10,000 inhabitants, has need of just as much nerve, experience, brain and backbone as has the chief of any paid department. He must have the nerve to promulgate all necessary orders for the proper maintenance of his department, and then have a backbone to see that these orders are carried out. Regardless of petty wire pulling, he must have had long years of experience because in the small community fires are few and far between as a rule, and he must have brains enough to assimilate knowledge gained from experience, brains with which to act and think quickly in an emergency, and with it all must exercise diplomacy of the highest grade. In order to gain and maintain the respect and admiration of the rank and file, without which he cannot be a success, his department may be equipped with the most modern fire fighting apparatus or the most antequated known to man, but if your chief is 75 per cent, what he should be the department will be a success. The volunteer fire department is looked upon by many as more or less of a joke. The so-called “funny papers” have for years fallen back on the volunteer fire department for fuel for poor jokes, but there is no good reason for anything of the kind in these days. Years ago when all volunteer departments were equipped with leather hose and red shirts they were more ornamental than useful in many instances. But the fire department of to-day is a good deal more of a business proposition than that of fifteen or twenty years’ ago. Insurance rates go up and down in exact ratio to the efficiency of the local fire department. It is a common thing for an insurance inquisitor to visit your town and find out how many lengths of hose burst during the previous year; to find out how many gallons of water your department can throw in a given time; to find out the total fire loss of the previous year, but never do they ask how many men turned out in your last parade. The chief engineer of today points with pride to his apparatus and his record of small fire loss rather than to the appearence of his men and himself on parade day.
In the last three years the ideal fire apparatus for volunteer departments has come into service—that is the automobile apparatus. The upkeep of the automobile apparatus is practically nothing; it is ready for instant service at all times; no horses have to be hooked up, no horses are eating their heads off between runs, but your machine is ready for service any minute (if the proper care is given it), and is capable of giving far more efficient service than any horse-drawn apparatus that was ever built. In the Council Cluffs fire department, of which I had the honor to be chief for years, we have had an automobile apparatus in service for over two years, during which time it has never failed to respond to an alarm on the instant. We have used it in good weather and bad, on roads good, bad and indifferent; at times when mud was so slippery and heavy that the streets were practically impassible for horse-drawn apparatus; we have used it when the streets were covered with ice, when horses were slipping, sliding and falling, and at other times in snow that was two feet deep, and have encountered drifts successfully at all times. At no time has the apparatus failed us, and in the snow mentioned, it responded quickly; to be sure it is one of the best machines ever turned out to my knowledge. It has an engine in it that develops seventy-five horse-power, and more speed than we care to use, and the automobile end of it is one of the best pieces of machinery that this country can turn out. Wc have answered not only local alarms, but have given help to surrounding towns and farm houses out of city limits. Quick response is most necessary in case of fire. The first fifteen seconds are the most valuable in the saving of life and property, and every effort should be put forth toward attaining this end and the saving of a few dollars in the equipment of your department often proves to be the most expensive in the end.
The Volunteer Loves His Work.
The volunteer fireman gives his time, his labor, often his health and not infrequently his life for the protection of his own and his neighbor’s property, and your volunteer fireman is in many instances as good or better than your paid fireman. The volunteer does his work because he loves it, and in most volunteer departments patriotism and the love of excitement are the two instigators to the work. While the equipment is most essential to the efficient fighting of fires in the volunteer departments, as well as the paid department, the thing most important above all others is discipline. No chief engineer can expect to accomplish good work at a fire no matter how well his department may be equipped with apparatus, no matter how much he may know himself as to what should be done, unless he has his men well disciplined. He may be himself the best fireman in the world, singlehanded he can do nothing; he must have his men so well trained and so well disciplined that they will instantly respond to any order he may give. While he should be fearless and eager to lead his men into the hottest and most dangerous spot of the conflagration, he should be of such calibre that he can stand far enough away at times from the fire to take in the situation in its entirety, that he may be able to comprehend completely that which he has to compete. The chief engineer who has six men under good discipline can do more with six buckets and a brook than can a chief who has the most modern equipment whose companies are at loggerheads with each other and anxious only to shine individually. As I said before, the chief of the volunteer department must be a diplomat and he must be a diplomat of the kind that can issue orders quickly, sternly and decisively that will be obeyed without thought or question. He is the commanderin-chief, and on him rests the responsibility. If he is the right kind of a man his men will obey him without question, and will love to do it. He must be the kind of a man to whom his men will look up and of whom they will feel proud at all times and under all circumstances.
*Paper read at meeting of the Southwestern Iowa Firemen’s Association, February 9, 1915.