The Fire Commissioner and His Department

The Fire Commissioner and His Department

Importance of Cooperation with Chief and Officers—Housing and Welfare of Men—Necessity for Schools—Enforcement of Rules and Regulations

Frank Colbourn Commr. Public Health and Safety, Oakland, Cal.

THE treats following the subjects paper of is fire-fighting, particularly fire interesting prevention in and that fire it department management from the standpoint of the fire commissioner:

The duties of a fire commissioner differ in different cities. In some cities there are boards of commissioners, and in others, individual commissioners. In the city represented by me, my duties as commissioner of public health and safety include those of fire commissioner. Not only is the commissioner the policy-making official, but he is also a member of the legislative or law making body of the city. The duties of a fire commissioner embrace every activity of the fire department, but he must of necessity depend upon his chief. It would therefore appear that the main function of a fire commissioner is to select a first class chief and let him run the department with a free hand in all matters pertaining to the administration of the same, reserving only questions of policy for the commissioner, for Commr. Public Health and after all is said and done, no Safety, Oakland, Cal. fire department can be a success without a first class executive at its head, and no first class executive can be a success unless he has a free hand in all matters of assignment and detail and general administration. Therefore, we will deal with the question of policy and let the rest, in a measure take care of itself.

The Business of the Fire Department

To explain my ideas, I would like to analyze the business of the fire department as I see it. For purposes of illustration, let us make the following classification of the work:

  1. Men
  2. Training
  3. Housing conditions
  4. Equipment, signal system and water supply.

These are all of equal importance in the modern fire department.

The first thing necessary is to see that the department has a first class personnel; that the men selected to work in the department have the makings of high class public servants, able to take orders from their superior officers and willing to learn. In fire departments in most of our cities the men are selected through civil service and the appointing officer has little choice in the matter. However, there is a probationary period, usually of one ear, during which time these recruits are educated and tried out in fire work, and fire chiefs and other superior officers should have courage enough to recommend the removal from the service of those who have not made good during this period, and it is the function of a commissioner to carry out their recommendations.

I am firmly of the belief that it is the duty of a fire commissioner to secure for members of the department a fair and adequate salary; to provide good working hours, and to be just and firm in dealing with all matters pertaining to the men, but to demand in return first class service.

The fire commissioner must, of necessity, look to the officers for results, because the men working under them reflect, in a large measure, their general character, and characteristics. Aside from his ability to pass a promotional test, a man must have some qualifications for leadership, to make a good officer, able to command and when needs be to recommend proper discipline for infractions of the rules. Usually the commissioner must pass final judgment in all matters of discipline and he must have the support of first class officers to enable him to deal justly and fairly in such matters.

Every Department Large Enough Should Have School

Since fire department business cannot be learned except through experience and study, it has been found necessary for modern fire departments to establish schools to which recru_____ and officers can go to be taught the fundamental principles and advanced methods of fire department work. This is rather an expensive proposition and probably beyond the means of the small fire department, but where a department is large enough to support such a school it appears to me that it should do so, and the function of the commissioner in this regard is to see that the school is established and placed in charge of an officer who is competent to teach the theoretical and practical business of the fire department, and where civil service is in operation, to plan the studies so that they will assist the men to qualify for promotional examinations.

We must get away from the idea that any misfit human being who has made a failure of every other kind of a job is good material for the fire department, for after all it is the men that make the department. Some years ago it was thought that a man who was strong in the hack and weak in the head made a good fireman; this has been proven a fallacy, because every firemen who enters the service is a potential officer and when he becomes such lie will require more than brawn to make his job a success.

“The Commissioner can be a wonderful help to the department, if he is the right kind of a man. A Fire Commissioner with a big, broad vision, with a firm and definite policy toward the men and the work will produce good results. We must have those who lead us who have the three main fundamentals — honesty, competency and courage.”

You may think all this has nothing to do with the functions of a fire commissioner, but the commissioner cannot be a success unless the individual units are a success, and his department as a whole is a success, likewise. The nature of fire department work, confining, as it does, men in fire house units, has a tendency very often to try the individual men, and they are apt to form little cliques if something is not done to keep them interested in their work and create a proper esprit de corps.

Men’s Welfare Must be Conserved

While I am on the subject of the men, I cannot help but note this fact—fact the men’s welfare must be better conserved; that too many deaths and serious accidents are being caused by collisions occurring while apparatus is responding to fire alarms. We take greater care to safeguard our men while fighting fires than while responding to alarms; the result is that we have, in comparison, few deaths in our city from fire fighting, most of the fatalities being due to collisions. People are apt to fail to hear the siren, or to disregard its warning; street cars and trains are the greatest violators, because there seems to be an erroneous understanding that they have the right-of-way. In our city we have thought it advisable to have a follow-up wagon with officers on it empowered to make arrests, with instructions to arrest all violators of the ordinance requiring drivers on a public highway to come to a full stop when the siren is sounded.

The elimination of the fire horse has completely revolutionized ideas of the modern fire house, all apparatus now being motor driven. This permits of better housing possibilities and architectural improvements, and as a result our modern bungalow type fire houses are a credit to any neighborhood. Some of the older fire houses in our cities are in a deplorable condition and are not even fit to house animals, let alone human beings.

Men Should be Properly Housed

It is therefore the duty of a fire commissioner to see that the men are properly housed, and aside from being a matter of common decency this is economy in the long run, for proper housing means reduced sickness, and a sick man is a financial burden while a healthy man is an asset; furthermore, a greater number of units of hourly service will be rendered pet individual and general good feeling will be engendered.

The men should be required to keep their houses clean and sanitary Ample provision should be made for shower baths and dormitories, to be taken advantage of by the men when they return from fires.

Height of Folly to Buy Poor Equipment

Modern science has produced fire apparatus and equipment that enable the men to more efficiently carry on their work. It is the height of folly to buy poor, flimsily constructed equipment, because when the essentials, dependability with speed are eliminated, the equipment is worse than useless. I have ’seen a good deal of gaily colored equipment on wheels which should not be classified as fire apparatus, but rather as glorified junk. I believe it is the duty of every fire commissioner to eliminate, as far as possible, this useless equipment and replace it with the best that money can buy.

A Group of Officials at the Convention of the Pacific Chiefs The above group of some of the officials of the Pacific Coast Association of Fire Chiefs was taken during the recent convention at Fresno, Cal. In the group from left to right are Jay W. Stevens, California State Fire Marshal and secretary; Chief George M. Mantor, Seattle, Wash., president; Chief Sam H. Short, Oakland, Cal., retiring vice-president; Chief Mark E. Ryan, Redwood City, retiring first vice-president; Chief Joe Wood, Renton, Wash., treasurer.

(Continued on page 1164)

The Fire Commissioner and His Department

(Continued from page 1144)

Fire Alarm and Water Supply

We all know that with splendid men and up-to-date equipment we could not control or extinguish fires without a first class fire alarm system and a good supply of water—the system to advise fire companies of the existence of fires and the water on hand to put them out. As cities in America are growing by leaps and bounds, these two points are material factors and we commissioners and fire chiefs should look years ahead and see that provision is made for them. There has been no substitute introduced, so far in our work, that takes the place of water as a fire-fighting agent, and there has been no invention for transmitting alarms that can take the place of the modern fire alarm system with the telephone as an auxiliary.

Some thought has been given to the possible use of radio as an auxiliary for transmitting fire alarms, but at this time nothing has been sufficiently perfected to be of real dependable and practical value. Speaking of modern devices, it may seem far-fetched to say that the aeroplane will be in general use later on, but it is now being successfully used by the United States Forestry Service to locate fires and spread the alarm. The point to be remembered in this regard is that we should not overlook any modern device that science may bring forth to assist us in our work.

The commissioner and fire chief should arouse and create public sentiment by personal interviews and talks to civic bodies, advising them of what will be needed in years to come and soliciting their cooperation in supplying the needs.

Politics Must be Eliminated

Speaking generally, we people in the fire fighting business must remember that one of the main functions is to give the public service at the least possible cost. We must get away from pernicious politics in the selection of our men and the doing of our work. We have got to show the people that we arc real public servants, willing to serve, and not ordinary taxeaters and parasites. The fire business itself must be studied and every effort bent toward removing fire hazards and reducing fire losses, for after all, the loss by fire sustained by a community is the measure by which a department is gauged.

It is a well known fact that fire losses in America are greater than in any other civilized country on the globe, the loss for the year 1925 being $570,225,921 in the United States alone. Complaint has been registered with us that fire insurance companies, in their zeal to secure a volume of business, are not particular where they place it, thus encouraging would-be arsonists in their nefarious business. If insurance companies and their agents would cooperate with fire commissioners and chiefs by refusing insurance to those of doubtful motives and character, it would have a tendency to prevent fires. It is a notable fact in America that during times of business adversity there are more fires than in times of business prosperity. In some countries the person having a fire is compelled to prove that he was not responsible for the same before any insurance money is paid.

To help reduce this appalling fire loss, fire departments in large cities should take a paternal interest in small surrounding communities and towns and should be willing at all times to cooperate with these small departments and help build them up so that they will be efficient and effective.

To Cultivate Good Will of Public

More attention should be paid to fire prevention work and the removing of fire hazards. Laws should be introduced and enforced under the police powers giving the fire department greater authority in carrying out its work. There is one great factor that we public servants must not overlook, and that is that the taxpayers and citizens are apt to be prejudiced against us in our efforts to advance our departments, when it will cost them additional money to do so; but if we keep in mind at all times that we are the servants of the public, paid to render service, and if we render the service and make ourselves invaluable, we will never need to fear but that the general public will be back of us in all our reasonable demands.

What Must be Done to Save Life and Property

Our main idea is to save life and property;

1st. By preventing fires, removing fire hazards, condemning old frame shacks that are fire traps, etc.

2nd. By educating the public to help prevent fires.

3rd. By proper building methods and the use of fire resistant materials in construction.

4th. By placing in all buildings adequate fire extinguishing equipment and alarm systems, as an auxiliary to the fire department proper.

Importance of Salvage Squad

Again referring to the fire fighting end of it, the old idea was to put the fire out at any cost, but for this must be substituted the modern idea of putting the fire out in the least possible time with the least damage to property. This requires a good deal of judgment on the part of the officers and men in charge.

Departments that can possibly support a salvage squad and wagon should do so. because wherever this equipment is installed the saving to the people in merchandise repays the taxpayer a thousand-fold for the cost incurred.

This brief outline will perhaps give you some idea that the fire business has ceased to be a simple matter; that application and study are required for those who would succeed and that a fire commissioner has a real job if he expects to be a success.

Commissioner Should be Help to Department

Speaking generally of fire commissioners, the commissioner can be a wonderful help to the department if he is the right kind of a man. Some fire commissioners are elective and some appointive. The method of their selection does not matter so much as does the type of men chosen. A fire commissioner with a big, broad vision, with a firm and definite policy toward the men and the work, will produce good results; on the other hand, a weak or a vicious man will bring upon the department discredit and disgrace. Therefore, it is essential that men in the business, to be successful, must have high ideals; and that we must have those to lead us who have the three main fundamentals—honesty, competency and courage.

Enforcement of Strict Rules and Regulations

Discipline is a necessary evil in the department, because wherever large numbers of men are gathered there is bound to be some delinquency. Therefore, it is necessary that there be strict rules and regulations in every fire department; but unfortunately there are those who violate these rules and regulations. It should be the function of a fire commissioner in hearing charges that are filed against employes of the department to adopt a definite line of procedure and policy, and not be wavering and vacillating in its application. Chiefs and their assistant officers must also have the same policy, and be just and kind, but firm and positive, for without this cooperation, as I have said before, the commissioner is unable to do his work. In dealing with those who are delinquent, it is found that certainty of punishment is more effective than extreme severity in some cases and no action in others.

In conclusion, it must be remembered that a department, likewise a city, is no greater than its men, and that a fire commissioner cannot possibly succeed without their cooperation. Therefore, the greatest function of a fire commissioner, as heretofore mentioned, is to select a first class chief and good men to support him. if he expects to give his city and its taxpayers an efficient administration, which in financial terminology means a dollar’s worth of service for a dollar in pay.

Kalamazoo Acquires Aerial Ladder—An aerial ladder truck has been delivered to Kalamazoo, Mich. The purchase price was $15,000.

Crestwood, N. Y., Company Gives Entertainment—The Crestwood, N. Y., Chemical Engine and Hose Company No. 14 gave an entertainment on October 14. consisting of an “AllCrestwood Night,” at the Asbury Methodist Church, in that section. A travel talk given by Mr. Ehlenberg, moving pictures of the Fourth of July Celebration and games, and a vocal quartet constituted the features. This company buys and maintains its own apparatus, and has recently taken out liability insurance as a protection for its members. The entertainment was given to raise funds to defray this expense.

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