The Fire Department of Rome.

The Fire Department of Rome.

(From an Occasional Correspondent)

ROME, ITALY, October 3.

American firemen may wonder why the great city of Italy did not send a representation to the International Congress at London in June, but they will wonder still more when I tell them that the city of Rome hadn’t any department to send. I attended the fire which destroyed the Palazzo Negroni-Carafelli in the Via Condolti and the printing office of The Ciceroni. This proved a very “ large” fire for Rome. The houses of the city, being generally built of brick, large fires are a rarity, room fires being the average, and only rarely is an opportunity offered oar “ excellent ” fire brigade to extinguish a large fire and distinguish itself by its childish helplessness. Our ever-sleeping Roman “ vigili ” (derived from the Latin vigilare, to wake) was also this time dozing quietly somewhere, and again performed the part of harlequins and made everybody on “ the city of the seven hills” laugh—everyone, except the fire insurance company, which has to pay the damage. The fire in the Palazzo-Negroni possessed the same features as that in the Palazzo Odescalchi about five years ago, and a number of others. It invariably required one-half hour until a pocket edition of fire engine, either drawn by a decrepid old horse or else by a couple of messengers, rumbles along slowly, manned by eight firemen without officers ; a few hours later, when the smoking ruins no longer require extinguishing, a lazy unwonted monster of a steam fire engine draws alongjscreeching and groaning at its efforts ; by reason of its marvelous constiuction it can be used only in the graded quarters of the city, ft is seldom in use, because its machinist is generally at some wine saloon, engaged in drinking the health of the fire department. Finally, when the morning newspapers appear with all the details of the catastrophe, some “ officer ” also appears on the scene, and perhaps even the doughty commander of the famous corps himself—an old gentleman, who masters the late conflagration with proud satisfaction ; he lives threequarters of one hour away before the Porta Via, and the march of civilization has not yet reached his villa, because it lias no telephone, and he hears of the fires only by accident. The condition of the Roman Fire Department is, to use an apt illustration recently used in the city common council, thoroughly anarchistical. The brigade, which contains really some quite good material, but neither machinery required at the present epoch, nor capable officers, is completely demoralized. The excellent “ vigili ” are not exclusively firemen, but follow their trades of tailor, shoemaker, carpenter, etc., and only on certain days perform their service for the princely monthly boodle of twenty lires (i lire — I franc — 19^ cents). The “ corps of officers,” as they style themselves, full of proud self-consciousness, consists of eight gentlemen, four of whom have never done any service ; nevertheless they draw their large salaries like Trojans. As regards the fire extinguishing apparatus, there is beside the great grandmother of a steam fire engine only one of those little squirts used in the very smallest of German villages, and a number of garden and portable syringes, as well as several water buckets and tubs. This outfit is completed by a giant ladder, the very size and weight of which renders it unfit for service. The inventory •ays nothing of hooks and Udders, saving hose, jumping cloths and all that sort of thing. When a person’s life is occasionally saved at a fire, let not the reader imagine that this was due to the abundance of material for the purpose of saving life on hand, but it is entirely due to the courage of tome firemen.

Not one of these gentlemen has ever studied the location of the water pipes in Rome—not a single one, not even excepting the commander-in-chief, was ever able to point out the fire hydrants, although they are marked in every topographical map. These pure and simple-minded leaders did not even know that the Via Condolti, on which the i’alazzo Negroni is situated, is immediately above the most powerful arm of the water supply pipes. Not very long ago there was a fire at the office of the Associated l’ress, caused by an explosion of gas, at which nobody was seriously injured. This office stands opposite to the fire brigade station of the House of rariiament, still our gallant fire brigade, brimful with the insatiable desire for fire extinguishing, rushed past the office in their charge of the nature of that of the ” Gallant Six Hundred,” and without losing time to ascertain where the blamed office of Associated l’ress was really located, arrived at the outskirts of the city looking for the office.

Another merry feature at a station not far from the place where 1 write is that the door of the station is too narrow for the fire engine, and the rattle-trap has to be turned and capaised and slid for one-half hour befote it can squeeze itself out of its prison, which it accomplishes most generally at the time when the fire has done its worst and there is no longer any need for its services; it is then returned with full pomp and ceremony into its cozy place, and permitted to quietly doze for days and nights until it is again ‘well shaken before taken;” until the time that a futile attempt shall be made again to coax this lumbering old rattle-box from its narrow prison cell. Barring these few defects and shortcomings (and where is the fire brigade that has them not ? I pause for an answer), the Roman fire brigade is exslted beyond all praise. As a “guard of honor” of the munfeipo (Mayor) it marches underneath mighty brass helmets, such as the old Roman ctborts of Csesar wore, clad in dark blue military uniform, most formidable sabres in their manly fists, and parade and form open ranks and “all sich,” closely imitating the soldiers in the operetta, ” The Duchess of Gerolstein.” As these helmets are never worn at fires, but only at festival occasions, they glitter like gold, which also applies to the murderous weapons, which, of course, arc not used to asssnlt and Slay fires with; the like remark also applies to the carbines of the Turin tire brigade.

The intermeddling march of progress is commencing to instill into the obtuse noddles of our city fathers that the Homan fire brigade might also have other duties to discharge beside serving as “ guard of honor,” and they have for the last few years been studying the question and conceived the idea of drafting a new set of rules and regulations which, (rod, wind and weather permitting, shall elevate it about the close of this the twentieth century to the exalted rank of that of Milan, Turin, etc. The potent commander-in-chief has been deposed, and if St. Anthony, the patron saint of the gallant “ vigili,” encounters, within the next five or ten years, a capable man or two it may be possible that the corps of officers may also be rejuvenated before the close of the twentyfirst century. R. S. D,

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