The Fire Department of St. Louis
Foremost in discipline and skill, second to none in valor, led by the peer of all fire fighters, Charles E. Swingley, the dauntless fire fighters of St. Louis enjoy less celebrity at home than in many other parts of America. Statistics, reports of underwriters’ committees, all authorities, in fact, justify the claim of the St. Louis fire department to the highest praise that the city can bestow. Chief Swingley maintains no press agent. But for the inquiries of national investigators, much of the important information regarding the excellence of the fire department at St. Louis would be secret to-day. The municipal assembly of St. Louis do not appreciate the superiority of Swingley and his fire fighters. For five years there have been no attempts to have the salaries of the local firemen adjusted to give them as much as is paid to the firemen of other cities, where the departments do not hold a candle to them. The reward of superb courage, strict living and long hours of work has been lower pay than is given the men in any other American city of approximate size.
St. Louis Treats Men Niggardly
St. Louis has been niggardly to the men of one of its most efficient institutions. The department has not deteriorated under this neglect, because of the untiring efforts of its renowned chief to preserve perfect discipline and the most advanced methods of fire fighting and prevention, many of which he has originated personally. There was a time in St. Louis when the fire department was not as efficient or as well disciplined as it is today. There may come a time when it will not measure up to its present high standard. A niggardly policy undoubtedly will hasten this time, and when it comes, human life will not be as safe in St. Louis as it is to-day. Fire fighters, more than policemen or any other class of social servants, must he good men, in every sense of the word, in order to perform the serious duty that devolves upon them. They must have good hearts (in more senses than one), dear heads, a scientific training in fighting flame and smoke, and in reaching the helpless. Sobriety is a first requisite. Low priced men do not have all these qualifications. Those who can pass the examination should not be paid a porter’s wages.
From Chief Swingley down to the privates in the fire department, all are underpaid. The most glaring discrimination as compared with other cities is that of the chief’s salary, perhaps. Chief Swingley is paid $4,000 a year, and under the city charter, cannot be paid more than $5,000 a year.
Chiefs in Other Cities Paid More
Here are some of the salaries paid to the chief officer in other cities: New York. $10,000; Chicago, $9,000; Cincinnati. $0,000: San Francisco, $5,000; Buffalo. $4,500; Minneapolis. $4,043: Newark. $4,000. and Seattle. $5,000. Tn many of these cities the chief is not the sole executive head, but shares his command with a board or a commissioner. who receives a salary as great or greater. For instance, in Cincinnati, the fire chief is paid $0,000 a year, and the fire commissioner receives $8,000 a year. This makes a total of $14,000 a year which is paid by that municinality for services that are performed entirely by Fire Chief Swingley in St. Louis, and performed in a manner unexcelled by anv other executive. The statistics show that in the two cities mentioned of greater population than St. Louis, the fire chief receives at least double the salary of Chief Swingley. while numerous cities of smaller population pay more than $4,000 a vear. The size of a city is not always a test of the amount of training and service required of an official, but is a fair test of the community’s ability to pay a full size salary. The St. Louis department numbers on its roster to-day. 800 men of all grades. The annual nay of other grades is: Assistant chief. $2,100; district or battalion chief. $2,000; captain. $1,880; lieutenant, $1,200; tillermen. drivers and privates. $1 -140; second grade privates. $900. and third grade privates, $840.
Privates Get More in 14 Cities
In 14 cities of the United States, privates receive more than $95 a month, the St. Louis stipend, although St. Louis is the fourth city in population. It is a great tribute to the ability and sincerity of the St. Louis officials and privates. that they should have for years maintained a record second to no department in the l nited States. They have been abreast of the times always, and have inaugurated at least two methods of fire fighting that have been copied broadcast and are now recognized as standard methods. The earliest was the Pompier ladder. When the blue-white flames leap up toward the windows where women and children pray for help, there is a greater chance of rescue if it is in St. Louis, than in any other city of the United States. The valor of other cities’ fire fighters may equal that of our dauntless men, but the scientific discipline which had its earliest and greatest development right here at home, will save more lives than brave hearts in untrained bodies. There is no hotel or skyscraper in St. Louis which cannot be scaled in a few seconds or a few minutes at the outside, by scores of cool-headed fire fighters who practise climbing until it becomes as simple as walking about the street. The Pompier ladder and the rope slide will carry one of Swingley’s men to any roof and back again in a jiffy. There is hope for any unfortunate in St. Louis who may be penned up in any upper story by raging flames, and to see the skillful ease with which the ladder men go up and down a sheer wall is to know that the last chance with them is a good chance.
Hotel Makes First Pompier Ladder
When the Brooklyn Theater and the Southern Hotel holocausts occurred in 1877, Christ Hoell, of the St. Louis fire department, told the late Chief Henry Clay Sexton that Pompier ladders in the hands of (rained men would have saved scores of lives. The ladders were unknown in America, but Hoell had used them for seven years in Europe, and quickly demonstrated their utility with a roughly built outfit of his own make. Chief Sexton at once placed St. Louis at the lead of all progressive fire fighters by adopting the magic ladder which enables men to rivel flies. To-day every large city has followed the lead of St. Louis, but none have excelled the local laddies in the use of the Pompier ladder. Few departments, if any. can equal them, and all other factors considered, impartial judges have declared that Chief Swingley’s corps is entitled to the palm among American cities. Another and possibly more effective method of saving lives and property from fire, was inaugurated in St. Louis at the direction of Chief Swingley, and has been more highly developed here than in any of the numerous cities that have recently adopted the practise. Tt is the preventive method of fighting fires. By constant and accurate inspection of all types of buildings, the fire department has come to know the fire traps. Chief Swinglev knows which buildings are easy subjects to flames, and from which inmates have little or no opportunity to escape in the event of fire. This knowledge saves lives and property, even though State and municipal authorities charged with the duty of enforcing proper regulations, are derelict. The firemen who inspect, issue warnings to the occupant and owner, and in many cases precautions are taken against fire and the loss of life without further urging. The bureau of municipal research in New York recently flooded the country with pamphlets describing this method as in vogue at Cincinnati, O. It quoted at length a speech by Mayor Hunt, of Cincinnati, delivered August 10. 1912. describing the new system of inspection that had been adopted.
It furnishes a striking instance of the fame of our tire department in other quarters, and our own lack of appreciation, to know that Mayor Hunt and the chief of the Cincinnati fire department visited St. Louis and obtained the knowledge of our inspection system to install it in Ohio. Chief Swinglcy has always made it his policy to give freely and gladly the advantages of his experience to officials of other cities who show a desire to improve their fire fighting department. He has bestowed upon Cincinnati a method of fire prevention which has served in a few months to spread the fame of that city, and especially its fire department. The Cincinnati executives are well paid for their conscientious and successful efforts to improve the quality of the Ohio department, while Chief Swingley, second to no fire chief in the country, is rewarded with a relatively ignominious salary.