THE FIRE DEPARTMENT UNDER THE COMMISSION MANAGER FORM OF GOVERNMENT
In discussing the subject assigned to me, I do not for one minute wish any remark that I may make to be construed to in any way belittle the magnificent work being done by fire departments operating under the old form of government in this great land of ours, for 1 am frank to say that I know of no body of men who are called upon to take such hazardous risks as the American firemen, nor do I know of any body, of any men, who go so deliberately where duty calls them. Speaking in general of the American fire departments, I can say without fear of contradiction that they stand head and shoulders above similar organizations in other countries. You may think that, having expressed my opinion of firemen in general, it would be impossible to present another side having any superior qualities, but let me tell you that the American fireman is what he is to-day, not because of the government under which he works, but in spite of the government. I am telling you nothing that you do not know if you will stop and think and be honest to yourself to acknowledge it. Now, mind you, I am not asking you to say you agree with me; I merely ask you to think for yourself and decide whether you agree with what I am about to say. It is this. That in many fire departments there are cases where men attain to higher positions, not entirely on account of their ability as fire fighters, but because there is that mysterious thing called influence that collects the benefits from the good work of others and presents them to the favored individual, thereby enabling him to obtain a better and more lucrative position. This is all right for the man with the influence, but is obliged to be discouraging to the other man; it is obliged to have the effect of curbing ambition by making men think that the way to get a promotion is other than by showing themselves the best men. Then, again, there are cases where the chief of the department or the captain of a house is only nominally the head of the organization or a part of the organization, because in his heart he kuows that should he enforce proper discipline equally and without fear, it would not be long before some other man would have the privilege of setting the discipline in the department. You fire fignters know that there is never a fire without smoke, and let me say there never was a department controlled by influence but what there is something in the atmosphere, something you can’t describe, that shows you at a glance that things are not strictly on the man-to-man merit basis. One other thing affects a fire department when things are not conducted purely on a merit basis. It is this. The equipment of a department both in men and apparatus is dependent upon the whim of the President of the Council who appoints the Fire Committee. I mean by this that should a President of the Council not be favorable to the fire department he appoints a weak commute that is unable to carry weight in the council and in this case the fire department suffers, Now, then, I have presented to you some of the things that operate to pull down a fire department and the fact that you fellows are what you are is due to you and not to the form of government under which most of you work. Take the fire department operating under the commission form of government, the commission being elected at large by the people, representing all the people, not some ward, are interested, in the success of the government in the entire community. These commissioners act as a board of directors, employing a manager, and any weakness in one department offsets the good that might lie done in other departments, as you know when a man is living few of the good things he might do are mentioned and all the bad, and it is only after he is buried that we are charitable enough to spread the flowers on his grave, so the failures of a department are magnified and the successes minimized. Referring to the fire department, the first thing the manager does on assuming office is to see that he has a chief of department who is capable of running his job in the most efficient manner. If he is a manager worthy of the name he will practically make himself an assistant to his chief; in other words, if the chief is not able to run the department and turn in satisfactory results, a man should be placed as department head who is capable. By a capable chief I mean a man who is able to have discipline in his department, not of the brutal kind, and at the same time retain the respect of the men who work under him, thereby creating a harmony of action when the force is called to work. The chief should be supported by the manager and his advice should go a long way in the selection of various house captains and minor officers. The same qualifications required of a chief should be required of captains, because the work is practically the same only on a smaller scale. Now to obtain an organization such as I have described the elements of favoritism or the reverse must be entirely eliminated. In my city when the commission manager form of government was established there was no thought of getting rid of the men sitnpy because they had been under the old form of government. The idea was to retain every man that it was possibe to retain and let the taxpayers benefit by the experience gotten in their service. An organization was built up on the lines described above and each man stands on his own feet and is responsible for his own future. We care not in Springfield when it comes to fighting fires whether a mau believes in currency on the gold basis or free silver, high or low tariff, preparedness or grape juice. What we want is a man who is going to do his part towards extinguishing the fire. Springfield’s fire department has been entirely motorized with upto-date equipment and we think we have in men and in equipment a department second to none in this country for a city of our size. I might say that we have abandoned the regulation bright colors of fire departments and painted all our equipment snow white. This was criticized to me by a representative of a fire department manufacturer, who said that you should have the red and gold to show that it is the fire department. I replied that “in Springfield all we needed was a hydrant and a piece of hose and we would show them quick whether we had a fire department or not.” One trouble with its amateurs is that we are not always able to convey the thoughts that are in our minds to our audiences, just like the story of a fellow who was riding along the road in a big storm and met two old ladies in an open buggy. One of them was holding the reins and the other had the umbrella over the horse. He stopped them and asked if they would mind telling him what the game was, why the umbrella over the horse whilst they were getting wet. One of them replied that it was a livery horse and that the livery stable owner told them tney would have trouble if they let the rein get under his tail. I am afraid I am something like that livery stable keeper in that I have not perhaps conveyed to you the impressions that are in my mind, but having done the best I am able, I thank you.