The Fire Service and Civil Defense
Current tensions among the countries of this world have forced governing officials to reassess their over-all defensive systems in the cold light of reality. As international storm clouds gather, it is evident that we should examine our present civil defense structure and the function of the fire service in it. In the past, CD has proven a sore point in many areas due to personality conflicts on a more or less local level.
There has been a tendency on the part of some fire and CD officials to ignore their important responsibilities and instead, concentrate more on the question of who has the authority to issue orders in the event of an emergency. Fortunately this shortsighted attitude is limited, but it is of sufficient intensity to create a festering sore in critical areas at a time when complete understanding and cooperation is a necessity. Perhaps some of the difficulty may be traced to a lack of enthusiasm for civil defense preparations, but with the collapse of the recent Summit Conference this is hardly the time for complacency.
President Eisenhower, speaking to the nation during the recent Conelrad test, repeated a statement he had originally made before the Senate in 1959 and said in part, “It would be unwise to neglect our civil defense mission, because our total defense is incomplete and meaningless without reliable and responsible home defense. Survival cannot be guaranteed merely with a capacity for reprisal.
“Equally important is our ability to recover. If, despite our efforts toward keeping peace, we should be faced with nuclear attack, a strong civil defense, supported by all Americans, offers the best program for the saving of lives.” It is evident the fire service, as well as all citizens, should heed the words of the President.
The place of the fire service in the civil defense structure has been debated for many years. Regardless of what some individuals may think and say concerning its relative importance in the event of attack, the director of the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization, the Honorable Leo A. Hoegh, speaking before the 1958 I.A.F.C. conference in Los Angeles, plainly stated his official view that fire chiefs are responsible for protecting lives and property during war-caused fires exactly as in peacetime.
He then implemented his belief that the fire service was of great importance in the over-all effort by inviting nationally recognized fire service authorities and heads of fire service organizations to form an advisory committee reporting directly to him on fire service matters. From the advice and counsel of this group has come the first national fire service plan which is designated Annex 21 to the National Plan for Civil Defense and Defense Mobilization.
Other countries have also recognized the need of the fire service and have taken steps to insure that it has an important voice in any plans for defense in the event of attack. For example, early in the year the Province of Ontario, Canada, reorganized its top-level civil defense and appointed Provincial Fire Marshal W. J. Scott as chairman of the policy-making board. This has placed the Ontario fire service in a strong position and at the same time, firmly fixed the responsibility it must bear.
All of the foregoing indicates the trend of progress in civil defense matters, with full account taken of the part each agency of government has to play in safeguarding the people. The emphasis has been placed on the continuation of government on every level in order that quick recovery may be accomplished without chaos following any catastrophe.
A complaint often expressed in fire circles is the apparent lack of unified objectives and direction on the part of CD officials. Acting upon a suggestion by the Fire Advisory Committee to overcome this problem and at the same time, further implement the National Fire Service Plan, OCDM has scheduled four seminars, or workshops, to be held soon in California, Iowa, Tennessee and Maryland. The objective will be to develop materials and methods to be used for a National Fire Defense Staff and Command Course scheduled for 1961.
Attending the seminars will be representative groups of fire chiefs in the general areas involved. The information gained at these sessions will then be incorporated in a CD operations guide for the fire service. There should be fewer complaints and greater cooperation once this has been accomplished. For the fire service itself will have determined how best to employ its resources in any future civil defense action.