The Fireman of Today—How He Is Made
Showing How Important an Element Drill School Has Become—Fire Fighting Is Highly Trained Profession—Rookie Must Be Thoroughly Proficient Before Being Admitted
CONTRASTING the old happy-go-lucky, go-as-you-please methods with the new system of standardised training, Chief Brownewell shows how the fireman of today can fit in anywhere and work as efficiently under the practical method of training, whether he be assigned to engine, truck or chemical company. Several requests have been received by FIRE AND WATER ENGINEERING for the reproduction of Chief Brownewcll’s paper in our columns and here it is:
In the first place I want to pay a tribute to the volunteer firemen, not only in the State of Kansas, but to everyone in the United States. You, the pioneers of the fire fighting game, I salute you. If motorization and up-todate fire alarm systems would be all that was necessary to bring the fire department up to the highest efficiency, all would be experts. But both of these great improvements, involving the expenditure of thousands of dollars, would be of comparatively little value without reorganization and speeding up of the fire fighting force.
Human Element Most Important Factor
The mechanical equipment can only go so far in fighting fires. The human element is the most important factor today and probably will be for many days to come. For that reason every man in the department must be well trained, active and capable of filling his position in such a manner that there will be no chance of his slowing up or interfering with the work of the fire fighting force.
There seems to be a general impression in the departments that the old men are to be weeded out to make room for younger officers, more active and ambitious. Such is not necessarily the case; age brings wisdom to many men, others never learn. There are in the department today men well past the half century mark, who through clean living and interest in their work, have far greater physical and mental energy than many men in their early thirties. It’s all in what a man makes of himself. The old days when a man could get himself on the department through a pull, get to be an officer through his pull, then pass as a hero by doing a lot of yelling in front of a burning building while others were inside putting out the fire, and sit back and get a tighter grip on his job with the passing of each year through his seniority, are passed. Those days are gone forever.
“It takes more than a blue flannel shirt to make a fireman these days.”
There are too many big civic and other organizations on watch. Even if city officials were indifferent, the property owners demand protection, and if they can’t get it from one set of fire officials they will get it from another.
Fire Fighting a Highly Trained Profession
Fire fighting has become a highly trained profession calling for highly trained men possessed of active minds and bodies; officers who can lead their men in and tell them what to do; men who can, in a very great emergency, step into command of a situation. The most modern apparatus, the most efficient alarm system, the most carefully arranged fire districts, all are useless if the men are not there. For this reason the drill school and the reorganization of the personnel of the department, fit one into the other. The chain must have no weak link.
It may be well at this point to explain that nothing in this paper is to be taken as a reflection upon the departments of by-gone days ; its men, and its officers. The departments then at all times did their best and never shirked their duty when called upon.
Used to Be Easy to Join Department
It takes more than a blue flannel shirt to make a fireman these days. Up to a few years ago it was comparatively easv for one to join the ranks of the fire department. The candidate was assigned as a substitute in a regular man’s place, or he would fill the place of someone that was sick or disabled and as soon as a vacancy occurred the sub would be placed on regular and a fireman’s badge pinned over his heart, and he became a fireman. He knew nothing about fires, either preventing or fighting them. He had engaged in no particular study, had no practice to fit him for his new position. It was the theory that the captain of the company that he was assigned to would instruct the new men, and that the older men of the company would help the recruit. Maybe they did and maybe they didn’t. But times change. And so it is with fire fighting. It has stepped forward with other sciences, for a science it truly is. Investigation and experience have shown that the old system of assigning a man to a station without first being initiated into the hazardous and highly skillful game of fire fighting, was wrong. I will try to explain why it is wrong.
“The mechanical equipment can only go so far in fighting fires. The human element is the most important factor today and probably will be for many days to come. For that reason every man in the department must be well trained, active and capable of filling his position in such a manner that there will be no chance of him slowing up or interfering with the work of the fire fighting force.”
“Nothing is spared the candidate in his training period. He is taught to rescue others; he is taught how to save himself and the lives of his fellow firemen. He must learn the department’s regulations. His training is thorough.”
Let’s go back for a moment to the recruit—the green fireman, who had just reported to the commanding officer of a station. If the lieutenant or captain in charge knew his business, and if he had the knack of teaching others what he already knew; if he had the kindness and patience that an inspector should have, the candidate, as the department calls him, was fortunate. Under able instruction and proper encouragement he became a full-fledged, loyal, hardworking fireman.
Dangers of Raw Recruits at Fire
But this system has many disadvantages. Suppose the first day in the station the new fireman responds with his company to a fire. What then? What could he do? His awkwardness, his natural timidity, his lack of experience, endangers his life, as well as that of his fellow fireman. To all intents and purposes he is as useless as the most rabid fire fan across the street.
Suppose too, the lieutenant had forgotten much that he knew, through lack of actual experience. In those days there were no periodical examinations of men or officers to see if they kept in condition, or if they kept informed on the latest developments in fire fighting; if their legs and arms were as sure on the ladder and as quick on the jump as they were in younger days. The commanding officer could not teach what he had already forgotten, or perhaps never knew.
Six or Seven Ways of Doing One Thing
Now we will suppose the captain and lieutenant were good teachers and taught their men, and the man was transferred to a new station and under a new captain who has a different way of doing things. In the old system one man might learn six or seven ways of doing the same thing. One can readily see the advantage to be gained by standard drills. It prepares the new man to fill in any vacancy that may occur in the department. Viewing it from our present efficiency, one wonders how the department in the days of yesterday passing through their meager apprenticeship, made such enviable records in minimizing fire losses and saving lives.
Now Candidate Must Train for Thirty Days
But today, thanks to the department drill school, no chances are taken. Here every candidate before being assigned to a station must undergo a rigid training for thirty days. If the candidate shows up weak, or shows fright, in the course of a few days he will be sent home for a rest; and in all probability he will never return, as he has had experience enough to show him that it takes a real man to make a fireman under any and all conditions. If the candidate shows up for further instruction he will be given another try out, and if then he does not make good, he will be told in a nice way that he will not pass, and that he should look for some other position.
Under the standard system of drills, the candidate is stripped of the fear of the civilian and the timidity of the novice. He is taught how to take hold of the ladder, and he becomes sure of his footing and positive in his every act. He is taught everything a fireman should know. When to do things, why one does them, and how to do them. The theory is explained and then the practice performed. He memorizes the act and then gets his hands and feet to do it. The work is complete and merciless. The candidate is run up the fire escape to the fourth story, and then is run down, only to be run up again in another position. He is taught how to strap a line of hose fast to a fire escape; how to take a ladder to the floor above, or to the roof; he comes to understand why a pick maul is used for breaking dead lights or concrete, and why an axe is best in raising floors and opening roofs. He is taught a thousand and one things, every one important, that a captain or lieutenant might forget in breaking in a green man at company quarters.
“Fire fighting has become a highly trained profession calling for highly trained men possessed of active minds and bodies. Officers who can lead their men in and tell them what to do; men who can, in a very great emergency step into command of a situation. The most modern apparatus, the most efficient alarm system, the most carefully arranged fire districts, all are useless if the men are not there. For this reason the drill school and the reorganization of the personnel of the department fit one into the other. The chain must have no weak link.”
Nothing is Spared Candidate in Training
Nothing is spared the candidate in his training period. He is taught to rescue others; he is taught how to save himself and the lives of his fellow firemen. He must learn the department’s regulations. His training is thorough and in thirty days he may be assigned to any one of the three distinct branches of the department, either to engine, truck or chemical service companies, and the moment he is certified he is ready for duty. He is trained down physically and built up mentally, with a remarkable understanding of the duties he will be called upon to perform. He stands equipped to respond to any emergency. He is a fighting unit in himself, and fits with ease and perfection into any body of firemen to which he may be assigned. At the end of the thirty days period he is ready for the station. He is a fireman! This is the message he carries from the chief when he reports for duty to the captain or lieutenant, and the officer in charge knows he speaks the truth.
(Continued on page 1106)
How Fireman of Today Is Made
(Continued from page 1090)
This training of raw material is of course, the chief object of our drill school, which is located in the rear of the central engine house. But there are two other important functions which the school renders the department. It is all very well to instruct the new man, but what about him after he leaves the school? How about the man who joined the department before the school began, who had to learn it hit by bit as best he could? With the strict injunction, that every man in the department must be vested thoroughly with every phase of fire fighting, it is requisite that every man and every company maintain, a certain mark in tests taken periodically. Every so often the men, as individuals, and in companies, report and go through the ropes. Before the watchful eye of the drill master the process assures the chief that every man and every company is ready and capable of any emergency.
“Every so often the men, as individuals, and in companies, report and go through the ropes. Before the watchful eye of the drill master the process assures the chief that every man and every company is ready and capable of any emergency.”
It is very easy to get out of practice. One slows up. A company in the down town district might respond to ten alarms to every one of the companies in the woods, so to speak. A company in the outlying district might be called down town to fight a fire; it is quite different fighting a ten or twelve story fire than coping with a residence of one or two stories. Will the company be ready for the emergency? In the days of yesterday it was problematical —today the guesswork has been eliminated. The drill school tests make it positive that every company will perform with credit to the department on any call.
Two Wichita Members Taught in Chicago School
Wichita owes much to Mr. Elliott, city manager, for the installation and progress of the school here. Mr. Elliott heard of such a school in Chicago, and by correspondence with the Chicago officials was granted permission to send two members of the local fire department to the school to take a course in fire fighting. Mr. Elliott selected myself, and one of the men from my department to take this course. We reported for duty on April 20, 1922, and for thirtyone long days there was nothing but work, as there are thirty-four evolutions in the drill to be executed every day. If you believe me, I say we “stepped on the gas” some, from the first day to the last.
Invites Others to Wichita Fire School
Now, brother firemen of the great state of Kansas, the fire department of the city of Wichita stands ready and willing to show any firemen all we have received from the Chicago fire drill school. All the expense any one will be put to will be his board while he is in the city. We will furnish each candidate a bed in the dormitory of the central engine house, and he will receive the same treatment that my own men receive. We will be glad to have you with us, and as long as the weather permits drill will be carried on.
The only request or suggestion I wish to make is that if anyone wishes to take a course in the Wichita fire drill school, he make arrangements to stay for thirty days. The reason for this request is that I want to return the candidate to his city with a full knowledge of the practical working of the theory of the drill, and not a theory of what the school consists of. It would not he giving the city he represents the full benefit of what can be gained by taking a full course, and it would not give our school a fair chance to show its true worth.
(Paper read before the convention of Kansas State Asso ciation of Fire Chiefs at Salina, Kan., October 2, 1922.)