THE GIVING OF MEDALS TO FIREMEN
Following a custom that has prevailed in New York for many years, members of the Chicago fire department who distinguish themselves by acts of bravery are to receive medals from the Tribune of that city. New York is the only city that awards more than one medal, and only two or three other cities award any at all. The custom was started by James Gordon Bennett, of the New York Herald, in 1869, when he expressed his appreciation for the heroic work done at a fire which threatened to destroy his residence on Washington Heights. The only medals presented by the New York fire department itself is the Valor Medal, which was created in 1910, all other medals being presented by other interests and individual citizens. The Valor Medal is presented only when a fireman performs such acts of heroism as would justify the highest recognition, while all the other medals arc presented annually, and, owing to the injection of politics and civil service features into it, the custom has become so flagrantly abused that it has come to be looked upon as meaningless and farcical. We do not mean to say that these medals have never been worthily bestowed, for it is well known that in many instances they have gone to men whose prowess has been demonstrated in a large way. but more often they have been bestowed upon undeserving firemen for the mere purpose of enhancing their chances of promotion. This latter feature has often actuated more daring conduct than has a motive to save human life, as it gives the fireman five points in his civil service examination for promotion. Many brave firemen look upon the custom as an injustice to them, as it may be used to take away from them opportunities to show their bravery and may be used to afford such opportunity to others more favored. Many brave acts have won medals because the opportunity was forced upon the winner, who did not even know that he was taking any risk, and perhaps he wasn’t; at least, he was not acting under the impulse of saving human life, or doing a heroic act. The number of medals annually distributed is often not large enough to go around, and consequently only those who can swing the greatest influence are recipients. This modus operandi can be repeated year after year to the detriment of the department, as no man, be he ever so conscientious and brave, is going to deliberately thrust himself into the jaws of death while some shirk stands ready to rob him of his well-earned laurels. We know of heads of fire departments in large cities who have refused to allow the medal practise to enter into the conduct of their organization, for the reason that it has a demoralizing tendency. It medals are to be awarded it should he on the same basis that the Valor Medal of New York is given—only when deserved, let it be one in ten years, or ten in one year.