The Matter of Salaries
One of the principal subjects that occupied the attention of the chiefs at the convention of the New York Association, a report of the proceedings of which appears in this issue, was that of the salaries paid to the members of the fire service. There is no doubt that the firemen as a class are woefully underpaid, and this applies to all grades, from the chief down to the rawest recruit in the department. Not only is this the case, but, in very many instances, where the two-platoon system has not been adopted, the men work proportionately longer hours than any other branch of the city service, and many times more than much less skilled workers in civil pursuits, including the day laborer. As several of the speakers said at the convention, in many cases even the chief himself is receiving less salary than the ordinary unskilled worker. This, it is hardly necessary to point out, is all wrong and unjust, as the modern fireman is very distinctly a skilled workman, and must have a fair working knowledge of a diversity of subjects that are necessary to the science of fire fighting. He must understand hydraulics, he must know something of electricity, he must recognize the properties of gases and explosives, must know enough of building to recognize fire risks and be prepared to correct them, and a hundred other details that require the use of his thinking powers, oftimes on the spur of the moment. For all of this he receives in many instances from the municipality which employs him a salary which, if offered to the ordinary unskilled laborer, would be scornfully declined and would probably be productive of a strike. But, aside from the injustice of paying the members of the fire service salaries so low that they are not able to pay for their uniforms and live decently, there is another element which enters into the question which, from the viewpoint of policy, makes the payment of a living wage a necessity. The work of the fireman—when he is in action—is essentially nervous in its nature. That is to say, from the moment that he hears the first tap of the alarm his nerves are stretched to the full tension. He knows that everything depends upon his quick response, his steady nerve, his unerring judgment; that the slightest letting down of this tension may mean loss of life and thousands of dollars in damages. Now, if the members of the department are dissatisfied and discontented, this condition of mind will without fail react unconsciously upon them and will result in a slackening of the nerve-force that will be conducive to lack of efficiency. For this one reason alone a satisfied force is worth the small amount of increase in the budget that the payment of a living salary would entail. So that, from every standpoint, the members of the fire department, from the chief down, should receive just compensation for the services rendered.