For Practical Discussion of Current Fire Department and Fire Management Problems


THE first installment of answers to the Round Table questions posed in the December issue of Fire Engineering are published in the following. They indicate a shift in some quarters, on the policy of maintaining 24-hour house watch in fire stations.

Logically, most of the replies included herein are from chiefs of paid municipal departments because few full-volunteer departments attempt to keep anyone on watch in the engine houses, even though some of volunteers might be “sleeping-in.”

It has not been many years since a few chiefs began to experiment with tbe idea of permitting the full crews at stations to sleep without maintaining a man on watch to receive alarms and otherwise police the station. Contrary to the predictions of some officers that the “no-watch” system would not work out well, a number of cities report that it is doing so, and they would not change back. Nevertheless a majority of respondents, particularly in the larger cities operating on three-shifts, apparently still adhere to the 24-hour-watch system.

The six questions asked of representative fire chiefs, covering this Round Table, are listed herein. The methods employed by some departments of receiving night alarms, and of alerting firehouse crews, are interesting, as are the recommendations for possible improvements in the systems employed.

It will be noted that the questions, and replies, do not deal with anything except the receipt of alarms and alerting of fire fighters. The questions of other duties and responsibilities for house watch, day and night, have not been included in this study.

Readers are invited to participate in this discussion which will be continued in the February issue. Address replies to Round Table Editor, 24 West 40th Street, New York, N. Y.

Discussion of the Topic

Walter L. Hydaker, Chief, Lima, Ohio: We maintain a 16-hour house watch. One fire fighter is on from 7 A. M. to 5 P. M. and one from 5 P. M. until 11 P. M.

We maintain a rotation of personnel watch from 7 A. M. to 11 P. M. daily. Then from 11 P. M. to 7 A. M. our fire telephone and all communications are transferred from the downstairs control office to the upstairs control office which is located immediately adjacent to the rooms occupied by the assistant chiefs and captains on duty. Either one of these two officers receives all incoming calls during the night and the necessary running orders are transmitted to the proper companies by the officer receiving the call.

This method has proven very satisfactory here at Lima during the past nine years.

I would like to add that I feel the system we now use is in every way as efficient as the 24-hour watch we at one time maintained. I do know that the members of the department are for it 100 per cent. In my opinion, a satisfied personnel will make most any system workable.

We are a paid department.

Marvin K. Evans, Chief, Lynchburg, Va.: We do not maintain a 24-hour house watch.

All incoming calls arc handled through telephoned switchboard located at headquarters station. Switchboard is manned fourteen hours daily by men at this station, each man having 65 minutes tour of duty per day. By all incoming calls, it is meant those calls for the outlying stations as well. Likewise, all outgoing calls from the outlying stations are handled through this board.

At night, beginning at 10 P. M., the hoard is “set.” That is, all calls for the entire department are routed through a three-key telephone located in the officers’ sleeping quarters, and this phone is answered by the captain of the station. Calls may come in on any one of the three trunk lines. One of these trunk lines is connected, through the main switchboard, to each of the outlying stations. When the number of this trunk line is dialed, then the telephone rings in each station. If the call comes in on one of the other two lines, then the officer at headquarters station has to take the call, hang up the phone, or break the connection, and dial the common number, thereby getting the officer of each house to answer simultaneously, or, if he prefers, he may use a direct, battery-powered, private telephone connecting each house with headquarters.


  1. Does your department maintain a 24-hour house watch?

If so, how long does each member of the company stand watch: (a) day watch; (b) night watch?

If no night watch is maintained, how does your system work in regards to alerting companies at night?

Has the method you employ worked out satisfactorily?

  1. Any suggestions for its improvement?
  2. Is your fire department paid or volunteer?

The only improvement, in my opinion, would be to have a pilot light for each incoming trunk line so that the officer could readily tell which of the three lines the call was coming in on.

We are a paid department.

Anthony Molloy, Chief, Nashua, N. H.: We maintain a 24-hour house watch in headquarters only to operate PBX and radio.

The hours run 8 A. M. to 5 P. M., S P. M. to 12 Midnight, 12 Midnight to 8 A. M. The men are regularly assigned to each shift. When they have time off they are relieved by men at headquarters. The first trick has Sundays off, the second takes time off when he wants it, and the third trick has Saturday nights off. The first and last tricks shift the first of the month.

When permanent men relieve the operators, they work four-hour tricks. This system has proved very good so far. We do believe that four regular operators working eight hours each would be better.

We have seventy-three permanent men and fifteen call men.

C. W. Wyrick, Chief, Greensboro, N. C.: We have three men on our switchboard and they each work eight hours. The watch is kept continuously through the day and night. Each of these men is physically handicapped in one way or another, but is thoroughly capable of performing his duties. If only more fire departments over this nation of ours would only realize that the handicapped men need work just as much as those who are not handicapped!

None of these men was injured in line of duty, but we have found them to be, in many respects, more efficient than the average man that is fit.

We have a two-way radio system, and all these men are licensed operators.

Ben J. Zahn, Chief, Ann Arbor, Mich.: In our department we do maintain a man on watch twenty-four hours a day. From 7 A. M. until 10 P. M. (day watch), the men change every hour, but during the night the man on watch sleeps right by the telephones. All members excepting the chief and assistants take their turn.

A few of the older members are classed as extra to fill in during vacations and sick periods. We have two stations and alarms are received simultaneously at both places and then each one taking care of its own district.

We have used this method for forty years and have never experienced any trouble.

Our department consists of fiftyseven paid men and twenty paid parttime volunteers.

John A. Ferguson, Chief Weirton, W. Va.: One volunteer company stands night watch. Paid company mans control center ten hours a day and fourteen hours night. This department alerts all stations over Gamewell system and telephone. All stations are connected by alarm system. There are also private lines to each station. This system has worked very effectively.

We have one station maintained by paid and volunteers. The other two stations are manned by volunteers. Each has its zone of influence. The paid department answers all calls.

John Zanet, Chief, Clifton, N. J.: We maintain a house watch from 7 A. M. until 10 P. M. Each member stands two-hour watch periods.

We have a central fire alarm station with operators on duty twentyfour hours a day. Boxes come in automatically over Gamewell alarm system and telephone alarms are transmitted over direct telephone lines to each fire house. After 10 P. M. there is a telephone in each officer’s room for still alarms. Each fire house has an emergency night bell with button outside.

In thirty-four years we have had no complaints.

We are a paid department.

Norman McFarland, Chief, New Castle, Pa.: We maintain a sixteen-hour watch. We use incapacitated firemen on regular shifts, 10 hours day and 6 hours before retiring on night shift.

Telephones continually ring until answered or if telephone alarm is received first at Central Station a tap is given on Gamewell fire alarm system to alert companies.

This system works satisfactorily. The only improvement we can suggest is the addition of radio, which we plan to install in the near future.

Our fire department is fully paid.

George Schlotterbeck, Chief, Hamilton, Ohio: We maintain a twenty-four hour house watch. At headquarters we have our alarm and radio operators. Their duty is to maintain a constant watch twenty-four hours a day.

In all other stations, the officer is responsible for maintaining the watch and dividing the responsibility twentyfour hours a day among the men.

This method has proven very satisfactory.

Our department is paid.

E. P. Feaster, Chief, Lincoln, Neb.: We do not maintain a twenty-four hour house watch.

A day watch is maintained by officer in charge with no time specified as the alarms are taken in the captain’s office and such times as he is in the office, it is his responsibility. In his absence, he assigns this duty. At night or sleeping hours, telephone connections are made available for captain in bedrooms or sleeping quarters.

At alarm headquarters a regular telephone operator and captain have charge of daytime assignments subject to assistance from qualified men. At night, or sleeping hours, this is the responsibility of telephone operator and captain. Beds are provided so they can sleep by all fire alarm equipment.

Outgoing alarms to station are relayed by telephone with signal lights showing these stations have been alerted.

This method has been used for over forty years and has proven very satisfactory.

We are a paid department.

W. K. Moore. Chief, Yakima, Wash.: We are a fully paid department. All alarms emanate from a central alarm office and we maintain a twenty-four hour watch with our alarm operators working an eight hour shift. We also maintain a live watch at each station, from 7 A. M. until 10 P. M. This watch is worked in two-hour shifts. The balance of the night the man on the watch is allowed to sleep in a bed by the phone provided for this purpose. All companies are alerted from the central alarm office by sounding three bells on the fire alarm system. The location and all available information is transmitted to all stations simultaneously by loudspeaker and by telephone, Man on watch at each station must confirm location with alarm operator.

This method has worked very satisfactorily, but we are adding one more feature. We have on order a manual transmitted so that we can confirm each alarm by sending it out as a box alarm.

Ernest Gale, Chief, Islip, N. Y.: We maintain a twenty-four hour watch. We are a volunter department with three full-time paid men and one relief man. The full-time men work an eight hour tour with one day off each week and a two weeks’ vacation with pay. The relief man covers the days off, the vacations and sick time.

The same man is on the 8 A.M. to 4 P.M. tour continously as he is also the department mechanic. All work is done in a well equipped shop at headquarters. The other two tours alternate, one week from 4 P.M. to 12 Midnight and the next week from 12 Midnight to 8 A.M. One week he works forty hours and the next fiftysix hours. As we pay every two weeks, they all total ninety-six hours.

The house men are all regular members of the department, but, of course, do not turn out on alarms when on duty. We have eight trucks, all of which are three-way radio equipped. The house men are all licensed to operate the base station. This system has been used by us for years and we find it very satisfactory to all concerned.

Lester R. Schick, Chief, Davenport, la.: Our department maintains a twentyfour hour house watch in Central Station. In the out stations only night house watch is maintained, bed being provided.

Each man takes his turn at the watch for a twenty-four hour period.

The out station watch program is not satisfactory at present. Central Station program is satisfactory and meets our requiremnts.

I have always felt one of the finest public relations efforts of a department is to have a neat, alert man meet and assist visitors as soon as they enter a fire station.

Ours is a paid department.

Zephrin F. Drouin, Chief, Lewiston, Maine: A dispatcher is on duty twenty-four hours a day working in eight hour shifts. There are three shifts and a swing man relieving one dispatcher for a day off duty per week. In the event of a general alarm or second alarm, all dispatchers report for duty. One of the off-duty dispatchers assists the Central Station dispatcher in notifying off personnel and alerting sub-stations.

So far this system has worked out remarkably well. Incidentally, the other two off-duty dispatchers return to the fire scene as fire fighters on major fires.

We doubt that anything other than to have radio facilities on all apparatus could improve our present setup. Working hours are good and facilities all right, except for the urgent need of radio in central station and on mobile equipment. This is a full-time paid department of fifty-nine members. Men are on duty twenty-four hours and off twenty-four hours.

The following replies are in answer to a pretnous round table discussion on recorders:

N. L. Wheeler, Chief, Miami, Fla.: At the present time the Southern Bell Telephone Company is installing in the fire alarm office a recorder which will make a continuous record of all messages going through the new switchboard, whether they be regular calls or calls over the new emergency telephone system.

Recording of all types of telephone messages will give an absolutely positive check on all transactions that are carried on by telephone in the fire alarm office, thereby eliminating all doubts as to iust what type of message was transmitted.

John C. Klinck, Chief, Memphis, Tenn.: While our fire alarm headquarters is not equipped with recorders, I believe they would be beneficial to the department in rectifying any mistakes in telephone conversations and/or radio. They can be used for recognition of voices turning in false alarms and also to check correct address of fire hazards reported.

Charles E. Lane, Chief, Great Falls, Mont.: While we do not have recorders in our department, I do believe that this equipment would be of great assistance in checking bad calls coming over telephone and radio.

G. L. Simpson, Chief, Phoenix, Ariz.: Our alarm headquarters is equipped to record all fire alarms received over the telephone. We do not have a recorder on our radio, but keep a complete log of all radio communications.

We know that the recording of telephone conversations has been very beneficial to the department because we can immediately play back any conversation if there is any doubt of a particular address, etc. Also, it has been very instrumental in apprehending false alarm subjects, also in settling disputes when an alarm is sounded and the informer is excited and gives the wrong address, or our alarm operators make a mistake.

C. D. Williams, Acting Chief, Las Vegas, Nev.: We do not have recorders for recording telephone or radio conversations.

I definitely feel it would be advantageous to record all alarms, whether by radio or telephone. In many instances we have been given incorrect addresses and because of the delay in rechecking through telephone central, we have been accused of inefficiency and laxity in responding to alarms. Recording would definitely disprove these accusations.

Forrest B. Lucas, Chief, Dayton, Ohio: Our fire alarm office is equipped to record telephone conversations, but not radio conversations.

The recording device has proven most beneficial in many ways in connection with the telephone alarms:

  1. Through the recording of voices we have been able to apprehend several false alarm senders.
  2. We have been able to prove that the fire department was not at fault in dispatching apparatus. For example, one lady moved from one address to another and in reporting a fire a few days later gave her former address. Another example was where it had been reported to the press by the people at the scene of the fire that the dispatcher had questioned them as to whether the fire was located inside the city or not. This was easily disproved.
  3. It has also proven beneficial in determining who was at fault where response was made to the wrong address.
  4. It is also helpful in that you can play these recordings back and sometimes ascertain the location of the fire, when it was impossible to get it directly over the phone.

It is my opinion that it would be beneficial to record all conversations (radio and telephone) between dispatcher, citizens and fire stations. The dispatchers then in their slack momeins could take from the recorder and write in the log (for permanency) all pertinent information and the entire day’s business could be kept for a reasonable time beiore reusing the wire.

R. A. Bogan, Chief, Baton Rouge, La.: Our tire alarm headquarters is equipped to record telephone but not radio conversations.

Recordings prove beneficial to the fire department in connection with telephoned alarms for several reasons: They verify a telephoned alarm should there be all error and discrepancy between the operator and the one who telephones it in; they afford a check for the operator and possibly an early correction of an error should he send the wrong truck, etc.; they would also help keep the operators alert to being accurate at all times.

Recorders have also been helpful in apprehending the senders of telephoned false alarms, fpr it is possible to get a suspect to telephone again and then compare the voices on the two recordings.

William Van Pfefferle, Chief, Camden, N. J.: We do not have recorders in our department, but 1 have recommended their installation for recording telephone conversations over the trunk lines and our private P.B.X. system,

As we do not have radio communication in the Fire Bureau as yet, our concern is with the telephone calls between the public and the fire board operator and the watch desk in the fire stations and the fire board operator.

Fire apparatus are occasionally dispatched to the wrong location in answer to an alarm, causing delay in arriving at the fire and criticism by the citizens aw’aiting their arrival.

Recording of the conversation connected with the call would fix the responsibility for the error.

Occasionally, one or more companies will proceed to the wrong location or fill in unnecessarily for another company due to someone’s failure to send or receive calls reporting apparatus in or out of service. Recording these calls would fix the responsibility for these errors or delinquencies.

Due to the use of the dial system in this area, recorders would be of little value in apprehending senders of telephoned false alarms.

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