THE WATCHMAN QUESTION.
The policy which dictates the employment of old, infirm and superannuated employees as watchmen of large structures, where valuable stores or goods are exposed to the night dangers of incendiarism and burglary, upon economical grounds, at any time would seem to be a penny wise and pound foolish one, but at this critical period, when incendiarism is rampant, it seems almost incredible that any live and progressive concern would be guilty of such a foolhardy course. And yet that is just what hundreds of mercantile, storage and other establishments are doing, and have been doing for many years. When an employee becomes too infirm—either by reason of sickness or from age—to work at his ordinary occupation, the first thought of the employer is to give the man an “easy berth” at night as a “watchman.” So long as he goes his rounds and punches his clock faithfully, that is all that is asked of him. One very amusing case —amusing, if it were not so serious in its potential results— which is typical of the kind of “protection” these ancient and infirm watchmen give their employers is cited by Mr. W. E. Mallalieu, general manager of the National Board of Fire Underwriters, in another column. It was in the nature of a test, and the inspectors spent six hours in the grain elevator in question, not only successfully dodging the watchman, but in the interim making drawings of the important features of the plant during his absence in some other part of the structure. As Mr. Mallalieu so aptly remarks: “Watchmen are charged with extraordinary responsibility. They should be picked men, not derelicts. They should be intelligent, courageous and physically active. They should be sufficient in number to furnish real protection. They should be armed. They should receive special training for their important duties, and this training should include knowledge of fire alarms, fire prevention and fire protection. They should never be engaged except upon unmistakable evidence of character, and they should be paid the salaries that will command such qualifications.” Certainly the wise employer would do well to heed this advice before the time comes for his visitation by the elusive incendiary, bent on the destruction of his plant by fire. A few dollars more spent in salaries to competent and wideawake watchmen are better than the loss of thousands, and even millions, by the hand of the firebug.