Where Does Civil Service Stand at Present in the Fire Service

Where Does Civil Service Stand at Present in the Fire Service

A Nation-wide Survey Among Large Cities Shows Some Interesting Facts

IN order to determine the exact status of civil service promotional examinations in fire departments in this country, particularly in the larger cities, this journal has just completed a nation-wide survey, the results of which are given below.

Practically all cities in this country having a population of 100,000 (1920 census) are included in the tablulation. The actual population represented is well over 50% of the total population of the country.

Civil service examinations as a method of determining which men in the fire department are deserving, and fitted, for promotion have proven themselves. While there has been a great deal of opposition to the inauguration of fire department promotional examinations, the results accomplished have shown, beyond all question, that civil service has come to stay, and that its results are certain.

True, there is still plenty of room for improvement in the type of questions asked, but great headway is being made at the present time toward a standard which will prove fairer to the candidate, and make it possible for the examiner to give each man just what he is entitled to in the way of ratings.

Cities Included in Compilation

One hundred and fifteen cities are included in the compilation herewith. Of these cities ninety make fire department promotions through civil service examinations while twenty-five do not. In other words, from the standpoint of numbers of cities having civil service in the fire department, 78% are so equipped.

But, from the standpoint of population of these cities, 95% of the population promote their firemen by civil service examination. This is another way of saying that approximately 95% of all firemen and fire officers in cities of 100,000 and over population in this country receive promotion now through means of civil service examinations.

Of particular interest is the situation in the southern states, where eighteen reported. Of these eighteen, thirteen have no civil service, while five have. Thus the percentage of departments in the southern states having civil service, from the standpoint of the number of cities, is 28%.

Of northern cities only twelve have no civil service while eighty-five have. Thus approximately 85% of the northern cities make promotions through civil service examinations. The southern cities which employ civil service examinations, include Augusta, Ga.; Baltimore, Md.; Fort Worth, Tex.; Norfolk. Va.; and Wheeling, W. Va.

Another interesting kink in the situation is shown in the case of the state of Connecticut where four large departments reported. Of these four departments, only one, New Haven, makes promotions by civil service tests.

In the entire northern section of the country only two large cities are not in the civil service column—Detroit, Mich., and Providence, R. I.

A comparatively small percentage of cities having examinations for promotion of officers extend the civil service rules to the position of chief. This has undoubtedly more than a little to do with the efficiency of the department, for where the tenure of the office of chief is uncertain, or where the chief is removable for political reasons, discipline, and consequently efficiency, suffer.

Civil Service Builds Efficiency

That civil service builds efficiency, and produces a higher calibre of officer, cannot be denied. The experience of New York is typical. In this department all ranks are covered by civil service, including the office of chief. Chief John Kenlon, the present civil service selection for head of the New York fire department, has shown by his work that protecting the head of the department by civil service produces the highest efficiency obtainable. This particular department was never at a higher standard than since the present chief has been in charge.

Many of the larger cities not having civil service in their departments at the present time may be expected to eventually fall in line. Some of the most progressive chiefs of the country, and who serve in such departments, favor civil service. For instance, Chief R. D. Gambrell, head of the Dallas, Texas. Fire Department, approves of making all promotions by civil service exantinations, and he is of the opinion that it is the only proper way to determine the fitness of members for promotion, and to eliminate politics from the department. Chief Cambrell is, at the present time, urging the adoption of civil service by his city.

THAT civil service builds efficiency, and produces a higher calibre of of officer, cannot be denied. The experience of New York is typical, where all ranks are covered by civil service, including the office of chief. This particular department was never at a higher standard than since the present chief has been in charge.

Chief Louis Behrens, of the Charleston, S. C., department, is a strong endorser of civil service. At the last convention of the South Carolina State Firemen’s Association the subject of civil service came up for considoration, and at the urge of Chief Behrens, it was unanimously adopted that the Legislative Committee prepare a bill, placing every fire department in the state under civil service, and press for its enactment at the session of the legislature held in 1930. This bill, of course, comes up for discussion at the next convention of the South Carolina firemen to be held in Columbia, S. C., in the early part of 1929 and during the early part of 1930, the association expects to have civil service in South Carolina.

Present Status of the Civil Service for Various Ranks in Larger Fire Departments of This Country

Moving the Buildings Eases the Danger Often some wit has made the remark that the building should be moved to prevent fire spreading to it from an adjacent building on fire. Firemen at Santa Fe Springs, Cal., did just that thing when an oil fire raged for several days. Homes in the fire zone were in immediate danger. The buildings were jacked up and moved to a more secure location. Although the task was difficult, the plan saved a number of homes that would otherwise have been destroyed.

Methods of Promotion Where Civil Service Is Not In Vogue

Methods of making promotions where civil service is not in vogue, vary. In Nashville, Tennessee, which has no civil service for promotion, examinations are required to get on the fire department. Physical and mental fitness is demanded, and promotions are also made on these same standards. Mental fitness is determined by the record of the man in the department.

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Civil Service in the Fire Service

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In St. Louis the Efficiency Board conducts the civil service examination for the position of private, which is the entrance grade in the fire department.

The efficiency rating of an employee is the determining factor for his promotion to lieutenant or captain. All employees in the classified service are rated by the appointing officer semi-annually and when an employee is to be promoted from private to lieutenant, his rating for that period is taken into consideration. The same applies for promotion from lieutenant to captain. The position of deputy chief and district chief are exempt; that is, they are not in the classified service.

The examinations are held yearly : unless there is a very large eligible list, when the board sometimes renews it for another year.

In Detroit the civil service law states:

“Promotions in the fire department shall be based upon the length of service therein. The officer or employee thereof having served the longest period in any position shall be advanced to fill any vacancy in the next higher position, if he shall have the qualifications therefor.”

At South Bend, Indiana, the length of service and the efficiency of the man are the factors considered in promotion.

On the other hand, at Hartford, Connecticut, all members of the department must pass the prescribed course at the department drill school. Engineers are examined in a practical and mental test for promotion.

At Berkeley, California, promotions are made upon recommendation of the fire chief following review of performance records of the men as follows:

Seniority is disregarded except that for promotion to the rank of lieutenant, five years service in the department is required; for promotion to the rank of captain, five years service as a lieutenant is required (in exceptional cases this minimum may be reduced to three years). For promotion to rank above that of captain, previous service as a captain is required.

At intervals throughout the year, the fire chief holds formal written examinations on subjects related to the practical activities and operations of the department, grading the men on a scale of 100. Also, and independent of the foregoing, the fire chief rates the men according to the scheme used in the army considering such qualities as leadership, personality, physique, skill, general value to the service, etc. This rating is also on a scale of 100. The intelligence rating being on a scale of 100, a composite score is secured by averaging the three separate ratings, with these qualifications: No person of less than average intelligence, or whose rating on the other two scales is less than 65 is considered eligible for promotion. Moreover, as would be expected, no man is promoted unless he is in sound physical condition.

No political consideration or outside influence is permitted to dictate the acceptance, rejection or promotion of any candidate. The chief of the fire department and the chief of the police department are designated as examiners for their respective departments and appoitnments are made by the city manager upon their recommendation.

Preparation of Promotional Examinations

With the exception of Massachusetts and New Jersey, the task of selecting the questions to be used in promotional examinations falls upon the municipal civil service commission. This commission may call in outside aid, or it may, with the co-operation of the fire chief, prepare its own questions. But in either case it is responsible for the examinations as presented.

A large number of municipal civil service commissions have taken advantage of the service rendered by the Bureau of Public Personnel Administration, Washington, D. C., which organization has conducted a very extensive study of the subject of fire department promotional examinations, and which submits questions for use in the various cities. This organization has done a great deal to develop the “short answer” type of question and with its wide activity in other lines of civil service, it has brought into play its accumulated experience in the preparation of fire department promotional examination questions.

Insofar as the cities in Massachusetts are concerned, under the law all cities in that state make appointments and promotions in their fire departments as a results of civil service examinations. The towns have the option of accepting the civil service law if they wish. Most of the larger towns in the state have accepted the law.

As shown in the list herewith, practically all of the prominent cities and towns hold examinations for promotion in their fire department. The state civil service commission prepares all questions and establishes lists as a result of the examination.

Their general rule is to hold examinations every two years for the larger cities. Since the lists run for two years, this custom results in having a list continuously. In the smaller cities and towns where vacancies are rather infrequent, examinations are held only when vacancies arise.

The New Jersey State Civil Service Commission acts as a personnel agency for the state service and also for each city and county service when and as such cities and counties adopt the provisions of the civil service laws by referendum vote at a general election. The state commission is the only civil service commission in the state or in any of its subordinate jurisdictions. The following counties and cities have from time to time adopted the provisions of the civil service law and the New Jersey Commission is now serving each of these local governments in the same way as though it were the local municipal commission: Essex County, Newark, Newark Board of Education, East Orange, South Orange, Hudson County, Jersey City, Passaic County. Paterson, Bergen County, Union County, Elizabeth, Mercer County, Trenton, Camden.

This is Part of the Day's Work for Firemen Members of the San Francisco fire department think nothing of this feat that is considered spectacular to the layman. It is part of the course at the department's training school. Each fireman must pass a strenuous test at this school before being admitted to the department.

All of the cities listed below have regularly organized fire departments, and each member of the uniformed department is subject to civil service examination. The ranks in the several departments are:

Newark: Fireman, captain, battalion chief, deputy chief, chief; East Orange: Fireman, lieutenant, captain, assistant chief, chief; Jersey City: Fireman, captain, battalion chief, deputy chief, chief; Camden: Fireman, junior captain, senior captain, batallion chief, deputy chief, chief; Trenton: Fireman, lieutenant, captain, assistant chief, chief; Elizabeth: Fireman, lieutenant, captain, battalion chief, deputy chief, chief; Paterson : Fireman, captain, battalion chief, deputy chief, chief; South Orange; Fireman, chief.

Eligible lists are established for a period of two years only and at intervals of approximately two years new lists are established in the several jurisdictions. The New Jersey Commission uses in promotion examinations free answer questions, false and true and multiple statement questions. It has not used the Army Alpha tests. The newer forms of questions are used rather sparingly, and as additional opportunity is offered to test out and develop proper tests for promotional examinations, they will probably be used on a larger scale.

Types of Questions

The type of examination question used almost entirely until the development of the “short answer” form, was the so-called “free answer” question. In answering such a question the candidate had a great deal of latitude. This very condition made it extremely hard to give a man just what he was entitled to. Where there were a great number of candidates taking the examination, it was an impossibility to accurately place the various candidates at the exact positions they deserve on the list. For example, a question would be asked as follows:

Question: State bow you would get into the attic or cockloft of a business block that had a great deal of smoke just under the roof, and what use would you make of a chemical stream?

This question may be answered in several different ways, or in one general way with several deviations from uniformity. Evidentaliy, it would be impossible to give each man just what he deserved for his answer, where the answers differed.

Then there is the type of question which asks the candidate how he would fight a specified type of fire, with the conditions surrounding the fire outlined in the question. Again, a candidate would see fit to transmit a first, second, or a third alarm. Under assumptions which he must necessarily make, he might be entirely justified in the actions he has taken at the fire. Thus it one candidate sent in second alarm and another sent in a third alarm, and each made assumptions to fit the case, each might receive the same rating, when other conditions were equal. This situation naturally added tremendously to the difficulties encountered by the examiner and made more remote the chance of giving each man what he deserved.

Other “free answer” types of questions include those relating to the use of appliances, hazards of certain operations at fires, hazards of materials such as chemicals, gases at fires, etc. Almost invariably there were more than one correct answer. Below are given several free answer type of questions taken from recent civil service examinations. They are typical, and will give the reader an idea of this class of question.

Question: What would you recommend to the owners of buildings which have sprinkler systems for the care of same in order to have them serviceable?

Question: A bad fire occurs in an office building 11 stories high of modern construction. The 4th. 5th, 6th and 7th floors are completely destroyed. You are detailed to take charge of a company and overhaul the contents of the burned floors. State exactly how you would proceed. What dangers are to be guarded against? What precautions would you exercise?

Question: How would you handle a fire in a lithographing and printing establishment ?

Question: A fire in the hold of a seagoing vessel that carries general cargo. How would you handle it?

Question: Fire in a large closet on the second floor of a three-story frame house containing a large amount of clothing. The house is filled with smoke. You have a combination truck and one engine company. How would you handle the situation?

Question: Assume a fire involving the third and fourth floors m a wood working factory, five stories high of second-class construction. There is a stairway in front and a fire escape. Stairway and freight elevator in the rear.’ You are the first officer to arrive and are in command 10 minutes. You have three engine companies and two ladder companies.

Question: A building 50*125 feet, one storv high, with different stores located in it and partitioned off. Fire starts in the cellar of dry goods store and communicates to cellar adjoining drug store. You are in charge for 10 minutes. State in detail what you would do.

Sales Organization of the Gamewell Company Assembled for Convention at Their Plant. Photograph Taken About a Year and a Half Ago

Question: (a) You respond to a still alarm of fire as a lieutenant in charge of an engine company to a 5 and 10 cent store during business hours. The fire has complete control of the basement. There is a stairway 50 feet back from the door, leading to the basement. What would be your procedure in fighting this fire?

(b) In fighting the above fire is it good practice to break the show windows on the street floor to enable the people inside the store to escape by way of the said show windows?

The “short answer” form of question may be divided into three general classifications: “false and true,” “multiple choice statement,’’ and “completion statement.” There are several variations in each classification, but the results are precisely the same—the candidate in answering the question has but one correct answer to give, and when his papers are completed they can be quickly compared with a stencil which shows the right answer: and from the comparison his rating can quickly be determined.

The short answer form of question is a comparatively recent development. Personnel administrators have been aware of the limitations of free answer questions, and have recognized that the type of men to whom fire fighting work appeals are not as a rule skilled in expressing themselves in writing, even though they may be competent in fighting fires. The task of developing tests which would show a man’s judgment and ability, without imposing upon him the task of writing out a long story, was thereupon taken up. While considerable experimental work remains to be done, the tests developed on the basis of short answer questions have reached a stage where it is felt they are worth submitting to civil service commissions for general use.

Specimens of Short Answer Questions

Below are given several questions based on the short answer form; they include the various types now generally employed. The ability of an officer to handle a fire is indicated by an adaptation of the short answer type of question to a specific fire layout, as is shown by some of the questions below.

True and False Questions

  1. TRUE, FALSE. Smoking in street cars by members in uniform is forbidden.
  2. TRUE, FALSE. All uniformed members of the department are required to wear their regulation uniform when appearing before the Board.
  3. TRUE, FALSE. Substitutes when on for officers shall take the watch of officer for whom they are working.
  4. TRUE, FALSE. A large diameter nozzle always gives a greater range of stream than a small one.
  5. TRUE, FALSE. Water towers are always used at high fires.

In answering this type of question, the candidate is required only to encircle the word TRUE or the word FALSE, depending upon whether or not the statement is true or false. If the candidate understands his subject, he can quickly show his knowledge by this simple process, instead of having to write out a long statement which might, or might not, completely express his ideas.

To avoid guesswork, some commissions impose a penalty of one additional answer for each one that is given incorrectly. For instance, suppose one of the statements was answered incorrectly. Then instead of having the credit for one answer deducted, the candidate would lose in addition to this the credit for a second answer. In this way the student is discouraged from doing any guessing.

To determine the candidate’s ability and knowledge in fire fighting, another type of question has been developed, based upon the false and true principle, which seems to answer the purpose very well. Such a question is given below:

Question: A fire occurs at 8 a.m. in the shingle roof of a 1 1/2 story frame dwelling. You are the first officer to arrive and remain in charge. When you arrive the fire has consumed an area of about 30 square feet and is spreading. Underline the word TRUK opposite each of the following actions that you should take at this fire. Underline the word FALSE opposite each action you should not take.

  1. TRUE, FALSE. Send in a second alarm immediately.
  2. TRUE, FALSE. Use wooden house ladders to carry chemical stream and fire extinguishers to roof.
  3. TRUE, FALSE. Direct two engine companies, of the first alarm assignment, to each stretch in a large line to burning building.
  4. TRUE, FALSE. Direct the first stream to seat of fire from sidewalk.
  5. TRUE, FALSE. Throw the second stream from adjoining roof to seat of fire.
  6. TRUE, FALSE. Direct truck company to chop out burning shingles and place them on adjoining roof.
  7. TRUE, FALSE. Direct chemical company to dump both tanks and take line over department ladder to roof and to seat of fire.

Notice that in the above type of question the candidate has an opportunity of displaying his judgment and knowledge of fire fighting. This type of question has been developed to involve larger fires that is, multiple area units, as would be required in examinations for promotion to higher ranks in the department.

Multiple Choice Statements

In this type of question, which is coming into general use, a statement is made which is completed in one of four supplementary statements. The candidate is required to check the supplementary statement which comes nearest to being correct, or which is the best answer of the four given.

For example, note the following:

Question: The company commander first to arrive at the box when a false alarm has been turned in should:

—immediately try to determine the cause of the alarm.

—return to quarters with his company and report to headquarters that the alarm was false.

—return to quarters with his company and report the case to the police department.

—return to quarters with his company and detail one of his men to try to find out the cause of the alarm.

A second example follows:

Question: If a situation arises in the line of duty of a fire lieutenant which is not covered by rules and regulations, he should:

—use his own judgment in the matter.

—always refer the matter to a superior officer.

—do as the majority of his men think best.

—confer with an officer in his command.

In the above type of question the candidate is expected to check one and one only of the four supplementary statements.

Again, as in the false and true questions, this type of question gives the candidate with greater experience and judgment the advantage in promotional examinations. It tends to place the man who best knows his work higher on the list than one who may have ability to write out a good examination paper, but who had not either the judgment or experience desired.

Completion Statements

This type of examination question serves a little better than does the multiple choice statement in that it can be applied to any subject.

In this type of question the candidate fills in the blank space with the word, or phrase, which makes the statement correct.

Specimens of this type of question are given below:

  1. The standard sizes of tips on chemical nozzles arc . . . . inches and ….On a 15-story building the standpipe between the 8th and 10th floors is intended to be … , inches in diameter.
  2. The standard nozzle in use in this department is named
  3. To extinguish incipient oil and gasoline fires the department is equipped with …. extinguishers.
  4. Three substances which will ignite when brought in contact with water are …. and …. and ….

Subjects Covered

In fire department promotional examinations as given throughout the country, numerous subjects are covered. Many commissions devote a good deal of attention to spelling, English and arithmetic, while others lay greater stress on rules and regulations, and laws and ordinances.

Still others consider fire fighting, industrial hazards, inspection work, hydraulics and kindred subjects of prime importance, with rules and regulations and laws and ordinances secondary.

The following summary shows the present status of the various types of examination questions in the 90 cities reporting civil service, and included in the above list. In considering these figures, it should be remembered that 38 of the cities located in Massachusetts, so far have used only the free answer type of question. Considering these 38 cities, along with the others, making a total of 90, 72 employ free answer types of questions, 31 true and false type, 30 multiple choice statements and 30 completion statement questions.

When it is considered that five years ago practically all cities employed the free answer type, the tremendous growth of the short answer form is most conspicuous.

It is believed that this type of question will supersede the free answer type to a much greater extent.

Many of the cities reporting use all four types, some use three and some two.

In conclusion, this much may be said: Tremendous progress has been made in the past two years in developing questions which more accurately determine the ability of the candidate and which afford a means of accurate rating on the part of the civil service commission. That further progress will be made, there can be no doubt. But it is likely that future changes will involve further developments of the short answer type of question rather than readapting the free answer type to modern needs.

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