Why City Officials Should Attend Conventions
Would Give Them Entirely New Viewpoint As Regards Department—Oath of Office Comes Before Politics—Chief’s Salary Should Be Commensurate With His Responsibilities
of Public Safety, Pittsburgh, Pa.
THE following address by Mr. Pritchard at the Kansas City convention of the I. A. F. E. last year is particularly timely, considering the approach of the meeting for 1920, in that it shows that the viewpoint of a city official can be changed by attendance at a convention of the association as it could be in no other way. The frank way in which the writer acknowledges his change of attitude toward his fire department after the revelations he has received at the meeting emphasises the importance of chiefs urging the attendance of their city officials as visitors to the Toronto convention.
It is truly inspiring to an official who has been diverted from civil life and placed in charge of a department having jurisdiction of that important municipal function of operating a fire bureau and fire department to gather together with men of the type of men represented here, men who have risen to the highest pinnacle of success in what today must be acknowledged to be not a job, not a trade, not a mere municipal employment, but what, as I see it, must be and is acknowledged to be justly and truly a profession in every sense of the term. A fire chief in charge of a fire fighting organization, with all the technical knowledge he must have in order to attain that position, with all of the practical experience he must have in order to properly administer the duties of his position, is, in my judgment, just as much a professional man as is the lawyer, as is the doctor, as is the mechanical, civil or electrical engineer; and the sooner the public comes to appreciate that to its full extent the better it will be for the public and the better it will be for the men who have devoted their lives to this most important activity.
If I indulge in the use of the pronoun “I” or “we” I hope I will be pardoned, because I have personally undergone considerable change since I arrived in Kansas City, the early part of this week. My attitude towards the lire bureau, my attitude towards the personal equation in the chiefs, has undergone considerable change. I feel today, having come here, that I have received much at the hands of this convention in the way of information and a proper realization of what fire fighting is. Now understand, I do not claim to have a proper realization, but I have a realization more nearly approaching what ought to be proper than I had when I came.
There has so much come to me as director of the Department of Public Safety, which department has control of the fire bureau of Pittsburgh, and I have so little, and realize that 1 have so little to offer you gentlemen. But I have this to say as a careful observer of the proceedings, realizing how little I knew in the presence of all this knowledge of the technique and of the practice of fire-fighting: several ideas have impressed themselves upon me and I am glad of an opportunity of saying something to you gentlemen as to what has appealed to me, as a tenderfoot in this fire fighting business. I am mighty glad and more glad than ever that it fell to my lot to have a man in my department to appoint—a fire chief to take over the technical and practical operation of the Bureau—a man of the type of Chief William Bennett of the city of Pittsburgh.
He has been a member of your organization but a short time, but when you come to know him as I have come to know him you will appreciate he is a regular fellow, a real fire chief; and an essential to your organization which is now already the possessor of so much brains and so much talent. I do not say this out of any pride or desire to boost our department, but I think I owe it to Chief Bennett here, among his fellows, as the director of the department of which he is a part, to pay this tribute to him among the men who appreciate him.
People of a City Should Know the Chief
I want to say that if the city of Pittsburgh had a knowledge of the conditions, had a knowledge of what real fire fighting and a real fire bureau executive was, Chief Bennett would be appreciated more in the city of Pittsburgh than he is today, and he is really and genuinely appreciated there as it is. I refer to him, merely for this reason, feeling sure that the same situation prevails in other cities—the citizenry, the residents of a city necessarily being engaged in their pursuits, to my mind and in my experience as a resident of a number of cities, do not properly appreciate the work being done by the men in charge of this most important activity; and the sooner the public is brought to realize it, the sooner the chief will come into his own. I heard stated here on this floor several propositions with reference to the position of the fire department and position of the chief in his community. I heard stated on this floor that they expect this, that and the other from the fire chiefs, and don’t give him proper support. When you were discussing the two-platoon system I heard mention of what appealed to me because I know we have put the two-platoon system in operation in our city. We have given it to the fire department, and to the chief, but did not give him the tools, in many cases, with which to properly work it out. I have heard discussed here on this floor the proposition that they place upon the fire chief the heavy responsibility of protecting precious lives in large numbers and of protecting untold millions and in some cases billions, of wealth, and do not give him the proper support financial, or otherwise, and yet expect him to be subservient to some power of party politics; that they expect of the firemen and of the fire chiefs the bearing of this great responsibility, and at the same time that he should acknowledge allegiance to a politician or set of politicians.
The Oath of Office Before Politics
I want to say this that in every municipal activity there is always bound to be more or less politics. There is bound to be more or less obligation on the part of the administration, and that all members of the administration are more or less bound in a political way. But just as soon as the fire chiefs of the United States and Canada appreciate that their first duty is to their oath of office, and next duty is to the people whose interests and lives are placed in their hands for protection, then the politicians will be told in no unmistakable language, “Back off here. I’m going to obey my oath of office. I’m going to protect the precious lives and the big interests committed to my care. And then if there is anything left for you, being part of the government, we will let you have it. But you don’t come first.”
Salary Commensurate with Profession
I know that it is no easy task to withstand the ravages in the department of the politicians. It seems that for years gone by somebody outside of the taxpayers has gained a fee simple title to the police department and the fire department and that the interest of the public is pretty nearly reduced to a remainder instead of a present fee. I don’t want to say this for the purpose of stirring up sedition, but I do want to say to this body of men here at this time, when the war has brought about a change in our whole national life and certain big changes that are pending, that now is the time for the fire chief to stand up in his own municipality and stand up in his convention here and say, “We are abreast of the times and going to be real fire chiefs and going to give you the protection you want without outside interference. We are going to protect the lives and property we have sworn to protect, and then when we do that we are going to ask of the public a just appreciation and a just recognition of our position in the community. Our position is one of power, one of honor, and one of big responsibility, and we want to be acknowledged in the community as such men.” And, more than that, when you come to that position then you will be in a position to demand of the public, and the public will willingly concede to you, not a working-man’s wage for which most chiefs are working today, but an income commensurate with the dignity and responsibility, not of your job, but of your profession.
City Officials Should Attend Convention
Another thing that has impressed me here during this week was the fact that in this organization we have some of the best minds and some of the best thought that you can get in any organization of men, drawn from over the country, as this organization is drawn. I have heard discussions of technical subjects by men who were brought to their feet on the spur of the moment that would have been a credit to any lawyer or any professor who is trained in that kind of work; and it has been a marvel to me that the man who is out working in his municipality, handling machinery and handling appliances and handling men and having, as I understand, the duties of fire chiefs, many things to divert his mind—it has been a revelation to me here that men who are engaged in that and who have no practice in debating and have gotten up and responded to the questions that have been discussed here, as readily, as intelligently and luminously as some of the discussions I have heard on the floor of this convention. It is a credit not only to those men individually, but a credit to the entire organization, and it is too bad that you gentlemen do not have with you here more of the men who are in control of the departments with which your bureaus or organizations are connected. I think it is the duty of the fire commissioner, board of welfare and police commissioners or the director of public safety or whatever his title may be, not only to support the chief, or to send him here to this convention, but that every chief would be doing himself a service and doing his city a service and doing the officer in charge, or board in charge, whether it be a council or board or individual, to get him to come here to this convention and see what you chiefs and your departments of which he is a part, are doing. Then you would get an approximate appreciation of the directing head and directing body and you would get somewhere because they would have some conception of the problems you men are up against. A year and a half ago I knew we had firemen in the city of Pittsburgh, I knew we had a chief and some district chiefs. But I had no idea of being at the head of the department of which the police and fire department are a part. I came in there a year and a half ago and commenced to study the proposition. Of course I had plenty of opportunity for observation and of course plenty of observation to understand. I necessarily could not give all of the time because it is unfortunate that the police bureau and the building bureau and the electricity bureau are a part of my particular department ; and I hope you will pardon the personal reference, but I did come to realize in the work the great problem not only in putting out fires, but in fire prevention and the manipulation and management of the bureau of over a thousand men. I sympathize with the chiefs. I did not know, until I came here and heard the discussions on the floor, of the magnitude of the problems with which he is confronted, and I am going to say this, that when I go back to the city of Pittsburgh I will go back as the result of having been here with you, with a full realization of the problems facing our chief; and I will make it a cardinal principle in the administration in my office to keep in closer touch with that man and will do more than I have done in the past in holding up his hands and helping him make the record he is making in the city of Pittsburgh.
And if you gentlemen could get the men who occupy the same position towards you, whether that be a board or individuals, to come here as I have come, probably your way would be smoothed out to some extent, and you would receive proper co-operation that in many cases I am sure you are not receiving now. And when you go to your council or board or your director or to your commissioner and say, “I need some more men for this reason,” he would not say, “I can’t raise the taxes or we can’t use the money,” but he would say, “Boys, I know what your are up against, and I am for you, body and soul,” not because he hasn’t been that in spirit before, but because he has not had the advantage of meeting the organization on occasions of this kind and he has not a proper connection with the department. But when he does meet with you and get a realizing sense of your problems, when you go to him and say, “I want this particular piece of apparatus. It will help me in this particular way.” He would not say, “Oh, get along with whatever you have. You haven’t had any serious tires lately.” He would have a proper appreciation of the problem of standing ready to serve, and of preparedness, and you would have his co-operation. I believe if you get your representative, your councils, or whoever holds the powers of supervision, if you can get a representative of your department to be at your conventions, it will help you more than you might think. It would be the greatest thing for fire protection throughout this continent and I only hope the time will come where more men who have the duty of upholding the chief’s hands will come here and meet with you. And I’m going to be here. It was a happy circumstance that Chief Bennett induced me to come out here, and as long as I am director of the Department of Public Safety, I will feel always not only a deep debt of gratitude to him for inducing me to come here, but to this convention for affording me the privilege of being here and gaining a little wider knowledge of the problems and gaining a little better appreciation of them, and of the noble and wonderful service that these chiefs are rendering to the public day after day. I have only accepted this opportunity of standing before you and saying a few words to let you know that it means something to you; it means something to the chiefs; it means something to the departments ; it means something to the municipality to have here as associates men who do not have the actual practical handling of the department, but men who are responsible as I am for helping the chief work out his problems and his bureau’s salvation. Appreciating as I do the privilege of being with you, I want to say that after my experience here this week I acknowledge that there is no body of men entitled to more consideration and entitled to a greater meed of honor and entitled to a revision of their compensation and a revision of their standing in the public eye than the fire chiefs of this continent—the United States and Canada.
North Carolina Firemen’s Association
The proceedings of, the 32nd annual convention of the North Carolina State Firemen’s Association held last July in Asheville, N. C., have been published in an attractive volume with highly interesting contents. The president, James D. McNeill, has held that position for 25 years and his report was full of valuable matter. In his address, President McNeill said in part:
Let me impress upon you, my comrades, that we have met here for the purpose of transacting the business affairs of one of the most important civic associations of North Carolina. In a special letter to them, I have asked the governing boards of every town and city in the state to send you here to attend the sessions of this body so that you could both give and receive instruction and advice. The care of the health and the welfare of every fireman in the state, together with that of their dependents, are in a large degree dependent upon the faithful performance of our duties as members of this Association. I shall expect every delegate to be in his seat at every session when the convention is called to order and to remain during the several sessions. Your position is one of trust and honor and the past history of this Association is one to be proud of. Your predecessors as delegates have made it so and it is up to you not only to keep it in the front rank of all Firemen’s Associations but to make it a leader in all that stands for the betterment of the lire service and for the welfare of our good old state of North Carolina. The deliberations of this convention on the future work of this association are going to take the best business judgment we have. You have heard what Colonel Boyden suggested here today, that the time has come when something ought to be done to look after the crippled fireman just as much as the soldier. I am as proud of my record of 53 years service as a fireman as my son is of having served in the army in France. Keep coming to the convention because the time is here when we must provide for all firemen who have been knocked out and for their dependent mothers or sisters, wives, daughters or children. You are working for North Carolina and for the insurance companies and they should furnish this protection and they are going to do it. We are now getting only one half of one per cent. In South Carolina, their association succeeded in passing a one per cent law and they, the firemen of our sister state, are getting now between $30,000 and $40,000 a year. If we stand together, we can get pretty much anything we work for.”
The report of the secretary, Jno. L. Miller, showed that the membership consists of organizations in 76 cities and towns. Of the 76 departments represented, their reports as sent to the Statistician, Chief Charles D. Farmer, of Raleigh, showed that 21 had no fires in 1918. After this report, President McNeill called attention to the fact and pointed out that the insurance companies could well afford to pay the trifling tax for protection. “In my own town” he said, “there are $80,000 paid yearly in premiums and the average losses arc less than $10,000 a year.” A committee of five was appointed from the floor, with Colonel Boyden, vice-president of the association, as chairman, for the purpose of getting statistics from other states in regard to pension matters and “to report something practical, something business-like looking to the pensioning of disabled firemen.” Before adjourning, the convention voted to have the 1920 convention in Fayetteville, N. C.
Good Use Made of Chemicals at Montgomery Fire
The usefulness of a liberal provision of chemicals was well demonstrated recently when a fire of unknown origin was discovered in the plant of the Montgomery Shoe Company, Montgomery, Ala., at 1.20 A. M. “The fire started in a little overhead office on main floor,” reports Fred B. Perry, secretary to the chief, “burning through that floor, the fire dropping on main floor, going through wall and straight through to the roof. The fire was stopped with chemicals as it went into the roof. The factory was an old brick structure on the south side of the business part of the city, and occupied a space 30×60 feet on a 50-foot street. It was two stories in height and had no private fire protection. The alarm was telephoned in and was answered by Chief R. E. Nixon with forty-two men and two triple combinations, two chemical combinations, one Ahrens steamer and one American-LaFrance aerial ladder, as the extent of the fire was unknown. Fortunately, the department was successful in handling it with chemicals, only one plug stream being employed.” The loss on the $50,000-building and contents was trifling, owing to the promptness of the department’s response and the skill with which the chemicals were handled.
An engineer in the New York Fire Department recently effected a compromise with the Adams Express Company, according to which he received $20,000 as compensation for injuries sustained when a motor truck belonging to the express company ran into an engine on which Williams was going to a fire. He was in a hospital with his back in a plaster cast for some time, and is still on sick leave, although the injuries were inflicted some months ago.