Why Not Civil Service Protection for the Fire Chief
The Question Discussed in Its Various Phases—Not Sufficient Incentive to Seek for Promotion Where There Is a Lack of Protection
THE question us to what extent the chief of a fire department is protected in his position by civil service and whether the office of chief is to become a foot-ball of politicians or if the merits or efficiency of the officer are the sole basis on which he shall retain his position is a very in. portant one and one which is a live problem in many cities. The matter was dicussed at a recent meeting of the Fire Chiefs’ Club of Massachusetts very thoroughly and was gone over by the chiefs present in its phases in relation to the heads of fire departments of Massachusetts. The discussion follows:
CHIEF DAHILL, of New Bedford—There is another matter in our city and I think some other chiefs may be in the same position I am. Our fire department is under civil service. We had our second assistant engineer claim to have received a sunstroke last July and he went off on leave of absence. He did not feel just right about taking his money so I called up the commissioner and he said to give him leave of absence to the first of January. We did that and stopped his pay. A month later the city solicitor said I had no business to give him leave of absence and to give him his pay. I had a bill go through which placed the engineer and assistants under civil service but I did not put in a bill to rescind other bills and the city solicitor claims I cannot appoint but they have to be elected each year. He also claims the chief or engineer is not entitled to retire under pension, because of their annual election they are out of it. We have another bill this year that the city council may perhaps fight as they do not want to give up their rights to elect these men. The men in the department are under civil service but the election of the chief and assistant eliminates them from the benefits of civil service and if they have a pension act it excludes the chief and engineers. I his doesn’t seem to me right. If a man is hired in the fire department and receives an injury he gets a pension but the chief and his assistants don’t because they are elected. I think this should extend to the chief and his assistants the same as to the permanent men.
EX-CHIEF WALSH, of Boston—I can give you the status of the chief in Boston. All members of the fire department of Boston from the day they first come into the department through civil service are protected by civil service until they arrive at the position of chief engineer; then by a separate act in the revised laws and copied now into the general laws, the chief is not protected by civil service. Like you Chief Dahill in trying to find out where I was at I have some idea of the law. I looked it up myself and felt rather in doubt and I consulted other men and could not find one who said the chief was not protected. The law is peculiar. It says that the chief of the fire department and the superintendent of police of Boston be selected or appointed irrespective of the civil service laws but otherwise they are members of their respective department, which led a great many legal minds to say that although they need not comply with civil service rules or selections, they are protected. The time came when I was determined on making sure on that and the place to make sure is in the civil service and I had a nice talk with the civil service head and he convinced me that I was not protected by civil service and we could be dropped just as well as in any department. Boston has different laws with regards to pension than any other city or town. Although the chief may not be protected by civil service any member of the department who has served a certain number of years on application may be retired on half pay. Any man in the department only two days if he is injured is pensioned on half compensation. This applies to any man in the department whether he is a blacksmith or a chief. There is a case before the Supreme Court now with reference to a repair shop man and they expect to get the ruling in his favor because he is under civil service and a member of the department. This is the situation in Boston and as a matter of justice any man who serves in any fire department for 15 years and all the more so if he serves more than that, is entitled to receive recognition in regard to pension, if incapacitated and should be able to retire on his own say so if in the department 25 years. It is a tough game and the fellow who has the hardest part of it is the man at the top. They are first and last responsible and deserve the height of recognition and should receive it, if anything in preference to the other, but at least to an equal extent to any other man in the department. A man who has served 50 years in the department like Dahill not entitled to a pension if injured tomorrow, or trouble came from old injuries, it is outrageous, as compared to the man who is only two days in the service. I think you gentlemen should go to it and secure your just rights. In granting you a pension you are not getting anything you have not earned. I have earned all I get now and I earned it when I put in day and night with No. 12 doing all kinds of duty There is something to the fire department that appeals to a man to stay there when he is in it with all the hardships but the public should give credit to the man who likes such service.
CHIEF Dahill—There is another phase of the matter, where a department is placed under civil service, it should include the chief and assistant engineers as well as the other men in the department, because if the chief and assistants are subject to election by a political body there is no incentive for promotion, if bv promotion he is going to be a political football at the next election of the city council.
I am bringing these matters up as food for thought and I think a bill should be endorsed that when civil service applies to a department it should be for officials as well as the rank and file, and those who have pension laws also should have that matter cleared up.
CHIEF DALEY, of Brockton—I put in a bill to have tenure of office under a city ordinance. I had a special bill put into the legislature and put in bill to be voted on by the people, which I think is safest.
CHIEF DAHILL—My experience has been that any bills you put into the legislature with referendum attached you can get there, if you don’t you cannot.
CHIEF CASEY, of Cambridge—When Mr. O’Keefe applied for a pension he introduced a bill into the legislature which applied to the metropolitan district, it was “elected for life until we are removed for cause,” and eligible for pensions. I believe every word that Chief Dahill says, that a young man coming into the department has not much ambition to go ahead, there is no incentive to get to the head as long as there is no come back in his old age. I took the matter up with the civil service and was told I lost all my rights when I accepted the job. We have all seen in the’ papers doubtless about the man in Fall River that went before the Supreme Court a man who went from a call man to the permanent force and thought he was entitled to a pension after he had served 25 years as a fireman and the Court ruled against him and said his years of service as call man didn’t count.
CHIEF DOYLE, of Wellesley—This has been a very interesting discussion and what Chief Dahill says is very well when applied to cities, but there is one other consideration in this State, the small town and when you think you haven’t to think of them, just come to the legislature and you find out that the legislators in Boston and vicinity are in the vast majority in getting bills through. In Belmont they are asking for chiefs to apply for the job of chief there, they seem to think there is no man capable in Belmont for the position. In the town which I serve I was imported from another town or rather city. There are many other towns, similar towns where there are only 13 or 15 permanent men who have to go outside looking for chiefs, whether right or wrong. I don’t believe it is for us to decide but I do think if a bill was introduced into the legislature putting the chief under civil service applying to the matter of benefits that are applicable to the department, I think it would meet with defeat because the majority of your legislature at the State House come from the towns and not from the cities.
CHIEF CASEY Chief Dahill, you had a bill in the legislature that protected you, placing you under civil servicer
CHIEF DAHILL—Yes but as that bill didn’t have other laws repealed the city solicitor ruled that we are not under civil service with tenure of office.
CHIEF Doyle—You must take your law from the courts of the State.
CHIEF JOHNSON, of Waltham—A man, a chief appointed by mayor and confirmed by city council is outside of civil service, any man in any department elected by city council and mayor is outside the walls of the city civil service.
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Why Not Civil Service for the Fire Chief?
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CHIEF DAHILL—Our assistants are appointed same as the men in the department.
CHIEF Casey—What would be the effect of one of your deputies if chief of department appointed a deputy chief subject to approval of mayor and stopped there, what would happen ?
CHIEF DAHILL—He would be under civil service then.
CHIEF CASEY—If you asked for that bill same as the Metropolitan bill, wouldn’t that be a better bill?
CHIEF Johnson—The city would have to come into the Metropolitan district in order to adopt any bill pertaining to Metropolitan district.
CHIEF DAHILL—Another thing, it is customary for the civil service examiners to come around once a year, call the heads of the departments in for conference to see if any improvements are to be made in civil service laws. I made the suggestion two years ago that in future in holding competitive examinations that the examining board of three men that one of those men he the head of the department itself. I told them that system had been maintained in the State of Maryland and they said they would have the secretary write to find out but I didn’t hear anything about it. I brought the same matter up to Mr. Dana and he said it wouldn’t do, that they had two ex-members of the Boston department in the civil service who passed upon all applicants tor promotion. I called to his attention the fact that what might do for Boston would not do for other places. I also called his attention to the fact that in the examination paper it said “State merits and commendations received while in the service of fire department, stating only the merits and commendations that appear in the record.” We had a man take the examination who answered the above question by stating he had assisted at rescue of four people last January, summoned the ambulance and so on and I never heard of it. I told the commissioner about it and he said there was a slip sent me to verify it but I said “no.” He sent for the chief examiner and he said it was a new position and they couldn’t count the experience so they gave him a mark of 73 on high school education and general appearance. I still think the chief of the department ought to be a member of the examining board in every city or town where an examination is held.
CHIEF Daley—I think the remarks of Chief Dahill should have some weight with this Club especially about the Civil Service, a man getting marks without experience, and it seems to me a committee should be appointed from this Club to meet Mr. Dana, either at this meeting or elesewhere.
CHIEF Walsh—I am examining papers now for the Civil Service of applicants for the Boston fire department and anything like what Chief Dahill says is far aw-ay from the examiners purpose. A question is asked and may be subdivided, a, b, c, d, one man may answer in 5 lines and another on 3 pages and the man who puts his idea in 5 lines gets a better mark, so far as the examiners are concerned. Another thing when a man sits down to show w’hat kind of a letter he can write he is examined not by the firemen of Boston but by some of the technical fellow’s up there and I assure you the method of examination is the fairest and squarest I know of.
CHIEF Dahill—The statement that I made was that the chief examiner stated to me that in this particular instance that the examiners ruled that this being a new position there could be no credit for experience and when the examiner asked “what did you mark this man on” be said “for having a high school education and general appearance.” If that man had had experience 1 have no doubt but what it would have been passed upon by the examiners, but he was marked 73 for experience and the man didn’t tell the truth. I have no fault to find with the examiners but I do think the chief of the local department should be one of the three examiners to participate in examination of candidates and verify statements made. 1 do think that while they state they send these papers to you for verification they do so occasionally but not always but they ought to. No credit should be given any applicant for promotion for any claim he may make unless verified by the chief.