Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 49, Part II

By Holice and Debbie

There is no lack of material, where a man fails in his duty, to supply his position. Over twenty-three hundred applications already on file, and a daily importunity at headquarters for appointments, strongly urged by parties whom the Commissioners would be glad to oblige, proves that those who are in the enjoyment of the privilege of membership should do their utmost, by a zealous performance of their duty, to justify the Commissioners, to whom most of them are personally unknown, in adhering toa rule to make no removals except for incompetency or fault. Some of the friends of the old system are hostile to the new organization, having magnified its defects and predicted its failure. This is simply impossible if we do our duty to the public and to each other.

In furtherance of these views, and in anticipation of the publication of all he rules, now in the hands of the a committee, the commissioners consider it proper to call the attention of the officers and employees of this Department to a few general Regulations, which they will expect to see enforced:

1st. That the Assistant engineers shall be strict and energetic in the performance of the duties laid down for them. That they shall be untiring in their vigilance, as well in the extinguishment of fires as in improving the efficiency and discipline of their several divisions. In case they find any fireman, or other officer or member of the Department, incompetent or unwilling to perform his duties, they shall, without hesitation or favor, see that charges are preferred.

2d. That the foreman or other officer in command of a company shall remember that he occupies a position of great trust, and that upon him the men of his company will naturally look as a model. He should bear in mind that, as an officer, he is not to allow his personal feelings to interfere with the discharge of his duty. All violations of the rules, or factious opposition to their enforcement, must be reported at once. Blank charges for this purpose will be furnished. The omission to make a complaint will be considered as an offense on the part of the officer. While it is desired that the best feeling should exist between officers and men is not compatible with discipline, nor with the duties that office imposes. When a man occupies position of rank he acts for the Department, and not for himself. * * * No absence will be allowed, even on leave or lay off, unless reported to the officer in command, and his permission granted.

3d. the quarters of the different companies were left in bad condition by their former occupants, by the removal of their private property, the suspension of repairs, and by changes to accommodate horses. the more pressing emergency to provide for the active usefulness of the Department has caused some delay in repairs, which will be attended with large expense. The Department will place them in condition as rapidly as possible. Every man in naturally attached to his home. To many members of this Department, who re unmarried, their quarters are their only homes, and there is no reason why the same interest in their embellishments and neatness should not be taken by all the members, so far as in their power, as in the case of their own houses. A small company fund, to be voluntarily contributed, would aid much, added to such details as the Department is confined to. The neatness and taste displayed by Hook and Ladder Company No. 5 entitles them to be mentioned in orders, as well as cited as an illustration of what is meant by this suggestion. It is not doubted that a similar spirit will soon be developed by other companies. It has been a matter of surprise to the Commissioners that men should congregate and sit about their apparatus or horses, when they can, in most cases, easily arrange a comfortable sitting-room, away from the dampness and the fumes of the stable. Lounging about the doors of the house, or congregating on the walk, is constantly complained of by the neighbors and passers-by, and has a very bad appearance. The front doors should be kept open in fine weather, when the company is not absent, as much as practicable, to admit light and air, and in order to allow the public to look in and see the neatness and order prevailing. At least one man should always be on duty on the first floor to guard against trespass or depredation. No visitor not connected with the Department, or having some special business with it, can be allowed to remain for any length of time, beyond an ordinary opportunity to gratify his curiosity, in any of the houses, without a report to the officer in charge, and his consent obtained. Engine houses are places of business, and not for lounging.

4th. the waste of gas, fuel, feed and fodder, is to be avoided. It is to be borne in mind that the expenses of this Department fall upon the people, and the commissioners are responsible for this application. The waste of gas has become a serious evil. The bill presented each month shows at a glance the waste and economy of each company. Some of the companies who are most extravagant have received notices, which will be followed by a system of personal liability for the waste, if continued. No man is expected to use the property of the Department more economically than he would use his own. * * * *

5th. The officers and men should be neat and cleanly in their appearance. When on duty at a fire it is not expected that this rule will be enforced, for their first business is to extinguish the fire, without regard to clothing, or even to person, if the emergency require; but after the fire is over, there are no damages which their equipment can suffer, which the use of benzine or French soap on their clothing, of whiting on their buttons and plates, and of blacking on their boots, will not restore.. There is an abundance of time for this in the large amount of leisure on their hands. Each company should likewise be uniformly clothed on each day (except in case of an alarm, when all consideration of dress, except the fire-cap and overcoat, are to be disregarded); and it is not the meaning of uniform that one man in the same company should be in his shirt, another in his sack, and a third in his overcoat, or one in slippers, another in shoes, another with his boots over his trousers, and yet another with his trousers over his boots. Work to be done about the quarters will call for working dress; when work is over the regulation dress will be resumed. It is unbecoming the credit of the Department that a few slovenly men should throw it in disrepute, when the means are afforded by their now liberal pay for every member to appear at all times decently and well clad. The accumulation of old and worn citizens clothing is to be avoided, one serviceable citizens suit being all that is required to have. It is suggested to the various companies that they purchase new uniforms caps at the same time of the same cloth, and that if they are furnished by the same person no doubt a saving will be made. This, with the system required as o wearing them, will prevent the variety of color and condition of clothing which is otherwise inevitable. The closets afford ample room for the disposal of clothes not in use, other than the overalls drawn over the fire-boots for instant use. The bathing tubs should be freely used, not only as a sanitary measure, but because cleanliness is essential to public respect. The beds of the companies are to be presentable to visitors without reflecting on their owners or officers. Want of cleanliness is this will be a subject for charges. It is the intention of the board to supply each bed with a pillow-case and spread, to be used in the daytime and removed at night, and placed in the closet of its owner, in order to insure uniformity and neatness. In future, as in other branches of the public service, each man will provide his bed-clothes.

6th. When a superior office, or a visitor accompanied by a superior officer, visits their quarters, it will be apparent that both politeness and discipline require that the officers and men should rise and salute them, showing that degree of discipline and respect for the position which they in turn will require should they attain, as they may if deserving, such promotion as is open to every man in the Department

7th. the Commissioners have noticed with pleasure the general good condition of the apparatus and of the horses of the Department, and the pride taken by the men in these important elements of usefulness. They desire to encourage this, and also the spirit of honorable emulation. The condition of the brasses, and the sleekness of their horses' coats, strike at once a practiced eye, and give evidence of the good working condition of both. On everything connected with keeping these on an efficient footing, and their prompt use when required in the protection of property and life, too much attention cannot be bestowed. They are like tools of the skillful workman; and the citizens judge from what they see of the condition of the officers and men, and of the cleanliness and order of their apparatus, as to the efficiency of the Department. The reputation of the Department depends on its efficiency, and its perpetuation on its reputation. In both every member has a personal interest.

8th. At fire each officer and fireman is to remember that his first duty is to extinguish the fire and protect property and life from the flames,. And only second to that to prevent the slightest pillage or depredation. * * *

9th. Some critical member of the Department who seeks to draw his pay without performing his duty, and takes no pride in the service or the buttons he wears, may say to his comrades, in reading the suggestion contained herein, that they dwell on trifles unworthy the attention of the Commissioners or the observance of the men. To such the commissioners would say that the history of the world shows that everywhere, in every service and in every business, an aggregate of trifles is the basis of discipline; and discipline the guarantee of success.

This order will be read to each company in the Department, and placed on file for reference.

By order of the Board,


Chief Kingsland supplemented this by an order calling the attention of the district engineers to their responsibility for the general condition, in all respects, of the companies under their charge, insisting on proper deportment and order, and requiring cognizance and reports of violation of rules.

The aim and intent of this circular was readily understood by all to whom I was addressed. It drew a line between the past and the present, and its date was tht of the beginning of the Paid Dire Department on a business basis The commission was well received by the public and the press. One reform rapidly succeeded another, and the reorganization of the department was proceeded with briskly and systemically. One of the first measures of importance was the division of the companies among the engineers, as follows, on the tenth of May:


Engine Co. #

Hook and Ladder Co. #

Eli Bates

3, 14, 18, 33.


G. J. Orr

1, 7, 31.


Thomas Sullivan

5, 35, 28.


M. Shannessy

2, 19, 23, 34.


John Conley

4, 6, 10, 29, 32.


B. Sheridan

9, 12, 15.


W. W. Rhodes

16, 21, 26.


W. Banham, Jr.

8, 22.


R. V. Mackey

11, 17, 20.

9, 11.

W. Brandon

13, 24, 27, 30.

5, 8.

A system of preferment of charges against delinquent members was adopted, and that of to-day is almost the same, and the results of trials were transmitted to the force with instructive and pertinent comments. The tendency to carelessness and extravagance in the receipt and disposition of supplies was checked by the appointment of Carl Jussen, the present secretary of the board, as storekeeper or property clerk. The Volunteers who desired to be honorably discharged had been hurt by an illiberal construction of the law of march 30, 1865, and the following resolution, passed June 5, 1867, on motion of General Shaler, pleased them:

Resolved, That all members of the former Volunteer Department who have faithfully reformed their duty, as appears from the records of the company to which they were attached up to the date of being relieved, or who for good or sufficient reasons prevented from so doing, shall be entitled to receive an honorable discharge from the department.

Civil service reform was recognized on June 13, 1867, in the following, offered by Commissioner Wilson:

Resolved, That the district engineers be, and are hereby, directed to report to the chief engineer the names of privates in their department, who have performed meritorious acts since its organization, for the purpose of selecting from the ranks suitable persons to fill vacancies for offices now existing in the different companies.

Commissioner Myers offered the following as a substitute:

Resolved, That the district engineers be directed to report to the chief engineer, for competitive examination, the names of two men from each company possessing, in their opinion, the best qualifications for promotion as assistant foremen. That in making such selection consideration to be given to meritorious conduct in the performance of duty and such characteristics as will command the respect of their subordinates, and without favoritism or personal preference, but solely with a view to the benefit of the department.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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