Los Angeles Fire Department
Chief Miller's Address at C.S.F.A.
By CHIEF WILLIAM L. MILLER
One might think from the topic which I have been given that I am some sort of a prophet. This of course is not the case. However, the topic "Where Is the Fire Service Going?" does present a great challenge to one's thoughts. Before we try to prophecy on where the Fire Service is going, perhaps it would be well to first review where we have been and where we are now.
The Fire Service has developed from a disorganized group of citizens fighting a common enemy to well organized volunteer departments and on to the highly trained professional fire departments as we know them today; from the days of the bucket brigades, the hand pumpers and the horses to the modern powerful engines; from the cumbersome extension ladder of old to the modern hydraulic aerial ladders that we know; from the old wash-it-out-the-door methods to today's spray nozzles and salvage effort; from the days of the spittoons when women feared to walk past a fire station to the high public esteem enjoyed by firemen presently; from a straight 24-hour duty to the two platoon and on to the current reduced hours; from woefully poor and inadequate pay to reasonable fair salaries; from the pinochle days of waiting for fires to occur to today's aggressive fire prevention and public education effort.
It can readily be seen that the Fire Service has made great forward strides and advancement. It would almost seem that we have reached the highest pinnacle of success possible. This, however, is not the case. There is much to be accomplished in the future. There are many challenges currently awaiting us. The development of nuclear energy and atomic bombs, the new chemical processes, new materials, and the advanced methods of manufacturing are a challenge to anyone's imagination from a fire protection standpoint.
These new problems must be met and must be conquered. This will require highly informed firemen and much greater specialization than has been known in the past. Firemen in the days to come will of necessity need to have an educational background sufficient to advance into these fields of high specialization. It cannot be expected that any one person can adequately be educated in all of the wide fields in which the Fire Service is interested.
The firemen in California today have the caliber and the merit to advance onward and meet these new challenges. It is my belief that they will do it.
Currently there is much interest by fire people in the field of administration. Running a fire department today is big business. Some people in every department must of necessity have administrative ability. Most of us through the years have attempted to train ourselves along these lines through short courses, home study and practical application. This, however, is not enough. There must be a well developed and highly organized administrative education provided for people from the Fire Service in order that they may be able to meet the great responsibilities of running a department should the occasion arise.
The International Association of Fire Chiefs, at their recent annual meeting in New Orleans, adopted a resolution and appropriated $10,000 to get such a program under way on a nationwide scale. Much more money will be needed before the effort is off the ground. This was a great forward step by this organization. Probably one of the biggest moves the I.A.F.C. has ever made. Briefly, the thought is to provide scholarships throughout the country in colleges and universities where people might attend and receive this needed training. The fire chief fifteen years from now will be a much better equipped man to administer his department.
The advancement that has been made in the past has come about because of leadership existing within the various fire departments and fire department organizations. It has been brought about by cooperation among the various groups, all working for the common cause. Advancements to be made in the future will require a high degree of leadership and a full spirit of cooperation on the part of everyone. Oft times when we think of leadership, we think only of the chief of the department. This thinking, of course, is faulty. There are many leaders in the Fire Service other than the chief. All of you men in this audience are leaders in your departments. You would not be here if you were not leaders. Some have developed a higher degree of leadership than others. All of you are potential fire chiefs. Many of you will be fire chiefs before you end your careers. Leadership of course is not confined to becoming a chief. Leadership in its true sense means the ability to get things done regardless of your position. Leadership means being able to judge the final outcome of many suggested programs in order that a proper course might be steered.
We have a problem in the Fire Service today, one upon which I would like to comment. It is the budget problem. Three factors contribute to the acuteness of securing sufficient funds to properly finance our departments. In California we are faced with a great influx of people and industries. This creates the need for an expansion of the fire departments. It has been most difficult to keep pace and provide the fire protection which these areas demand. The tax revenue just doesn't seem to keep pace with the growth. Then, of course, the inflationary cycle through which we have been passing has presented a real problem to firemen and all civil service employees to keep their salaries at a level commensurate with the rise of the cost of living. This again is a great push on the tax dollar.
These two items present a real problem but there is another and different one which I ask all of you people to consider very seriously. I am talking ablaut the shortening of working hours for firemen. I do not claim to know how many hours are the right number for a fireman to work. I have my ideas but they are not of importance to this discussion. There is considerable variation in the hours worked by firemen in fire departments in this State and other states and I am not bringing this point up at this time because I am opposed to shorter working hours. I am merely bringing it up so that you people might properly weigh the advisability of requesting shorter working hours at a time when the fire department tax dollar is being severely pinched because of expansion and inflation. In my opinion, adequate salaries and adequate fire protection are of the utmost importance and should come first. This great push on the fire department budget has caused many city managers and city administrators to think about providing additional work for the firemen. I want to state flatly right here that in my mind, a fireman has a full time job if he does it.
During the past year I have traveled quite extensively throughout the United states. I have talked to people in the Fire Service from many different localities. In every place where the fire and police integration move is being considered, it has been brought about because of the move for shorter hours or a law requiring shorter working hours for firemen.
One State has adopted a 40-hour work week law for firemen. It is my guess that if a 40-hour week becomes standard in the Fire Service, that forty full hours of productive effort will be required regardless of the time of day. Determining the right course to adopt and pursue with problems of this kind takes real leadership. You men are in a position to make these determinations. I hope and I believe that you will display real leadership in your deliberations.
We have said earlier that the advancement in the Fire Service was also brought about through a spirit of cooperation. There is a field in the California Fire Service for cooperation that can be greatly improved and is most essential. I am speaking of the legislative effort which is made in our State capitol during the sessions of the Legislature. At the present time there are several different fire service organizations who appear in the state Legislature and strive for the passage of certain laws. Some of the time it is possible to find one of these organizations sponsoring the law, another organization taking a hands-off attitude, and another organization perhaps in opposition. This is very confusing to the law makers and provides a very easy out. I believe the four strongest fire service organizations in the State are the California State Firemen's Association, the Rural Firemen's Association, the State Federation of Fire Fighters and the California Fire Chiefs Association. It seems to me that inasmuch as we are all working for a common cause, that these four organizations should present a united front in Sacramento and that legislation should not be presented by any of them which cannot be supported by the others. Unless there is a united front, we will soon become ridiculous in the eyes of the politicians, they will have found a soft spot and will consistently probe it. I have heard it voiced by some that the firemen's organizations and the chiefs' organizations cannot put up a united front because one represents the firemen and the other represents management. This of course is fallacious thinking and only shows a lack of leadership ability on the part of those who voice it. I do not know of a fire chief who is not sincerely interested in attaining the very best salaries and working conditions for his men. Every chief is willing to go all out in an effort to bring about a high standard of employment for all members of the department.
It is not unreasonable or impossible to take the resolutions which you men will adopt in this Convention, the resolutions which were adopted by the California Fire Chiefs Association, the resolutions and legislation sponsored by the Rural Firemen's Association, and the resolutions and legislation as proposed by the Union and present all to a joint committee for study and cooperative action. I leave this thought with you.
You have asked me where the Fire Service is going. My answer is this. The Fire Service is going exactly where we take it. If we develop in the technical fields which are necessary, if we show a proper cooperative spirit, and if we provide the leadership which the Fire Service properly deserves, the citizens will be better protected; our working conditions will improve; proper working hours will be established; adequate salaries will prevail and we will go on to even higher pinnacles than one can ever imagine.
Copyright 1999 All Rights Reserved.