Creating Firehouse 30 Years Ago

Dennis Smith recounts the 1976 launch of the first magazine to recognize that the line firefighters are fundamental and essential in meeting the mission of a fire department.


It is a rudimentary concept in management that when workers believe they have value, and, indeed, when they believe that their management cares about them, their productivity will increase. Of course, firefighters are more identified as professionals rather than workers in the traditional sense of...


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It is a rudimentary concept in management that when workers believe they have value, and, indeed, when they believe that their management cares about them, their productivity will increase. Of course, firefighters are more identified as professionals rather than workers in the traditional sense of the word. But, they are part of a management system that is hierarchical, or one that is managed from the top to the bottom within a rank system. The line firefighters, those with nozzles or ladders in their hands, are at the bottom of that system, yet they are the largest influence and the most important element in actually fighting the fire.

These were the kinds of things I was thinking about in the kitchen of a Bronx firehouse one day in 1975 when I picked up a fire service magazine. I flipped through the pages, realizing with each page that there was nothing in the magazine that interested me, and yet there was no one in the world more interested in firefighting than I, and the men I worked with. So, I wondered, was it I who brought inadequate background to the content of the magazine, or did the magazine fail to present material adequate to my interests?

The answer contains a little bit of both. In those days, to be a chief officer in a fire department one needed to be as close to a hydraulics expert and building construction engineer as possible, and so the fire service magazines published articles geared to the technical, and written for those officers on the way up the ranks. I did not have the required technical background to take anything from those articles (I studied English literature in college). On the other hand, the magazine had not a single article geared to the line firefighter – the non-technical articles about safety, equipment innovation, profiles of firefighters doing commendable things, political opinion, big jobs in other cities and towns. Wasn’t it time to have a magazine for the rest of us who loved the job?

I have always been moved by the idea, to paraphrase Bobby Kennedy, that some people see things as they are and ask why, while others see things as they could be and ask why not? This is what drove me recently to create First Responders Financial, and what drove me more than 30 years ago, as I sat in my small office in the middle of the woods in Garrison, NY, to create Firehouse® Magazine. It had to be done. It was needed. And, if I did not do it, who would? Well, maybe somebody would have, but I know I felt a responsibility to do it.

At that time, Report from Engine Co. 82 had more than 2 million readers, and I had received thousands of letters from firefighters throughout the world. I sensed that I could rely on these friends to help me get something important off the ground, and so I set myself to work. I called a few pals who were working in the advertising industry and asked them to send me the advertising kits (now called media kits) for every magazine they could find, including any in the emergency field. I studied the published data of those magazines – the subscription rates, the per-page advertising fees, the number of subscribers, the demographic distribution throughout the country, the number of management, sales and editorial staff – everything about publishing except the editorial content. I knew what the magazine’s editorial content should be, and it was the one area of publishing where I did not need instruction. Also, I believed in the importance of what I was doing – belief being the most consequential element in anything worth doing.

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