Friday, February 14, 2020

Brotherhood of the Barrel

Brotherhood of the Barrel

Chicago Firemen go on strike (written 2010)

30 years ago today I went on strike along with 98% of the department against the City of Chicago. Most strikes happen for many reasons and not just for money. This strike happen because the city for many years treated us with contempt. 

The city was not replacing the firefighters that retired , resigned or died. My company like most ran with 3 men, one to drive, and two firemen. The national standard at that time recommended 6 men. When I first came on the job we had 6 men. One engineer, one officer and four firemen. The engine would run with a man acting as the officer (He was responsible for anything that happen that day but was not paid extra for this) A man would act as the engineer and not get paid for it. After the strike the city promoted over twenty-five percent of the department that is how many vacancies they had. 

The equipment was old and often broke down. The rule book required each company to test their hose twice a year, we did not because the hose would often break testing it and they had no hose to replace it with. The hose was years old and on two occasions I was in a building with a line on the fire and the hose broke making myself and the man next to me scramble to get out of the building
because we no longer had the water to protect ourselves as any fireman would tell you.

The National Fire Standard recommend a pumper be replaced when they are 10 years old, only to be used as as spare if needed. My company Engine 101 was using a 1956 engine until 1978. It was 22 years old before the city replaced it. The downtown companies where the rich folks worked and lived got new rigs almost every year, but out where fires happen more often and the poor people lived they got newer one's every 20 years. 

If they wanted they would have you work your day off and not pay you for it, saying you don't have a contract so we don't have to pay you. If you were at a large fire and they wanted you to stay even when your relief came they would just tell you not to go home, keeping you for hours. That year we had a storm that dropped a huge amount of snow and I was kept on duty for 5 straight days. I worked 72 additional hours during that time without additional pay. Now the city had almost every department working longer hours, water department, garbage men, electricians, plumbers, you name it we all worked long hours, but because we did not have a contract the fire and policemen who were required to work were not paid for it, everyone else was paid overtime. 

Firefighters in most every major city around the world had the use of air masks for years, but not Chicago. I had a chief who told us that you could be killed wearing them, because by having one you would go too far into a building and if you ran out of air you could not get out in time. We on the other hand would only enter a building as far as our lungs would allow us, suck up that smoke and if you could not breathe any more you did not have far to go to get out. He later became second in command of the department. The reason we did not have them was they cost money, more money then a few dead firemen or sick men with lung cancer. But to buy all the equipment and maintain it would cost big money. Chicago did not get them until after the strike and the US government gave Chicago the money to buy them.

Chicago gave us a small amount of money for our personal fire gear and uniform . They had inspection twice a year and some chiefs would see a small tear on your fire coat and tell you to get a new one, boots looked old get new ones. After the strike, the city open a clothing store and they were required to replace the worn out items, no more inspections, your fire coat could have a hundred holes and now since they had to pay, forget it.

In the history of Chicago they have never had money for teachers, police or firemen. They have always had money for the aldermen and Mayors to get there raises

That strike lasted 23 days, the people who cross the lines and went to work or joined the department during that strike were taken care of by the city. But I have not met one that has told me he or she was proud that they did. 

I was on strike for 23 days and that is one thing I am most proud of my time as a Chicago firefighter. My father told me that was a good thing that we did.


  1. Anonymous2/14/2020

    DGag me! The strike was barely 30,days for crissakes. You’ d of thought these guys were out for 300 days like Caterpillar

  2. Anonymous2/14/2020

    This is what happens when you let liberals run things (democrats)

  3. Anonymous2/14/2020

    that narrative is a great read, please read it's entirety. my dad walked and i was scared at the time that he'd be out of a job.i applaud those men for sticking together for the reasons stated in that narrative. sorry but i have absolutely no empathy for the scabs.none.

    1. Anonymous2/15/2020

      And the irony of all those "scabs" was that those who treated them as such worked side jobs as carpenters, electricians and plumbers, few of whom, if any, were members of those trade unions. Scabs indeed.

    2. Anonymous2/15/2020

      I received a call around 11PM the night the firemen went on strike informing me that our days off had been cancelled. Working the 1st watch (midnights) we left roll call and each firehouse in our district had 2 police officers assigned to it. As we pulled into the driveway at the firehouse at 2323 N. Natchez, my partner gave the assembled "brothers of the barrel" a big rah rah speech about them being on strike, and siding with them about their issues with the city. I had been on the job a little over a year and at the time there were certain points of contention between the police and fire departments, (jealousy on the part of CPD over CFD getting those Daley Days I was told). Anyway after a few hours watching the back of the firehouse, I went inside to use the facilities when suddenly all the power inside the house went out. When I got back to the car, I learned the "brothers had stripped the electric meter off the outside wall of the house". So now we have to notify the Sergeant who then notified the Lieutenant and Watch Commander who then notified the street Deputy Superintendent and Chief of Patrol. We were jammed up. I thanked the asshole partner for the pep talk he gave these striking fireman. For his encouragement, we each received a one day suspension for inattention to duty, which looking back we probably deserved.
      Later, the Chicago Police Department received their first ever contract negotiated by FOP. All the coppers were hailing Jane Byrne as the best mayor ever. My feelings were that our first ever contract was really just a big FUCK YOU to Frank "Moon" Muscare and his striking fireman. And how the pendulum swings. Today the coppers are always the bad guys in the public eye and firefighters are still regarded as heroes, much of which was a result of the loss of life on 9/11. And those firefighters hired during the strike were forever seen as scabs, mostly from veteran firefighters who worked, without union membership in the trades. Funny how perspectives can change isn't it?

    3. Anonymous2/16/2020

      Scab - this thing on my back that a dermatologist took a scalpel to and sent to a pathology lab to determine if its still there

  4. Anonymous2/15/2020

    I hate scabs

  5. Anonymous2/15/2020

    Funny that they didn't walk when Richard Daley was the Mayor.

  6. Anonymous2/15/2020

    scab (noun)
    1) Chicago Firefighter that didn't go out on strike or took a firefighter job to replace a striking firefighter.

    2) Chicago Firefighter that does union work without a union card on his days off. (example, I do electrical work on my day off but have never been a member of Local 134).

    3) Chicago Firefighter that has more than one union job. (I'm a firefighter and work for Local 134 at McCormick Place on my days off).

    1. Anonymous2/17/2020

      Sometimes referred to as a lesion

  7. Anonymous2/15/2020

    Police need to go on strike!

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