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.