Poll Conducted in Department Shows Great Majority Favor Fifty-six Hour Week Over Forty

BEING one of the few fire departments in the country working a 40-hour week, I have received numerous communications asking why I have requested a change in hours from 40 to 56. We have worked under this system for almost a year and I believe an explanation of our experience would be of interest to all departments. I know it sounds foolish for anyone to ask to work 16 hours a week longer than he has to, but when shorter hours disrupt the efficiency of a department, then longer hours have to be adopted.

About four months ago I was promoted to Chief of the Columbus Fire Department. I was pretty much on the spot for I inherited a department in which there was much dissatisfaction due to the 40-hour work week voted in by the people of the community at the instigation of a minority group in the department.

In order to function properly I believe an organization should have satisfied employees and not members who are continually finding fault and blaming everyone but the one responsible for the working conditions that exist.

Local No. 67 of the International Association of Firefighters held various meetings in an attempt to arrive at a solution satisfactory to the majority, but it was to no avail. I attended two of the meetings and explained to them just how far the Chief could go to remedy the difficulty.

Finally I decided that inasmuch as there were also non-union men in the department who had not bad an opportunity to express their opinion, as they were certainly entitled to do, I would cause a secret written ballot to be taken throughout the entire department. Ballots were printed stating clearly the issue: “I am in favor of working 24 hours on duty and 48 hours off duty.” “I am in favor of continuing to work 40 hours per week.” There could be no doubt in anyone’s mind what he was voting for.

The result was 381 voting out of a possible 472. Of that number, 350 voted for 24 hours on and 48 hours off and 30 voted to stay on the 40-hour week. One voted both ways. However, the desire of the majority was definitely indicated.

Local No. 67 had petitions printed and distributed to firemen and their friends for the necessary signatures. These signatures have been secured and at the coming November election we hope to receive a further vote that will enable us to put the new system in effect.

Many have asked what the advantage of the 56 hour week would be over the present 40 hours.

First of all, each company, in order to have 5 men on duty on each platoon, should have a total of 21 men under the 40-hour week. Under the 56-hour plan there will be no extra days off and except in case of sickness or vacation the same men will be on duty. This will make a more efficient company and a better unit. Only 15 men would be needed, which is 6 men less per company than under the present 40 hours. On the basis of 16 pumps, 7 trucks and 1 fire squad, we would save 144 men, which in dollars would mean $412,416.00 per year.

Also, as a matter of convenience, the men on duty would eat and sleep at the fire station on regular schedule, which at present they are unable to do.

With present personnel we could reestablish the department as it was previous to the installation of the 40 hours and place back in service 3 pumps, 1 truck and add another emergency squad car. The strength of the department would then be 24 fire companies of 3 platoons each, or a total of 72 platoons.

We have 50 hydrant districts. By assigning a platoon to a district we would have 22 platoons performing more frequent and efficient inspections of buildings.

When the 40 hours went into effect we had manpower sufficient only for a 2 platoon system and so we were compelled to reduce companies to the extent of 7 pumps, 3 trucks and 1 emergency squad. We had left in service 9 pumps, 4 trucks, 1 fire squad and 1 emergency squad.

The Civil Service Commission tried to establish an eligible list, but it was impossible to get applicants to build up our department to its needed strength. The few who did apply received provisional appointments until there were enough to justify the Commission in holding an examination.

Another question that has been frequently asked regards the attitude of the Administration on this situation. I am happy to say that only the finest and wholehearted cooperation has been given us by the Administration. At no time have they interfered with the operation of the department.

In writing the ordinance for the 56 hours, the City Attorney’s Office has given consideration and study to every contingency for the protection of all concerned and the Chief of the Fire Department has the right at any time to place on 40 hours such members as he may see fit such as office personnel, fire alarm operators, fire prevention inspectors and maintenance men.

With the fire service at this new low, the National Board of Fire Underwriters promptly sent a committee to make a survey. The survey was only partially completed in anticipation of the new system and to give us an opportunity to “get our house in order.” However, they did place us in 5th class, but with no penalties. I am sure the 56 hours will correct this status and we will be returned to our former 4th class rating.

This, in brief, is a resume of the fire service as it exists in Columbus. From the number of inquiries we have received from various cities throughout the United States I felt it might be of sufficient interest to have it brought to the attention of fire departments through the medium of FIRE ENGINEERING. In seeking and accepting a longer hour week, we have but one thought in mind, and that is a more efficient department. It is the desire of the majority to put into operation a system that will work definitely for better fire service in the city of Columbus.

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