NEW YORK FIREMEN CAMPAIGN FOR EIGHT-HOUR WORKING DAY

NEW YORK FIREMEN CAMPAIGN FOR EIGHT-HOUR WORKING DAY

Chief Kenlon Asks for Time to Consider Plan—Change Advocated for General Welfare and Health of Firemen—Some Want More Pay

THE campaign of the Uniformed Firemen’s Association comprising 4,900 firemen in New York City, for local legislation by which they hope to change working conditions from a two platoon system of nine and fifteen hours service to a system of eight hours a day. reached the point last week where at the committee on local laws of the Board of Aldermen, which is the lower house of the Municipal Assembly, held a public hearing in the Aldermanic Chamber at Citv Hall.

Chief John Kenlon

Several hundred firemen attended. The proponents argued that the eight hour day was an established American custom, that it was humane, that firemen should not be required to work twelve hours daily, that eight hours would give them more time at home and that other crafts and trades were enjoying an eight hour system.

There was no direct opposition to the measure, although Fire Chief John Kenlon, who was sent to the meeting by Fire Commissioner John J. Dorman, declared that while he was in favor of anything which would be beneficial to the men, he was not sure, however, that the eight hour bill would be for the best interests of the fire service.

The bill provides that firemen below the rank of Chief of Department and policemen below the rank of Captain shall not be on duty more than eight hours a day. The police now have three platoons, but they work two extra tours of eight hours each week on reserve. The bill was introduced last spring, but it made little progress until a W’eek ago when the committee held the first public hearing.

Joseph J.O’Reilly, joint secretary of the police and firemens organizations spoke in favor of the measure, citing the conditions under which the firemen work at present. He said the firemen get one full day off every sixth day, but they have to work a full day for that. He declared that at least three Fire Department medical officers have branded the present two platoon system as unhealthy for the men and inimical to their well-being, for firemen cook and eat in quarters and as a result become victims of smoke at fires due to their filled stomachs; that the department will require at least 1,500 more firemen to make an eight hour day possible; that the department at present is badly undermanned; that the people of the city want the firemen to have an eight hour system and that there is no better time to discuss the measure than on the eve of an approaching election.

Fireman Antion Holterback, president of the Uniformed Firemens Association said the firemen were not at home enough. He said that an eight hour day will have a beneficial effect on the men such as the two platoon system did. He brought out that he is quartered in a fire house where the dormitory is 8 x 16 feet with eight beds in it. This station had no facilities for baths, and the men have to sleep with four blankets over them at night. This is detrimental to their health. A majority of the fire stations are in poor sanitary condition, that regardless of occupation, no man should do such work as requires disturbance to his sleep by a gong or bell. With the installation of the eight hour day system the beds in the fire houses should be removed and a great deal of the domestic dissention at home would be ended because the father of the house would be there to keep peace and order among the children.

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New York Firemen Campaign For 8-Hour Day

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Holterback argued that the dormitory space now required for beds, could be spared to the city—at least 800,000 square leet throughout the entire department. He did not say, but it was printed and published by the association of which he is president, that the available bed space could be used for storage purposes.

Fire Chief Kenlon’s appearance was the occasion for an outburst of applause. Alderman Solomon, chairman of the committee asked him for his views. “Views about what?” inquired the veteran commander, “what is the proposition, what was I sent for, what is all this about?”

It was explained to the fire chief that a public hearing was being held on the question of an eight hour day for the firemen and policemen. Chief Kenlon arose and said:

“The Fire Commissioner has just sent me over here. We have had no time in which to give this matter the consideration it deserves. It may be a good thing for the firemen, but 1 am not so sure that it would be a good thing for the fire department. I don’t know—give me a chance to look into it. I have had but one conference on this matter and I said at that conference that I would be glad to consider it. I am not quite sure about it. I want to take it up further and review it from every angle.”

Chief Kenlon was reminded that he opposed the two platoon law when he appeared at a public hearing before the State legislature in Albany some years ago. He said that was true, but the reason for his opposition was because the department at that time was 1,100 men short due to the war and that he was opposed to weakening the department any further. “I am of the same attitude now” Chief Kenlon continued, “I do not know where we are going to get the men to make such a system possible. It means increases in the force in every rank and grade. You cannot divide the department into three parts overnight. I have certain responsibilities which I owe to the taxpayers of this city. The burden of such a proposition would be on me. This matter needs careful study and much thought.” Turning toward the assembled firemen he said: “I am in favor of whatever is for your benefit, but I must be convinced, and when I am, you can be assured that anything which is good for you, I am for it. I am of the same cloth as you are. I was in the position you men are in now.

I am of the same piece as you all are but if this Board enacts this bill into law, you will find your old Chief ready and willing to put it into operation, the same as I did the two platoon system.”

Chief Kenlon’s remarks, while applauded, were nevertheless taken bv the blueshirfs as an omen of delay in the ultimate disposition of the measure. Hundreds of the firemen present were men who are on the eligible list for promotion to the rank of Lieutenant. The enactment of an eight hour law will mean at least 300 more lieutenants, 43 more battalion chiefs and 14 more deputy chiefs, which when added to 1,500 more firemen will involve an expenditure of nearly $4,000,000 annually in the fire department.

Many of the firemen, if they dared to speak out the truth, favor an increase in salary rather than a decrease in time served. They argue, that time means nothing, whereas a larger salary means more comfort at home, more clothes, more luxuries, better education for the kiddies, etc. It is a well established fact, although not broadcast, that there is a decided division of opinion among the firemen themselves over the wisdom of the measure.

Many members of the Board of Aldermen spoke in favor of the bill, which has become somewhat a political issue in Aldermanic districts. There is little doubt about the committee reporting the bill favorably in time to have the full Board pass it at the meeting on November 1st and thereby remove the onus from the Aldcrmanic body prior to Election Day which is November 8th, but then the bill must go to the upper house (Board of Estimate & Apportionment) of the Municipal Assembly and this cannot happen until after Election Day.

Another feature of the matter which has caused dissention among the firemen is the overzealousness of the proponents of the measure to have the beds taken from the fire houses. It was pointed out at the hearing that the removal of the beds will be detrimental to the health and comfort of the firemen especially those on the midnight to morning tour, that it will deprive firemen’s widows (the engine house matrons) of a livelihood and that in the event of a recall of all platoons due to some public emergency, the men will be without sleeping facilities while on full duty. It was argued that elimination of the beds should not be made a condition prerequisite to obtaining the desired legislation, that it was too great a concession to make voluntarily and that since it would be natural and automatic for men to fall asleep in the silent hours of the night while awaiting an alarm of fire, they may as well have proper physiological rest instead of reclining in chairs, on billiard tables, pianos, on top of hose wagons and other unnatural postures so prevalent when the two platoons were tried out in 1903 without beds in quarters.

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