With the Editor

With the Editor

A Far Reaching Ruling?

A high court ruling, just handed down by the Wisconsin State Supreme Court, may have far reaching effects on the much debated question of municipal firemen holding “outside jobs.”

In November, the Court unanimously upheld Fire Chief Edward E. Wischer of the Milwaukee Fire Department, in prohibiting firemen from working on other jobs on their days off. The ruling supported a Circuit Court Judge decision of last January that a local ordinance and a fire department regulation against off-duty work were legal.

The decision was a setback for fire fighters who supported the case of a brother fireman, one of 23 whom Chief Wischer had sought to discipline in November, 1954, for holding outside jobs. The Supreme Court ruled that a fireman was “potentially on duty at all times during his off hours.” And it said further—

“A fireman is subject to call for duty 24 hours a day. … It may be as appellant argues, an interference with the privacy of members to deny them the right to spend their off time as they see fit; but that is not the question here.

“If the rule is harsh, it is for the individual to determine whether he will subject himself to its terms by becoming a member of the fire department.

“The right to work for the public is a privilege which may be granted on any conditions which the public agency may impose, consistent with the law and public policy, and when an individual enters such employment, he impliedly surrenders certain natural rights which would remain his if he were a private citizen.”

“One of the reasons for the rule,” ruled the Court, “is to insure that the members of the department will be at all times in physical condition to perform their duties if called upon to perform them.”

Chief Wischer took his action after examining the income tax returns of every member of his department to ascertain who had income from outside work. He originally announced that 70 firemen would be disciplined for holding outside jobs, but later reduced the number. Four men were suspended and others received lesser punishment. It was one of the suspended firemen who obtained a temporary injunction restraining the chief from proceeding with the punishment, and who brought the action for dismissal of charges.

Attorneys for the firemen said that they, the firemen, were compelled by economic circumstances, illness, and other factors to seek work to supplement their pay, and questioned the Fire and Police Commission’s authority to prohibit outside activities. The Supreme Court disagreed, saying that the ordinance and fire department rule (established by the Chief and Commission), which said “No member of the fire department shall be engaged in any other employment, nor shall lie receive compensation for any other service for the city” … were “valid and reasonable.” It was pointed out that “acceptance of employment in such department (fire) involves acceptance of the disciplinary regulations adopted by the department. … The right to work for the public is a privilege which may be granted on any conditions which the public agency may impose consistent with the law and public policy.”

“The nature and duties assumed by a member of a fire department,” the Court also ruled, “is such that it cannot be anticipated when he will be called upon to assist in the extinguishment of fires. He is actually on duty at certain hours, but he is potentially on duty whenever the emergency arises that called for his services. Even when ‘at liberty’ under the platoon system, he is subject to be summoned in case of a conflagration and ‘kept on duty’ … while the conflagration continues. …”

Another ruling of the Court stated the decision “proceeds upon the theory that a fireman cannot devote his entire attention to the service of the fire department, and at the same time engage in outside employment for wages.”

It would appear from this decision that the fire service has not as yet heard the last of the “outside job” controversy.

With the Editor

With the Editor

Saga of the Volunteers

Twice within a few weeks, disaster in the form of high winds and rain has brought death and destruction to the northeastern areas of the nation.

Floods tore away dams. Bridges disintegrated. Highways vanished under tons of water. Mill and mercantile buildings toppled into the torrents, along with countless houses, many of them bearing their occupants to death. There was no municipal water, no telephone service, no gas, no electricity. And in a few places, to top it all, there was fire, uncontrolled.

Then came the help. First of all, came the firemen; for the most part, volunteers. Not only fire forces in the stricken cities, towns and villages went into action, but also from outside the areas most affected.

The Army and Air Force, with helicopters; the Coast Guard and Navy with boats and “duks”; the Salvation Army and Red Cross with canteens, medical supplies, and Civilian Defense volunteers. All pitched in. All did their stuff. But into the thick of it, where the going was worst, went the volunteers.

In cities they reinforced exhausted professional fire fighters. They replaced their fellow volunteers in hamlet and town. They drove through black night, rain drenched, over strange and treacherous roads and bridges. Some of them saw their own firehouses engulfed in the floods. Others were away fighting the torrents, rescuing helpless victims, while their own homes became prey to the rising waters. Still others saw their mates trapped in the muddy waters, while a few saw their apparatus wrecked by the raging torrents.

But they carried on, snatching catnaps when they could; wringing out their soaked clothing; dodging death by the hour.

Reward? There was no thought of it. Glory? There was too much to be done, in too little time to think of it. The poor people in trouble, wet, bedraggled, huddled on rooftops; clutching desperately to debris, to trees in swirling currents— “heck, they’re our people,” is the way one drenched volunteer put it. And they went after the victims and got them.

They didn’t have to do it. After all. they were only volunteers. Everybody expects the regular, paid, professional fire fighters to measure up. It’s their job! And after all, for the most part, there was no fire. Just sliding, slipping through the muddy waters, overhauling sodden wreckage that once were homes; climbing slippery roofs; searching dark, water-choked basements for the missing, then frequently having to dig them out of the silt and dehris and identify them.

Hungry — and at first, little or no hot food. Thirsty—and no potable water handy. Tired—too exhausted to rest, as one fire fighter expressed it. But they kept on. They turned their own fire stations. food and clothing even, over to the homeless, the bewildered and bereft. And when the angry waters subsided, they went at it to clean up. They washed and hauled away the filthy deposits; they dewatered the waterlogged cellars. They patched up their worn equipment as best they could to prepare for the post-flood fires that were sure to come. And not content with all this, they joined up with their indefatigable compatriots in the almost hopeless task of rehabilitation and reconstruction, which nearly every community in the afflicted areas faced.

Yes indeed, the volunteer firemen were the unsung heroes of these disasters. In every town and village they responded quickly and stayed to the finish. They worked efficiently. In most cases they were first on the scene. They served without benefit of publicity and with little hope of reward and reparation. In many cases, equipment of which they were proud, and which they procured through their own endeavors and funds, was badly damaged, if not ruined. Much of it was lost, swept away, or wrecked in action. Several volunteer firehouses were virtually washed out of existence. How can anyone recompense these unselfish heroes!

It would seem that when the total damage is added up, and the sums are set aside for the vast, necessary rehabilitation, there should be included provision for restitution of personal and department property damaged or lost by these volunteers during their service to the public.