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.