This is the second in a series of posts that highlight some history of punishments given Detroit Firefighters that broke rules. This article give specific examples of rules that were broken, excuses given, and the resulting punishments imposed in 1913 and 1914. The first post was an overview of How Rule Breakers Were Punished 1913-1914.
If a firefighter breaks a rule, there are concequences. Records show, however, that consequences are harsher for some more than others.
It’s something I’ve witnessed throughout my time on the job. It may have been a function of who broke the rule, who imposed the penalty, or who was offended by the rule breaker’s actions. In 1913 and 1914 things were no different. The following is information compiled from Detroit Fire Department documents from that era.
Being late for duty seems to be the most common punishable offense committed. When you look at a list of the amount of time a person was late, excuses given for being late and punishment imposed, a few thing inconsistencies stand out.
OFFENSE EXCUSE PUNISHMENT
2 minutes late watch was slow reprimand
3 minutes late not noted reprimand
4 minutes late not noted 30 days loss of leave
5 minutes late wife had taken sick reprimand
24 minutes late not noted reprimand
40 minutes late fishing, motor broke 60 days loss of leave
3hrs 45 min. late not noted 60 days loss of leave
5 hours late sister injured in Lansing 30 days loss of leave
missed connector train
to get back
5 hours late not noted 60 days lost leave and
transferred to another station
The firefighter who was 4 minutes late for work got a much stiffer penalty than those who were later. Was it because he had been late before, had a bad attitude, or didn’t have a good excuse? You can’t really tell from the documents.
What’s Your Excuse?
It appears that having a “good” excuse could lighten your sentence a bit. Two firefighters were 5 hours late, the one with a reasonable excuse lost leave for 30 days while the other lost 60 days leave and was transferred to another firehouse.
A Rank Awakening
It also appears that your rank could affect your penalty. It is surprising that being 24 minutes late results in a reprimand, while 40 minutes late revokes your leave for 60 days. The guy who was 40 minutes late was a Captain. Was the stiffer penalty to set an example for his men?
Being a cadet (the equivalent of today’s trialman) could also change your punishment.
One was 15 minutes late for duty. He was given a reprimand, which was the standard for that offense. Most reprimands would have been done in private. Being a cadet, his reprimand was carried out by the chief in front of his company.
As punishment for an infraction, a cadet could not only be reprimanded, or lose leave days, he could also be set back 10 numbers (names) on the cadet list. Promotions were (and still are) granted on seniority, as determined by the order in which cadets were hired. Being put back 10 names had a major impact on when a man would be promoted.
Notes from Detroit Fire retiree Wayne Isken:
When I came on the job in 1962 I heard stories of the bosses seeing a member running to the engine house. He could be just outside the door, but if he was not in the engine house when the 8:00am bell hit he was going down on charges.
When we were trialmen, one of my classmate was late to the training academy. He almost lost his job.
Be Careful Who You Offend
Swearing at the Lieutenant apologize in front of the men
Making offensive remarks to the captain 30 days loss of leave
Swearing at the captain 60 days loss of leave
Another thing that appears to change a rule breaker’s punishment, is who their actions offend. Based on the records, it was far less severe an infraction to swear at a Lieutenant than make an offensive remark to the Captain.
Don’t Show Up for Charges, Don’t Bother Showing Up for Work
In the Detroit Fire Department, when a rule is broken, firefighters get “taken down on charges“. Charges outline what rule was broken and the circumstances surrounding the offense. The offender is then ordered to the Chief’s office to “hear the charges”, and have a penalty imposed upon them. If a firefighter really wants to get themselves in trouble, they ignore the order to show up for charges. One man did just that. He was charged with being 23 minutes late for duty and didn’t show up for charges. His punishment, dishonorable discharge.
In 1913-1914, when a member was discharged from the department they were ordered to turn in their badge and their buttons. It was considered an honor to wear the decorative fire department buttons. That honor was strictly reserved for members in good standing.
In the next post you will hear about other offenses that caused men to be “taken down on charges” and a few interesting excuses given by the offenders. How Rule Breakers Were Punished 1913-1914, was the first article in this series.
Question: Is it right to allow leway in penalties imposed based on rank, attitude, or excuse?
Information for this series of articles provided by Detroit Fire retiree Wayne Isken. Wayne writes the Wayne’s Stuff articles you may have seen. His articles are geared toward stirring the memories of the department retirees with his “Do you remember….” questions. For those of us who were not around during those days they hold a wealth of information about how things use to be. I strongly encourage you to take a look at his writings. They can be found at his website waynesstuff.weebly.com and on detroitfirefighters.net.