You Might Be A “Mealer” . . .

If your Dad was a Detroit Firefighter that served a long or short leave day punishment… You might be a “Mealer”.

1982 meal time at the firehouse.  Can you put names to these faces? If so, post them in comments at the end of this article.

Meal time at the firehouse- 1982.  Can you put names to these faces?  If so, post them in comments at the end of this article.

At one time, the Detroit Fire Department didn’t want to punish a person by suspention that would result in his family suffer from the loss of pay.  Instead a system of long or short leave day punishments was implimented.  This seems to have been an natural transition from earlier days when rule breakers lost all leave for 30–90  day periods.  

I’m uncertain of the exact time frames for  long/short leave day punishments.  My best estimate is they started in the 1950’s and  continued until approximately 1967.  

How Leave Day Punishments Worked

The severity of the rule infraction determined the number of long or short leave days a man would serve.  For short leave days, the offender would work his scheduled 24 hour shift with his unit, then continue to work the next 12 hour shift with the OFU. OFU is a term used by Detroit Firefighters. It is short for Other F*!king Unit.

Some short leave days were only 8 hours.  Those were served by coming in at midnight the day before a scheduled shift, working the 8 hours between midnight and 8 am and continuing to work the scheduled 24 hour shift.

In the case of a long leave day punishment, the man would work his regular 24 hour shift, continue to work the next 24 hour shift with the OFU, followed by his next regular 24 hour shift.  Leave day punishments were not imposed on a man’s Kelly day or the day after the Kelly.  

Old Engine 9, located at Larned & Riopelle, Engine 29, Engine 8, and the fireboat appear to have been designated as places to serve long and short leave days.   Punishments would continue for a one to two week period depending on the offense and the decision of the fire commission trial board.

Violators Get Bust Outs –  Mealers Are Born 

Those being punished were allowed to “bust out” – go home  to visit for one hour at each meal time.  During some meal bust outs naturally other activities took place. Children born from this time were jokingly referred to as “Mealers”.  If you’re the child of a Detroit Firefighter, you may want to contact the Firemen’s Fund to check Dad’s service record 9 months before you were born.  You might be a “Mealer.”

Leave Day Punishments End – Company Punishments Begin

Around 1967 one man scheduled to serve a leave day punishment fought it.  News media got wind of the story claiming that because he was being forced to work for no wages it was a form of involuntary servitude.

He won the battle but lost the war. It was agreed that he couldn’t be forced to serve a leave day punishment.  Instead, he was suspended, lost pay, and that was the end of  leave day punishments on the Detroit Fire Department. 

After this, some bosses didn’t want men to loose pay due to a suspension, but still felt a punishment was warranted.  Company punishment became an alternative.  The offender was to “asked” if he would volunteer to wash the apparatus room walls.  He usually went along with it since he knew he messed up.  This was a way of dealing with problems while “keeping it in the engine house”. 

It’s Always The OFU

Along with the information for this article, retired Detroit Firefighter Wayne Isken included the following:  I know for a fact that none of the guys on MY UNIT were ever involved in anything warranting leave day or company punishments. It was always the OFU!


This is the 4th in a series of posts that highlight some history of punishments given Detroit Firefighters that broke rules. Other posts in this series are:
How Rule Breakers Were Punished 1913-1914.
2 Rule Breakers, Same Offense, Different Consequences
– Don’t Miss a Run, and Stay Off the Sidewalks

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 and on


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