Labor Relations & the 1918 Strike

In 1902, the firefighters asked for 1 day off every 9 days and 7 days of vacation every year. They received it in March 1903. By 1915 the Fire and Police departments were getting vacation and the days were picked from a bucket. There was also a state law enacted that year that provided pensions for firefighters.

Issues Among the Firefighters
Pension, pay and working hours were all becoming issues for the firefighters. They claimed that the amount they got paid was not enough to support their families and the long work hours took a toll on the men too. On August 28, 1918 an ultimatum was issued to Mayor Durgan. If the salary was not increased by $20 a month, the firefighters would walk off the job on September 16, 1918. The ultimatum was signed by 26 of the 29 members of the department. The Mayor felt that the Fire Department was already to big and that the city could not afford the expense at that time. He also felt that the wages were not as bad as the firefighters made them out to be. So at 7 a.m. on September 16, 1918, the firefighters were true to their word and walked off the job. This action caused temporary closure of the Morton Street station due to lack of man power. By the evening of September 17th, 16 of the open positions had been filled by new men. City officials believed they would have all the vacancies filled by the end of that week.

On September 20th, the strike fizzled and 3 of the strikers returned to work. It was also reported that the city had enough applications on file to fill the vacant positions and Station 5 was reopened. The Fire Department was near full capacity by September 24th.

Pay Scale
The strike was not a complete failure though. The firefighters did not get their extra $20 per month, but discussion of the city payroll was started in the council. On January 1, 1919 the following pay scale was put into effect:
  • Fire Chief $125/month
  • Assistant Chief $105/month
  • Captains $100/month
  • Electricians $100/month
  • Regular Men $90/month
  • Extra Men $85/month
When the paid department started, firefighters worked 24 hours a day 7 days a week. The basic 1 platoon system was used by almost every city in the state of Indiana. This system deprived firefighters of the time off that most trades received.

A & B Shifts
Then on January 1, 1921 a new state law mandated a 2 platoon system. The shifts were called "A" shift and "B" shift. A shift would report to work at 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. when they were to be relieved by B shift for the evening. This would continue from Monday until Sunday when A shift would work 24 hours, and then they would switch to B shift working the day shift and A shift would do the night shift.

On January 15, 1930, the shifts evolved into 24 hours on and then 24 hours off with a "Kelly Day", or day off. This meant that the firefighters would average working 63 hours per week. Then on June 19, 1936 the Lafayette City Firefighters became affiliated with the American Federation of Labor after organizing Local 472. The union formed after other fire departments unionized throughout the state, including Kokomo, Logansport, Michigan City and Marion. The hope was to obtain better working conditions and more closeness among the firefighters.

Pay Raise
A pay raise was granted to police and fire on July 1, 1971. The firefighters wanted to shorten the work week from 63 hours to 56 hours so this was done by going to a 3 platoon system. The reason for this request was because a police officer that worked a 40-hour week received as much pay as a firefighter that worked a 63-hour week. The firefighters felt this was unfair.

Three Platoon System
By July 29, 1971 the Board of Works agreed to the 3 platoon system and on August 20, 1971 the 3 platoon system was in effect. The Kelly Day was eliminated and the firefighters would work 1 day on and then be off for 2 days. Some of the firefighters came up with a better system that included 1 day on, 1 day off, 1 day on, 1 day off, 1 day on and then 4 days off. The Chief at that time liked that system and it is what the firefighters still used today.