Public Safety versus Railway Profits. II. The Fireman

[Continued from last issue.]

We will now look into the conditions of the spare firemen and firemen of the trunk lines, and in doing so we shall be concerned with men that are actually working the trains.

The spare fireman is a man that has been “passed” to act as a fireman when needed, but who is not always engaged in firing. When he is not doing so he is booked “shed duty as re­quired,” and as often as not goes back to cleaning or other shed work. We can briefly pass him bye, because when firing he is under the condi­tions of a regular fireman.

His working hours are ten without a break, as a rule, and his pay is anything from 3s. to 4s. a day when employed firing. But he must exceed five hours in order to get this. When on “shed duty” the wage is something less (usually 3s. 6d.), which is another instance of the shameless robbery of these men, seeing that it is not through their fault that they are “put back” in the shed, or “cancelled.” Once a man is passed for firing he should be treated and paid as such.

As a rule the spare fireman’s week is six days. Occasionally, however, it is seven days. He is usually on shunting work, but is some­times put on long trips—a common practice on the M.R. The period of spare-firing is about two or three years, then the man undergoes a further exam. for a regular fireman.

His promotion generally follows in the order of seniority, but the company “reserves the right of choice for promotion irrespective of seniority”—a clause which obviously leaves plenty of room for jobbery.

Once a man is passed as a regular fireman he is always at work on engines, either on or off shed ; so in looking at his working conditions we shall commence to get to grips with the indictment that has already been levelled at the companies : that the men are overworked and underpaid, which are circumstances not consistent with public safety.

Let us briefly look at his conditions. Ten hours constitute his working day. This, for a man standing over a furnace which (according C. I. Bowen Cooke, of the L.N.W., in his book “British Locomotives”) developes a temperature of 5,027 degree Fah., is excessive.

To give some idea of the nature of the work let me quote from an article, “A day’s work on the footplate,” which appeared in that capitalist, organ, “The Railway Magazine,” Oct. 1909, and in which the author says : “With 14½ on (a moderate load) I fire up every two minutes, and sometimes oftener.” That this is no exag­geration is shown by the fact that on some of the big engines the coal consumed is about 50 lbs. per mile.

Before leaving the shed the fireman has to make up his fire, assist in oiling, clean and trim his lamps, fetch oil for his driver, and in many cases clean his “front” and otherwise assist his driver to get the engine ready to back on the train. By this time he must be “squared up” and have steam up to anything between 140 to 225 lbs per square inch.

To get the engine ready to leave the shed half an hour is allowed ; to get “on train” from shed another half hour generally, but sometimes only a quarter. In “British Locomotives” Mr. Cooke (Chief Mechanical Engineer L.N.W.) says (p. 353): “Firemen should come to work before booked, and make all preparations with comfort to himself and his driver”—a thing all firemen have to do, for to get an engine ready in a pro­per manner to ensure safety in the time allowed is impossible, and many firemen “sign on” as much as half an hour before booked in order to make these preparations.

After an engine has run a trip one way “the fire must be cleaned, etc., in readiness for the return jonrney.” (“British Locomotives,”.p. 370). In the running, when not actually firing, “the fireman must assist his driver in sighting the signals.” (Rule 139.) This is the way that he “learns the road.”

After the return journey is completed and the engine is “on shed,” it has to be “put away,” which means thoroughly cleaning all the parts affected by fire, “turning” the engine, filling the tank, and locking up the tools, etc., reporting any losses of same. For this he is allowed half an hour, which is quite inadequate. He then “signs off,” and is at liberty for nine hours (eight on the L.B.S.C.) from that time. But “in cases of emergency” he may be called out before he has had nine hours off. No matter what “turn” he is booked, after nine hours have expired from his “signing off,” he is the “property” of the company employing him, and is liable to be “called out” at any time. If he is not at home when he is required he is cautioned or reprimanded, and often fined or suspended, for “not being available for duty when required.”

The man’s turn, aa a rule, varies daily, and he does not know what turn he will be until the previous day (the Midland and the L.N.W. keep their men fairly well informed of their turns). As aforesaid, his working day is ten hours, but often circumstances compel him to work over­time, especially when starting his career as fire­man on the main line, for which, of course, he is paid. Often a fireman does twelve hours or so, then has nine hours off, for two and three days together, the result being that he ia tired before commencing his day’s work. This, by the way, being consistent with the companies’ ideas of “safety,” to say nothing of Rule 6 and the dangerous way he may have to cross running roads during the day’s work to carry out the detestable rule 35.

Anyway, his week must not exceed six, or sometimes seven, days (which is quite enough), so after his nine hours off periods he is given a rest of something like sixteen to twenty hours, but only nine of them are his—he is company’s property for the rest of the time, for which he . receives nothing.

Of course, anyone with a whit of sense can see that the “men only drive and fire for about four hours per day and are paid ten” (“A Day’s Work on the Footplate,” “Railway Magazine,” Oct. 1909), and the statement of Mr. J. Gooday (Gen. Manager G.E.R.) and his directors, who consider that the “time the men are on duty counts only ia the actual running” (“Railway Magazine,” March 1907), is mere piffle, and is only intended to poison the mind of the man in tthe street, who regards such statements, emanating from such journals and gentlemen, as gospel truth.

It will be seen that the life of a fireman is worry from beginning to end, with bad rest, bad coal, bad engines, bad conditions generally, and bad pay—with which I will deal later.

Now we come to conditions which are rather peculiar to most sons of toil, but which play an important part in dividend making as applied to the Loco. Depts. of the trunk lines. I refer to “lodging,” one of the biggest curses that can befall the loco. man, whether driver or fire­man. The sum allowed for a “lodge” is 1s. 6d., and if it exceeds twelve hours, 2s. 6d. The latter price, however, is easily wangled by “cal­ling out” the man a minute or before the twelve hours have expired.

The “main line” men are affected by this, on some lines more than on others. On short lines it is unknown. The men working the long dis­tance goods trains are generally safe for a “lodge out,” because they can only get one way by the time their day is up. They, therefore, on their scanty wages, have to keep two homes going, to say nothing of making a smoke as the result of the bad coal supplied. (See “British Locomo­tives,” p. 346.)

The fireman’s wages vary from 3s. 6d. to 5s. 6d. per day, according where and by whom he is employed—a good average through the country being about 30s. a week. A main line man might get somewhere about 35s. if he is lucky; but besides “lodging,” time worked that he is not paid for, and time at home “wait­ing” after his nine hours are up for which, as I have said, he gets nothing, and many other expenses connected with the calling, he has to run something like 950 miles.

The wages are nothing like sufficient, neither are there enough men by half, as the long-distance engine working and “lodging” will show. And engines work daily double journeys of 180 odd miles.

The usual term of firing is from twelve to sixteen years, and it is a period of excessive robbery from beginning to end. And while such conditions prevail, and such a set of men are worked as they are, the “welfare and safety” of the travelling public is impossible.


[To be Continued.]

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