Norfolk Professional Firefighters History

Local 1970 was first organized on April 20, 1970.  Our first president was H. L. Verhaagen.  Our number was later changed to 68 because that was our first number before we were forced to disband in 1918.  Thanks President Verhaagen for all you’ve done.

On April 9, 1918, the firefighters of Norfolk, Virginia, Local 373 organized and were granted a charter by the International.  The local functioned for a period of a year and made some progress towards getting the two platoon system.  However, the City Council issued an order to disband the local.  Not being a strong local, they were forced to disband to save their jobs.

In November, 1933, the firefighters of Norfolk again applied for a charter which was granted, and the new local started to operate.  For a short time all seemed well.  On February 10, 1934, the city administration issued orders #19, 20 & 21 which, in effect said that if the members continued their membership in the local they would be discharged.  Representatives of the International went to Norfolk and met with city officials in an attempt to arrive at an amicable agreement; in this they were unsuccessful.

In order to permit the local to continue to operate, an injunction restraining the city from putting the rules into effect was granted by the lower court.  On April 15, 1934, the Circuit Court of the city upheld the city’s contention relative to the rules.  An appeal was made before the State Supreme Court of Appeals.  The court in its decision said: “Police and Fire Departments are in a class apart.  Both are at times charged with the preservation of public order, and for reasons they owe their undivided allegiance.  The power of the city of complete control is imperatively necessary if discipline is to be maintained.”  After the decision, the members were forced to comply with the rules.  The International officers felt a great injustice was made by the court, which however, was in line with some recent anti-labor courts.

You can see many firefighters before us made great sacrifices.  But, we shall not go away and hide; we will continue their and our struggle.

The first local in 1918 and the second in 1933 both were forced to disband. The story continues. . .

Some 22 years later in 1955 the Norfolk Firefighters still saw the need for a union and chartered Local 1214, signing up 180 out of 215 members.  This local was led by a courageous firefighter, who was to be appointed president, Hubrecht L. Verhaagen.  Other Local 1214 officers were Clyde Griffin, Secretary and Joe Kan, Treasurer.

After approximately one week the Director of Public Safety, Calvin Dalby, addressed all stations, by way of apparatus radios and required the off going shift to stay and hear his announcement.  He talked for approximately 5 minutes to try to discourage union membership; evidently his threats worked, immediately firefighters started bailing out like the 82nd Airborne.  So for the third time Norfolk firefighters were denied union membership.

A lucky break came in 1969, when a federal court ruled in Charlotte, N. C.   that public employees could be represented by a labor union.  In the next few weeks Capt. Alvin Carroll of Engine #15 and the ever present Hubrecht Verhaagen, of Salvage #1 at (original) Station #6 started contacting various firefighters with enough backbone to try for a fourth time.  When Chief Lawrence Wilson found out about the organizing, he had all firefighters fill out a paper containing 3 questions, 2 of which were, “Do you belong to a union?  Would you join a union?”  Most firefighters lied on the form, maybe to protect their jobs.  But, Verhaagen, Hardy Daniels and the few that told the truth were immediately transferred.  Now that wasn’t for punishment, it was just their time for transfer, right?  But they didn’t scare that easily and Verhaagen was appointed president, Gilbert Wilkerson was temporary secretary and Hardy Daniels temporary treasurer and Local 1970 was chartered on April 20, 1970.

A staff representative from the International Association of Firefighters went before city council and was actually told by the city attorney that the federal decision in Charlotte, N.C. does not apply in the City of Norfolk.  Local 1970 then went to federal court and on April 23, 1971 received a favorable decision abolishing the city’s ruling on unionism.

Local 1970 appointed their permanent officers Verhaagen, President, Dick Sieber, Secretary, Hardy Daniels, Treasurer, Arnold Salzman and Clyde Griffin, Vice Presidents and began their long journey toward equality, with approximately 80 members.  It took a few years to get on our feet, (believe me there were times they felt like throwing in the towel); it was extremely hard, knocking heads all day at City Hall and then coming back to the Fire Stations to listen to criticism from people who never lifted a finger to help.

After Verhaagen decided to step down, Randy Lassiter was voted in as president.  Randy helped put this local on the map by his tireless efforts in helping gain many new benefits: Heart & Lung Bill, Grievance procedure, ERC.  At the Baltimore Convention Randy petitioned the membership of the IAFF to give us our original number and it was approved, so from then on we were Local 68.

Local 68 is well respected statewide and nationally  as one of the most progressive locals, with years of knowledge and a very capable staff of officers it is a union all members can be proud of and to be associated with.

To the brothers before me who spent so much time, money and punishment all that can be said is, “Your efforts were not in vain, and I am extremely proud to call you my brother.”