'Blue Flu' brings back memories of 1978 police-fire strike - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

'Blue Flu' brings back memories of 1978 police-fire strike

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The so-called "Blue Flu" demonstration has not been deemed a strike yet, but Memphians are thinking of this event that happened decades ago. (Photo Source: WMC Action News 5) The so-called "Blue Flu" demonstration has not been deemed a strike yet, but Memphians are thinking of this event that happened decades ago. (Photo Source: WMC Action News 5)
Memphians are thinking of this event that happened decades ago. (Photo Source: WMC Action News 5) Memphians are thinking of this event that happened decades ago. (Photo Source: WMC Action News 5)
MEMPHIS, TN -

(WMC) - In 1978 Memphis Fire Department and Memphis Police Department went on strike. The so-called "Blue Flu" demonstration has not been deemed a strike yet, but Memphians are reminded of this event that happened decades ago.

Labors relations between our city government and fire and police hit an all time low on July 8, 1978.

WMC Action News 5 Anchor Joe Birch was there and covered the tumultuous strikes of that entire summer.

It was 7 Saturday morning, July 1, 1978. Memphis firefighters walked off the job behind Union Avenue's Engine House number 11. As 1,400 firefighters walked off the job that night, Memphis burned.

More than 200 fires, mostly in vacant structures destroyed some $3 millon worth of property.

No one was ever prosecuted. Non-union commanders battled the blazes.

The National Guard was called in along with U.S. Forestry Service firefighters. A judge ordered strikers back to work by the July 4, 1978 but tempers were hot.

By August, Memphis police, unhappy with the failure of contract talks with the city, started their own strike.

Some strikers damaged city property, blocked access to police precincts, and a few threatened officers remaining on duty with bodily harm. Mayor Wyeth Chandler declared a civil emergency, ordered a curfew, and called in the Tennessee National Guard.

Firefighters struck again in sympathy with police. On the night of August 15, 1978—while both police and firefighters were striking and 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew was in effect—the lights went out in Memphis.

A citywide blackout left Shelby County deputies to respond to reports of some looting.

The combined police-fire strike ended after eight days. After that difficult summer, Memphis voters changed the city charter to make it clear future strikers would be fired and if rehired, would start as new employees.

Meanwhile, while the current case of the "Blue Flu" is a concern, it is nowhere near the extremes of the summer of strikes in 1978.

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