Here we go again. Another slap in the face to firefighters from those who are supposed to have their best interest at heart.
Some of you may have missed it; for some reason it didn’t grab as much attention as putting a line through the window of a car that’s in front of a fire hydrant (yes, I loved that too!). This story out of Fayetteville, North Carolina, hit the media a week or so ago, so let’s set it up and sorry for the delay. I had to take a day or two and calm down.
It’s budget hearing time in Fayetteville. Our favorite time of the year, where we go in and justify and defend what we already have and why we have it and then try to make an argument for more or simply better equipment, maybe additional staffing, improvements to a firehouse, a few more tools, EMS supplies, and a few other things. You know, the kind of things that, well, help us to help those whom the elected officials asked us to help and take care of. We said yes, we will do whatever we can, even if it means putting it all on the line and risking not going home to our loved ones. Yeah, those little things that make it possible for us to accomplish our mission. And God forbid we ask for a pay raise or an additional benefit for those who agreed to take care of those whom they asked us to take care of so, we can have a safer community, and actually pay our bills, put food on the table, and money into a college fundâ€¦yes, that stuff, too!
Stop here for a point. We all know that those who chose a career in public safety did so knowing that in many places the pay wasn’t great; to be quite honest, to many of us it didn’t matter. We chose it because we wanted to help people. To be there for them during those bad times and, most importantly, to be there for them before they happen, through good, proactive community risk reduction programs. Yes, it was our choice, but like those in the private sector who were choosing a career, we were hoping to end up with some decent benefits and pay. No different. Nothing out-of-this-world and unreasonable. If that were true, we’d chose another profession. We were hoping for, you know, a way to raise a family and contribute to society and this great country of ours. I just don’t understand that when those in the fire service ask for a raise or a bump in benefits, it’s often met with sarcasm, a rolling of the eyes, an argument, and, oh yeah, aâ€ jokeâ€ (as it was later referred to in Fayetteville–see article http://www.fayobserver.com/news/local/fayetteville-firefighters-get-apology-from-city-manager-for-unfortunate-remarks/article_5c527fb6-eeeb-5ba7-94e6-f12aaa607a9b.html?mode=jqm ). So yes, we did it–we took the job knowing that there were no guarantees.
Sorry, back to Fayetteville. So here they are, sitting through the budget hearing, I’m sure listening to where the funding is being distributed to different departments, programs, and initiatives, and waiting to see what the fire department is going to get. Maybe a new engine, new PPE, maybe a radio or two, a station remodel, you know, the â€œstuffâ€ we need to take care of those whom they asked us to take care ofâ€¦you know, the public. The ones who are counting on us! And then it begins and here we go again. Like has happen in so many other cities, counties, and districts, those making the decisions, the policy makers, those who actually control the purse strings, get their underwear all knotted up about those pesky firefighters â€œwho have too much.â€
Please understand that I had the opportunity to work for some great mayors, city council members, and brilliant (and I do mean brilliant) city managers, so I know I have been blessed because that’s not the way it is for many, that’s not their reality. They don’t work for comedians, they work for leaders. Our bosses were good at explaining where the money came from and that running a city is like running a corporation, with needs and wants from all of the departments. There is a balancing act that at times may not come off as favorable to a particular department, but that is the reality when dealing with revenue streams, the economy, and unfunded mandates. So I get it. We’re (the fire department) not the only show in town, we’re part of a bigger team that serves those out there, the public, in all areas and on all levels. I get it.
Sorry, back to Fayetteville. So here they are, the firefighters and officers, sitting in the budget hearing. When it comes to the part about staffing levels, a decent conversation breaks out and somewhere something like, â€œYes, they are adequately staffed,â€ is mentioned. By the way, the whole hearing is out there for you to listen to if you want, it’s about 5 hours long; the fire departmentâ€™s portion is about an hour and thirty-nine minutes in. Actually, here is the link: http://youtu.be/53eFFtclHvY
Then, a few minutes later, there is a question of whether they give out smoke detectors and if so, do they give out CO Detectors. And then, it sure sounds like it, there’s an accusation made about members taking all the CO Detectors home to our families. I donâ€™t know, you listen, it sure sounds like it.
Then about 15 minutes later a discussion breaks out on the topic of step raises. You know, those God-awful horrible things that are in so many other cities and their pay plans, where in most cases after a good evaluation and in some places successfully passing a test, you receive a step raise within the position you currently hold that makes that whole â€œpay rangeâ€ thing work. And then something along the line of (I don’t know, you can listen, maybe you’ll hear it too): â€œIf you’re fully staffed, ISO 1, Internationally Accredited, have no recruitment problem, why as a taxpayer am I going to give you a step plan?â€
This is where some not-so-nice and very sharp and pointed comments were made, and the slap on the face actually occurs. I’m sorry, the mayor and councilman who made them said later that they were meant as a joke. A joke? Okay, we’ll get back to that later. So, as funny as Mayor Nat Robertson and Councilman Chalmers McDonald are, a couple of crack ups, the following humorous comments are made:
â€œThat firefighters work 120 days a year and can do part-time work in their off timeâ€ (Fairly accurate, no hurt feelings here) and that â€œThese guys love these kinds of jobs.â€ (Again, true, still no hurt feelings for me) and then the part of the â€œjokeâ€ that well, pissed me off. â€œIt’s like being retired and still working.â€ And the mayor said it with a laugh. I guess my point is, if it was meant as a joke, besides the firefighters in general that wouldn’t think it’s funny, I’m not so sure the widows and families of firefighters out there would get a chuckle out of it. I think I can honestly say that they wouldn’t. I doubt that their loved ones said while they were dying or just prior to, â€œWow, I can’t believe how much they pay me for this and it’s like being retired and still working.â€ Or, if you’re a volunteer firefighter, nothing!
Again, I know we asked for the job and we knew what we were getting into. But if you tried to do that to a mayor or councilman at their â€œpayingâ€ jobs, they’d throw a fit. Now, not all of the council members in Fayetteville feel like the two mentioned above, and some actually do support their fire department and actually get â€œit,â€ but when a firefighter says something derogatory or insulting in public, in many places it’s met with discipline and punishment.
So, if you want to tell jokes when you’re on a stage or platform (such as the city council), then my advice would be to try â€œThe Improvâ€ comedy club instead. Firefighters bust their butts to protect those they swore to protect and serve, so unless you’re willing to crawl down a hot, nasty hallway looking for someone’s unconscious kid, throw away the comedy act!
Be safe and let me know what you think.
If youâ€™d like to have Chief Lasky out for a presentation, please contact him at www.PrideAndOwnership.com