I thought for a moment, (perhaps so I wouldn't bite her head off) and replied, "Because it's about the fire/rescue service. That's important to me and I hope it's important enough to my friends on Facebook and the followers on Twitter, because it's important to me and all most every other firefighter out there."
"Oh," was her sole reaction, as she turned and walked away.
I don't know why I was thinking about that little episode today, but as I did, it appeared to me that her reaction is symbolic of the general public's reaction to the fire/rescue service today in 2011. Unless you're a volunteer in a relatively small community, most of the residents you protect are better acquainted with their exterminator than they are with you, the person who just might save their life! However, that's not to say that your residents don't know about you!
If you're in a career or combo department, there's every chance that the paid crews are members of the IAFF, and rightfully so. However, whether your union initials are "IAFF" or "UAW", your residents pronounce those initials as "U-N-I-O-N." And to them "U-N-I-O-N" means money out of their pockets through their taxes, fire access fees, etc. Because as we all know, firefighters get paid for doing very little. We sit around the firehouse 95% of the time and occasionally respond to an alarm. And for that little amount of work your salary (which is also too high, to them) is augmented by this huge pension you're accumulating, so that you can retire in your mid-to-late 40's, receive a juicy pension, and then work in a new profession. You'll be living in the high class at their expense. Never mind that besides working your shifts, you work another full-time job and/or grab as many overtime shifts as possible, all just to make your mortgage payment each month. Oh, and your wife is working two jobs, as well.
Yet, no matter how many times those bells ring during the middle of the night, you're up out of your bunk and on the wagon, rescue, or truck, to answer the alarm. And you never know what that alarm is going to bring to you.
Thus, your section of the "tough road ahead," from the title of today's posting, is that every member of your department must do whatever it takes to convince your government officials and the public, that we earn every penny of our salaries and pensions. And to remind them that we NEVER say NO to answering an alarm. No strikes, no "sick-outs;" we answer every alarm. When they dial 9-1-1, they know that we will show up as quickly as safety allows. We will care for them and their property. We will comfort them. We will assist them. This is who we are and what we do.
Now, if you're a member in a combo or volunteer department, your road is going to be just as difficult, if not even more so. And that's because beside your dependence on your municipality's funding, your department cannot and will not function without increasing the number of volunteers that will serve your department and your community. In a volunteer department, we must invest our time in successful recruitment and fund raising campaigns. We must take both of these responsibilities seriously, or we face the dangers of being under-staffed and ill-equipped.
Very few volunteer departments receive enough funding through their municipal tax base. That money may be augmented by insurance taxes, i.e. New York State's "Foreign Fire Tax," which mandates that any foreign or alien insurance company that writes fire insurance in New York State, must contribute 2% of the fire premiums written on property located in NYS to be distributed to the fire departments and fire districts statewide, or other types of assessments. More importantly, a lot of the necessary additional funding comes from fund-raising projects run by the departments, from direct-mail campaigns, to annual carnivals, barbecues, etc.
Yet, without enough volunteers, all the money in the world will not make a difference. And those recruitment efforts are also facing difficult, uphill battles. In this economy, the person who used to work one job, is now working two, as is their spouse. The kids are are more involved today in extra-curricular activities than ever before and the family depends on carpools to shuttle those children. And for the family where a parent or parents are unemployed, they need to spend almost every waking minute seeking employment. Who has time to respond when that siren goes off?
Listen, it's up to us. No one is going to "sell" us to the public better than we can do it ourselves. However, to do so, the first thing we have to do is stop feeling sorry for ourselves. Yes, both of these situations stink. We can either bury our collective heads in the sand and wallow in the muck and mire of the situation, or we can task ourselves to rise above the negativity and educate the public about who we really are. How hard we work each and every shift or on each and every call. We all know that the simplest of calls have resulted in the ultimate price being paid.
Be positive, be strong and remember, 343 of our brothers will always have our backs.
Till next time...