From the Valley Breeze Newspapers, May 2, 2012 (http://www.valleybreeze.com/)
Written by Tina Clarke, Proud wife of a Cumberland, RI, firefighter
There has been so much talk recently about things like containing costs, lowering taxes, and those who work in public safety being overpaid - particularly firefighters - that it could make your head spin. We've all done the "simple math," crunched the numbers, and it all seems to boil down to a simple question. What are firefighters worth? I guess that depends. We live in a country that seems to have forgotten what our priorities are. A man can be a skilled athlete who happens to throw and catch a football well, and make millions and millions of dollars to do so. And we as a society are not only OK with that, but we gather in front of our televisions and cheer that man on. Meanwhile, a firefighter kisses his children goodbye before every shift knowing the harsh reality that it very well could be the last time he will see them, and he is fighting tooth and nail for decent health coverage and substantial pay to support those children. He is the man that you call when your elderly father has a stroke. He is the person that will extract your 16-year-old son from a mangled vehicle on the highway in the middle of the night. He is the person that will be there in a heartbeat when your newborn infant stops breathing. He is the person who is exposed to countless dangerous scenarios and has seen horrific things during his career that would psychologically haunt most of us for the rest of our lives. We trust him to save our homes and belongings in the event of a disastrous fire, and we trust him to keep us breathing and our hearts beating when we face our most critical moments. What is he worth to you? He sometimes will go days without sleep, and make life altering decisions on every call he shows up to. He has missed family meals, bedtime stories, Christmas mornings, school plays, anniversaries, Thanksgiving dinners, and his own children's birthdays. We all know that life is so very short, and firefighters sacrifice precious time with the most important people in their lives to save the lives of the most important people in yours. And now they have to defend and protect their pensions, well deserved health benefits, and their paychecks. It has been proposed by some that they lose many of their benefits, and work extra shifts that they will not be compensated for. There seems to be a serious misconception that firefighters are in it for the monetary gain, and more and more often have been portrayed in a negative light for actually expecting to be compensated for the sacrifices that they make to do their job. For an individual that has chosen this selfless career, it begs the question: Is it worth it? Most of us are willing to pay a little extra for something if it is important to us, whether it be the shoes we wear, the doctor we choose to treat us, or even the cup of coffee we drink. It is something that we value, therefore it is worth the cost. Most would agree that our safety and protection is of unmeasurable value. Those of us that are skilled in math may look at the numbers and think that stripping those who serve our public of their way to earn a decent living is an answer to a financial equation. But firefighters and their families are not numbers on a piece of paper. They are human beings that are doing their jobs every day to the best of their ability, and possibly sacrificing their own lives for the life of a stranger. Not many of us in our right mind would do that for free, and no one should have to. So before making our minds up that firefighters are the financial problem, sit down with a local firefighter and ask him about his job. Ask him about his wife and his sons or daughters, what kind of house he lives in, and what type of car he drives. And then ask yourself, if you were to take on such a career, what would you expect in return?