In a recent speech at FDIC, Harold Schaitberger, general president of the IAFF, made a comment that got me thinking:  “It wasn’t too long ago that firefighters were the darlings of their communities, with political support from many directions. Now, they’re ready to take us on, openly.” Schaitberger went on to say that support for the fire service skyrocketed after 9/11, but now the “good will is beginning to evaporate.”

At that moment, I wished that everyone in the audience was hooked up to those gadgets CNN uses to test audience reactions during Presidential debates. Because I wanted to know, how many firefighters out there feel that? Nearly every community is experience budget pressures, some more intense than others, but is it accurate to state, as Schaitberger said, that the fire service is experiencing a “perfect storm that’s turning our profession upside down”?

We don’t have the polling budget of CNN, but I’m interested to know whether you agree with that.
And if so, what exactly is triggering the anger against firefighters? Is it, as Schaitberger suggested,
“media questions on pay, unsustainable pensions and Cadillac healthcare plans”? Is it that the fire service is lumped in with government in general, and there’s just a wee bit of anti-government sentiment out there right now? Or is it, as the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Firemen’s Association white paper suggested a couple months ago, the actions of a few firefighters that are dealing blows to the reputation of the fire service as a whole?

Schaitberger noted, “We used to be part of the solution; now there are some who see us as part of the problem.” As I see it, the more we understand about the problem—its source and its reach—the better position we’re in to once again be part of the solution.

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Is it, as Schaitberger suggested, “media questions on pay, unsustainable pensions and Cadillac healthcare plans”?

I would say this is more of a factor concerning a "perfect storm" moreso than the arsons and criminal/idiotic events commited by firefighters. Reason being is most incidents like FF's setting arsons etc tend to garner local attention, vs nationwide attention as pay, benefits, etc do. Really, many stories like arson etc are viewed by other FF's, for example this site mentions about a FF in Wisconsin accused of paying kids to set fires. I read about that here vs within the local news or even a mere mention of this in the state news. Such events just are not as a big anti FF sentiment to garner a "perfect storm".

On the flip side the FF pay, benefits, "cadillac health plans" and so forth are touted by the media, special interest groups, taxpayer alliances, Tea Parties, and so forth as some suggestion of the underworked, overpaid FF they want to paint. Yes, people have forgotten 9/11, they have forgotten what FF's do, they have forgotten why there is a fire service and it comes down to the little pocketbook. As a public service, our pay, benefits, and so forth are public record, easy to view and easy to scrutinize, especially if one refuses to educate themselves or even listen to reason.

Yes, the media plays a big part because they use such information in editorials, commentaries, and so forth to suggest the taxpayer is overpaying for such govt services. Just look at Joe Shortsleeves ou tof Boston, making an "investigative report" about FF's shopping. Joe Public sees such things and instead of being educated or asking about the reasons, gets irate, spawned on by a one sided news story. The other flip is these Tea Parties, anti-unionist groups, and other special intrest groups using such pay and benefits to promote a biased agenda. Many think that FF should be a low paying, uneducated, line of menial labor subjected to the almighty taxpayer's beckon call....because "they pay your salary". Well, newsflash is that most FF's have education, the job is more mental today than physical, there is more involved than just waiting for fires, there are more dangers involved..............but such groups care only about $$$$ than they do about the work, job, reason, or firefighter.

Why do we see such issues? Because the economy has sufferred and many people have, but ironically those complaining tend to have equal paying, if not better, wages and benefits. Thing is many private sector jobs are tied to performance and profit and the public and private sector are not the same, despite how much they try and make it. So since the bonuses may not be there and cuts have been made and so forth and people suffer, in this "ME,ME, ME" society today, people want to see others suffer as well. So you have such groups touting the wages and benefits of public sector employees as a punchline to stir anger and animosity amongst the hard working taxpayer. Yet, most fail to realize we are taxpayers as well.

In a personal debate with a friend, who is very right wing and subscribes to such banter, some education was in store. She, like many when confronted about the reason of my pay, benefits, and so forth backed down when debated. I took the money issue into context where I have a degree, the hazards faced daily (not just fires) of how it is to hear you have been exposed to diseases, chemicals, and so forth. The training we have to do, the continuing education, the job requirements themselves, all play a factor as to why we are paid as we are.

Bottom line is most jobs out there don't have the public scrutiny as we have in the public sector. It is very easy for me, or anyone else, to look at the pay and benefits of any job out there, including yours, and then say you are overpaid or to make a case that you should also endure cuts. Like you, most of us in the public sector have also given up wages and benefits because of the economy, but that rarely makes the news.
Media Media Media is our biggest problem!!!! We run about 150k calls annually and we are usually in the spot light for the 3 or 4 that dont go just right. Simple math would indicate that 99% of 150k is 1500, 99.9% is 150. I challange you to find ANYTHING that is 99.9% efficient. So considering the human factor and mechanical equipment I bet that most departments do a damn good job serving their communities. The media is not concerned with 99.9%, they want the .1% of wow factor or dirty laundry to make their breaking news segment. I hope that most understand the law of averages, meaning the more responses you take the more opprotunities you have to make a mistakes and our mistakes are their headlines, their headlines generate "public preception" and thats all that matters.
John, You make a good point that those in the fire service are probably much more concerned with firefighter arson than the general public. I do think that firefighters get lumped in with public servants--we're all to happy to take pride in their accomplishments when they represent our communities, but when money starts to get tight they quickly become overpaid public workers. You also make an excellent point about education and exposure to hazards. Perhaps if the media and the public were more educated about those elements of the job, they would come around--like your right-wing friend.
Rick, I definitely agree that media jump on "bad" firefighter behavior or calls gone wrong, and that's probably a contributing factor, but I watch the local news almost every morning, and fires are NEWS. They report on all fires of nearly any significance--not just calls gone wrong. I think what firefighters do in general is considered newsworthy, and that puts them in the public spotlight. Certainly departments shouldn't be punished for a small fraction of calls going wrong, under circumstances that are often out of their control. But if the reputation of the fire service is truly changing, as Schaitberger seemed to be arguing, then I think it's coming from something deeper than just a few bad calls.
Mike, I hear a lot of people say that when the budget axe comes down, the police either get what they want or they cut back on services--they don't compromise--whereas the fire department says "ok, we'll do more with less." Do you agree with that?
"Perfect Storm"? This too shall pass.
The media loves to tout the "job" when sensationalizing a headline. Think about it when was the last time you heard in the headlines, "accountant starts a fire"?

I am also with John, I have debated our personal hazards, exposures and stressors that damage our bodies while defending the benefit package. Many who feel we don't deserve the early retirement age, compare us to whatever they do, and some have extremely non-hazardous careers.

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