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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

For Love of the Job

Firefighters will tell you that Firefighting is more of a lifestyle and less of a job. Although "job" is what it tends to be referred to, the word has more meaning than what outsiders realize. That is just one thing that outsiders or "civilians" don't realize about our "job".

Firefighting is one of those jobs that is very hard to explain or even justify. For example, whenever it suits the media or taxpayers, many like to refer to the down-time we have. The fact that we have to go to the grocery store, and sit down to eat meals, kick back to watch the evening news, and even sleep between calls at night grates on some peoples nerves. They do not realize that we could be in the middle of anything...and have to go on a call. We don't finish what we were doing, we go.

How do you think your wife (spouse) would feel if you were in the middle of a heated argument and had to cut the argument short to run a call? What about cooking a nice meal for the family, getting your plate loaded up and sitting down to dig in after a hard days work...and having to go on a call.

We spend 24 hours at our assigned station, or get transferred to another station to spend 24 with other firefighters. We enjoy what we do, or we wouldn't do it. If we didn't enjoy it, it would not be worth risking our lives for others.

That is our mentality. Sure we might not risk our lives every day, but we are willing, capable, and trained to do so. Most civilians do not realize the extent of our dedication to our jobs. That is what we are paid to do after all. To protect the lives and property of the citizens and visitors of Roanoke City. Those words may not mean much and you might not give them much thought at all. I guarantee you that every Firefighter thinks about this from time to time; and every Spouse of a Firefighter thinks about this often.

Over 100 firefighters die each year in the line of duty while they are working. Hundreds more die each year from job related illnesses and injuries i.e. cancer, hepatitis, trauma, and diseases. Hundreds more are disabled each year from injures on the job. When Firefighters retire, their bodies are worn out and tired.

The Roanoke Fire-EMS Department always scores high marks from citizens for our service. We are a dedicated bunch.

However, public opinion of Firefighters is that we are out of sight and out of mind. You don't think about us until you need us, and at that time we had better perform like you want us to. But what if we had fallen into a state of disrepair, what if we had not been trained properly, what if we didn't care anymore, what if our trucks didn't run, what if we didn't know what to do? This wouldn't be the time for you to find out would it?

I am not saying that our Department has gotten to this point, but it could because our voices are not being heard. One reader of the blog thinks that since the Fire Chief said so then he must be right. What if that Fire Chief told all of his firefighters to jump off of a bridge? Since that reader thinks he is right, we would all jump. Not a chance, and we would be there to save that naive reader from jumping as well. But that one reader wouldn't be the only one, his thought process is the same as many.

But I digress, this isn't about our Administration it is actually about the citizens. We need your help in making sure we are taken care of. I don't mean so that we are overpaid. I just mean that when the next alarm sounds, we have enough firefighters on scene quickly with the proper resources at hand to do the job efficiently, effectively, and safely.

Historically, change in the Fire Service is often brought about by trial and error. The trial is usually found in training because Firefighters like to keep our job simple and easier. The error is usually tragedy in which Firefighters are hurt or killed in the Line of Duty.

However, change isn't always that easy. For instance, consider the posts on this blog and the comments shared by others. There have been many posts and comments which have argued right and wrong, the lack of leadership, and the faults of certain directives, policies, procedures, and planning. These thoughts offered mostly by Roanoke City's Bravest have united many of them as well as helped them understand others points of view. The combination of commenting and reading by many has helped educate each other (and myself) of thoughts and feelings I might not have considered.

Now think about if tragedy were to strike in whatever form or fashion. Will change occur then? I think so. Which is exactly the problem. We should be fixing these issues now, not making them worse so that tragedy is averted. Unfortunately, our department is run by playing the odds. Why is our Administration happy with 70% for this and 80% for that and 90% for that. Using those statistics to prove that we do a pretty good job getting there quickly enough most of the time. What if that other remaining % had a name? What if there were faces to go with that "acceptable loss"? Why aren't we striving to make it 100% across the board? Is 90% the new 100%? Do we even care about who gets left behind because of our "supposed" budget shortfalls.


Anonymous said...

I know that there are a lot of people that read this blog, but most of them are already way too familiar with the problem. This needs to be where the public will see it!
Why don't you send it to the Roanoke Times? I know the chances of the editors actually running it are slim, but...
Run with it Rhett!

Anonymous said...

Good article, well thought out and accurate. When I came here to work almost 10 years ago,I was lucky having a great Captain. Then I caught a break and worked for another old school Capt. My present assignment finds me working for one of the Best in the Dept. And like all 3 I will try to follow their One Main Rule. When the shift is over WE ALL GO HOME!!! No matter what the admin.staff say or do. As a Officer this is my biggest responsibility. Being the marine at heart that I am, that will be carried out at whatever cost. If the houses burn to the ground so be it as long as we all go home.

Anonymous said...

we have budget pitfalls?
we need to replace our 5" hose, need equipment, a decent raise etc. - can't get it -
then they send out that bullcrap letter about we need to be frugal- They are going to spend $10,000 to go to Denver for a chiefs convention... and got a hotel 7 miles from the convention that would be more posh to suit their stature - uh - will that benefit us? hell no - the other convention coming up will cost $5,000 - again I say, What pitfall?

Anonymous said...

We need to save, save, save. Turn off the lights, close the doors and keep the hot out and the cool in. Don't use fuel. Money is tight, except for the the chosen few downtown. The rank and file need to conserve so the chosen can go on their trips.

Anonymous said...

You hit on something in this post Rhett. You said that we need the citizens help, not that we want to be overpaid.
I've noticed that the main thing we argued for was not t lose another engine, you didn't hear us complain that a 2% raise only gets us somewhere b/w 25-35 dollars a paycheck. I don't know about you guys but that pays for one day at the sitter for my child. Yet we didn't throw a huge stink, instead we want our safety taken care, pay we'll take care of with jobs two and three. It is time for others, maybe even outside Roanoke to know what kind of back door politics happens here. I doubt the Times will be much help, they have a key to back door as well.

Anonymous said...

The new word is privatization/contracting. 1st was the parts department at the city garage (NAPA) and now the Civic Center is accepting bids for a firm to take over it’s operations, anyone ever heard of Wackenhut Corp.? Talk to the FF’s at the Radford Arsenal and see how that has worked out. You better funnel your energy on getting the public back on your side. The FF’s have lost a lot of respect from the public and it’s time to get it back. They are the voice of the city. How many citizens came to the council meeting in support of the FF’s?

Anonymous said...

I would like to comment on the “down time” that you mentioned. We work a 56 hour work week and get paid for 40. That means we work 16 extra hours a week. What do we get for our extra 16 hours that we give? The city takes our weekly pay and divides it by 56 instead of 40 to get our hourly pay and then figures our overtime based on that. We are by far the lowest paid people in the city when we work overtime. When my friends give me a hard time about “down time” I tell them to try it at their job. To get the same effect go to work two nights a week and simply stay there from 11 at night until 7 in the morning. You can sleep but you might have to suddenly get up and work a couple of hours and then go back to bed. The only problem is you don’t make any more money for doing this than the people that work 8-5. If fact if you work overtime you will make less money than the others at you facility. Also, you have to work weekends 3 out of 4 weeks a month and do it your whole career.

Anonymous said...

You people still dont get it. The citizens dont care about us one bit. They certainly are not going to waste their time going to council meetings because we are losing an Engine....what do they care??
As I've stated in the past, the latest rounds of budget cuts was not a fight worth fighting because we have no voice. Showing up at city council with our fancy black T-shirts did nothing whatsoever except show the world how out of shape some of us are.
I dont have too much longer to go so I know for sure Im gonna not make any stupid decisions on the fire ground. We should all adopt the County's attitude and burn a few houses down then see what downtown says then.
Sol Rosenberg

Anonymous said...

Sol R got any suggestions on what to do. You seem to no what does not work.