The ‘salt’ that comes from fighting for your men
Mike Rowe once hosted a show called â€œDirty Jobsâ€ that was shown on the Discovery Channel and now hosts a new show called â€œSomebody Has to Do Itâ€ on CNN. The titles of both shows are definitely related to the Fire Service, for we have our own â€œdirty jobs that somebody has to doâ€.
Ask a firefighter what these â€œdirty jobs that somebody has to doâ€ are, and they will probably answer dragging hoselines, overhauling a fire, making up after the fire is out, etc.
While these are jobs that firefighters get dirty inâ€¦ there is another dirty job that everyone has to deal with at one time or another on the job, both inside and outside of the firehouse… that dirty job is politics.
Just as there are politics on the local, county, state and national levels, there are different levels of politics in the firehouse, whether the department is career, paid on call or volunteer. Firehouse politics is an entirely different animal. It can be as simple as a couple of firefighters jockeying for favor from their company officers or as complex as taking sides in an â€œus versus themâ€ situation on a group, between groups and/or between the command staff.
For career firefighters, the politics always seem to get nastiest during two recurring eventsâ€¦ elections of union officials and contract negotiations. Some union officials rule their locals like a dictatorship, doing their best to eliminate any differing opinions that threaten their â€œagendasâ€. When change does come, usually when the firefighters that make up the local have had enough of the repression and elect a clean slate of officers and executive board, which in turn can become dictatorial over time if allowed to.
Contract negotiations involve all kinds of politics. In some communities, it can be a rather straightforward process, for others, it is an ordeal that drags out for years. It is common for firefighters to work without a current contract for years while fact finding and arbitration go on; and even if the firefighters win in arbitration, the community may still refuse to abide by the arbiterâ€™s ruling. This drags the court system into the fray, costing both the firefighterâ€™s union and the city or town money in legal fees. One side will emerge victorious over the other, but it will be a Pyrrhic victory due to the heavy toll of acrimony and the financial costs.
Volunteer departments are not immune from politics, either. Some volunteer fire departments struggle for their very existence when it comes to funding, especially in communities with multiple yet independent fire companies where the town fathersÂ Â can play games with the funds, favoring one organization over the others.
In an organization that elects its command staff on an annual or semi annual basis, internal politics run rampant. In some places, it turns into a popularity contest and not on qualifications, and the community suffers.
The other political arena that firefighters have to deal with is the court of public opinion. In tough economic times, the favorite target for cutbacks or adding additional duties not related to the job is the fire department. In Martin County, Florida, one County Commissioner, a gentleman by the name of Ed Fielding, stated that the firefighters have â€œtoo much downtimeâ€ and suggested this â€œdowntimeâ€ could be better used helping the library scan documents instead of training and maintaining equipment. Commissioner Fielding also wants to privatize EMS, which the Martin County FD currently provides.
Another recent article on the blog website Vox.com had an article written by a â€œlibertarian economistâ€ about firefighters â€œdoing less firefightingâ€ while the number of paid firefighters has increasedâ€¦ not taking into account that the fire department has been tasked with wearing many hats.
The Boston Globe ran an article about the Boston Fire Department in September of 2013 basically calling for reductions in staffing and using the money saved for â€œother programsâ€.
“Plenty of firefighters, but where are the fires?” Boston Globe
This article ran before the fire in the Back Bay on March 26th, 2014 that killed Boston Fire Lieutenant Ed ward Walsh and Firefighter Michael Kennedy. Ironically, the Globe gave extensive coverage of the fire and the funerals of both of the deceased Brothers.
The late Speaker of the House of Representatives, Thomas P. â€œTipâ€ Oâ€™Neill, from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was quoted to have said, â€œall politics is localâ€, and Tip told the truth.
We have to start by getting our own â€œpolitical firehousesâ€ in order. We have to keep our â€œdirty laundryâ€ in house and off of social media. We must promote ourselves in a positive manner, act professionally at all times and educate the public and the politicians as to whom we are and what we do.
The line must be drawn if we want to preserve and protect the Fire Service so we can preserve and protect life and property.
Photo courtesy of Lloyd Mitchell Photography used with permission