Editor’s note: This guest post is published with permission from William H. Beebe, Jr., firefighter, medic, and former Poquonnock Bridge Fire District committee chair.When did firefighters become the enemy? Firefighters are sworn in and take an oath when they start employment. In a nutshell, the oath they swear to is to serve in a position to provide emergency services to prevent the loss of life and property in the municipality they are assigned to.
When did firefighters become the enemy? Firefighters understand that fighting fires comes with inherit risks. Through many hours of education, years of training and experience, these risks can be reduced. However, each morning the firefighter puts on their uniform, kisses their family or significant other goodbye and reports for duty, they know that there is always the possibility they may never come home. It is something accepted in the fire service; service before self.
When did firefighters become the enemy? Firefighters are the first to respond on your worst day. When your home is on fire, when your car is wrapped around you and you need to be cut out, or when your closest family member goes into cardiac arrest and they are there to start CPR and use a defibrillator to restart their heart. Throughout my years as a professional firefighter, I have never heard of anyone speaking negatively of us when we are on your scene providing fire suppression, rescue, hazmat, or emergency medical care for you or your loved ones. Firefighters perform these duties with pride, professionalism, and compassion. Their duty and calling is to help others in need, even if that means putting their own safety/life at risk.So when did firefighters become the enemy? Some people have the impression that when firefighters aren’t actively involved at an emergency call, they are lounging around in recliners watching TV. Firefighters are continually in training. Company level training takes place every day. Training in fire suppression, rescue, hazmat, and emergency medicine is never ending. Firefighters train hundreds of hours every year. In the fire service, no two calls are ever alike. A firefighter trains to be prepared for that next emergency call.
When did firefighters become the enemy? Fire trucks are sometimes seen at the grocery store as firefighters are inside shopping for food. I’ve heard many comments about this on many occasions. Comments like, “I wish I got paid to shop”. Or, “what a waste of money driving that big truck to the grocery store.” There is a reason the firefighters need to go shopping for food. On many occasions firefighters report to duty with plenty of food to last through their scheduled shift but end up getting ordered to stay for another shift, two, or even three. Firefighters frequently are at work in the station 48 – 72 hours straight. Time they are willing to sacrifice away from family and loved ones all in the name of duty. A practice that has been commonplace in the fire service for over a hundred years.When did firefighters become the enemy? Lately the buzz has been about how firefighters, police officers, and teachers unions are causing our taxes to go through the roof. Why do we hear this? About 10 years ago economic growth and stability was prevalent. The stock market was giving returns of 20 -30 percent on investments. During this period of time, some elected officials heard from auditors that pension funds were overfunded so municipalities opted not to make their required contributions to these funds. The firefighters, police officers, and teachers all continued to make their required retirement fund contributions. After the downturn in the economy, the auditors told the elected officials that their retirement funds are now underfunded. This wouldn’t have happened if the municipalities had continued to make their required contributions to the fund. Now they are trying to catch up by increasing your taxes and blaming the bargaining units for the situation they are in. Had they acted in a fiscally responsible manner when preparing their budgets, they wouldn’t be in the position they are now resulting in increased taxes to pay for their fiscal irresponsibility.
When did firefighters become the enemy? Running a fire department is no different than running any other business. A vision and strategic planning are vital in providing emergency services in a fiscally responsible manner. Capital expenditures need to be planned for and budgeted for over many years. The cost of fire apparatus today sometimes exceeds a million dollars. These expenditures currently aren’t budgeted for. Apparatus replacement scheduling and budgeting should be implemented. They need to be budgeted for so the money is available for these purchases when older apparatus needs replacement. Trying to replace old and unreliable apparatus without strategic planning and budgeting puts an unfair burden upon the taxpayer.When did firefighters become the enemy? Recently the firefighter’s union in Poquonnock Bridge bargained in good faith with management and the fire board of directors. Together they came to a mutually agreed upon ten year contract that details minimum staffing, payroll, and benefits. One would think that it would have been pretty simple to prepare a budget to present to voters that would have supported this defined expenditure. Instead, [the board] chose to push through a budget that didn’t even meet the fiscal year’s payroll expenses. All while spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal fees trying to terminate the bargained agreement. I’ve heard some say that unions have no place in municipalities. It’s for reasons like this that unions were organized. The firefighters employed by the Poqounnock Bridge Fire District bargained in good faith. They have in many instances put their safety in the hands of God, their training, and experience. And in doing so have saved lives and property.
For the firefighters that got laid off today, I thank you for your service and commitment. It’s a shame you were used as a pawn in someone’s personal agenda to destroy one of the most respected and progressive fire departments in New England. I’m ashamed to say that during the mid 90′s I spent time as the Chairman of the Fire District Committee. It’s a shame they think it’s a game to play with your livelihoods and the safety of the firefighters and residents of the Poquonnock Bridge Fire District. If there is anything you need, please ask.
When did firefighters become the enemy? For years now firefighters have been trying to do more with less. The slashing of fire department budgets has been prevalent. It’s come to the point where budgets are passed that don’t even meet the basic requirements to provide the services they are required to provide. In Poquonnock Bridge they have closed the Fort Hill station. They have laid off more than 40% of their firefighters. They have no capability to make an interior fire attack with the 3 firefighters they now have on duty. They can no longer attempt any rescue of any victims above the second floor due to the moth-balling of their ladder truck and the complement of ground ladders it carried. And as of this morning they will no longer be responding to basic emergency medical calls. Elected officials are pointing the finger at the bargaining unit. But in honesty, this mess was caused by them and the Chief of the department. No vision, no strategic planning and no budget planning caused this mess. Firefighters have always tried to do more with less. And I’m sure that will continue. It will continue because that’s what firefighters do. Firefighters swore to an oath. I think it’s time our elected officials do too.
—William H. Beebe, Jr.