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By John K. Murphy
For you Marines in the reading audience, you can relate to the days of boot camp and the Drill Instructor in your face yelling at you when you are on your last legs, fatigued beyond your imagination and you were about to drop:  to motivate you to go farther, do more and perform beyond your capacity as if your life depended on it. As many of you found out as you were deployed around the world, that those moments where you wanted to do bodily harm to your DI, you found out that he was right when he said you need to perform beyond your perceived capabilities. The same holds true in our fire services that are under attack by your elected officials. Today, and nearly every day, we continue to see firefighter layoffs, closing of fire stations, reduction in budgets, delay in purchasing or upgrading vital equipment needed for our survival and the elected officials not taking responsibility for these actions against a vital life safety net for our citizens. It’s not all about preserving jobs, but the real “pain” is to our citizens, with delayed responses, insufficient firefighter response at emergencies jeopardizing their safety and deaths of our citizens. Your politicians are doing “things” to your fire department that are not always in your best interests.

As you remember the Haverhill (MA) firefighter accusing the mayor of murder?  A bold and emotional statement as a member of the community lost her life due to a perceived shortfall of firefighters on the rescue unit and at the scene. As we have seen in that instance, the response by the elected officials was to restore funding and staffing to the rescue unit. That restoration of funds and staffing will probably not occur in your community under the same or similar circumstances. The fallout will continue for this firefighter and the community, but the reality was there was a “painful” cut to the budget that may have led to this loss of life.
Is this the “painful” reality of today – an emotional response to a fatality in our community because we as a department or its leadership did not do enough on the front end to prevent the reduction of firefighters, a reduction of budget and a closure of fire stations? I am not sure how your fire departments are politically connected with the elected officials and I have written in the past that we, as a public service, are playing second fiddle to the police and potholes in your community.

It is time to step up to the plate as a body politic to fight like hell to mitigate the reduction in your community’s first line safety net for your citizens. It is “painful” to attend all of the City council meetings, to sit on City or County staff meetings and to work with your representative groups to have your voices heard. Personally, I get tired of the excuses by some department leadership that “we have no control” over those decisions made at city hall, in the county councils or by commissioners, “that the elected officials make the decision.” I say, that’s a bunch of BS where you have essentially given up the “painful fight” of going beyond your capabilities to represent those in your community that will suffer the ill effects of budget cuts including the reduction of firefighters in your departments. I also say, that if you cannot do it, then step down or step aside for some capable of “fighting the fight.”
There are no simple short term solutions, but here are a few long term suggestions: get involved in the electoral process and run for public office; spend time with your elected officials so they know who you are and of your needs; have members of the labor group of other representative organizations get to know the elected officials; get to know your community as community support is vital to our survival.

This includes the constant education of your community to your needs and the effects budget cuts will have on your vital services. Remember that the community has a short term memory and constant reminders are imperative to our survival. Do not just back into the fire station, park the apparatus and close the doors. Keep the fire house doors open to remind your community that you are a vital presence; get involved with the local schools K-12 and do everything possible to remind your citizens that the big red and shiny fire engine does more than go to fires. Big spectacular fires only last a short time in the memories of the citizens. There needs to be a constant presence with “all things fire” in the press, community newsletters, Facebook, Twitter and periodic informational mailers to all who live in your response areas. Get your PIO to generate weekly press releases about the fire department activities no matter has small so there is a continual presence in the memories of our community.
Our survival depends on it and it may be beyond your capabilities to do this but in order to survive this “firefight” and live to fight another day, you must perform beyond your capabilities. So for you Marines, Semper Fidelis and that slogan should extend to our fire services as well - Always Faithful. Let’s not let the elected officials dictate our future and go beyond your capabilities to secure our future. Painful, yes but the weakness will be leaving your “fire department body” when you are involved.

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