Chillie Today, Hot Tomorrow!

By Art Goodrich
 
Has anyone else noticed how quickly it heats up after one of those “chillie” city council meetings, where budgets are slashed, firefighters are laid off and stations are closed?
 
Even with all of our warnings of all of the “bad” science being spoon-fed to the public by the news media; mayors across the country are adopting the best plans that they have to offer, which is ”We’ll take our chances.”
 
Tax referendums that would have saved jobs and kept public safety at current levels were defeated all across the nation.
 
That wasn’t the case in my immediate area, where all of our fire tax referendums passed.
 
A recent article about cuts to an Ohio department caused me to take a harder look because communities, it would seem, aren’t taking seriously these cuts to their services and the collateral damage that it creates for their fire departments.
 
The Chillicothe (OH) Fire Department had 49 paid firefighters who worked 14 on a shift and responded to 1,500 calls a year back in the late 1980s. Then, in 2004, three firefighters were laid off; an unfortunate but manageable situation. However; earlier this year, five more firefighters were laid off, and a station was shut down. Currently, the department is running with 41 paid, nine per shift, and is running 6,000 calls a year.
 
Let’s recap: 1986–49 firefighters, 14 per shift, 1,500 calls per year; 2010–41 firefighters, nine per shift, 6,000 calls per year. Do you see the problem? It gets worse!
 
The proposed tax referendum for public safety FAILED on November 2, 2010. Therefore; the fire department will be forced to lay off five to 10 more firefighters and close a fire station (see http://www.chillicothegazette.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=201011030305)
 
It is abundantly clear to me that communities now look at fire departments in a different light.
I’m not sure that our citizenry cares a lot about their safety or the safety of their firefighters anymore because in many of these cities, local governments are spending funds on real estate, beautification programs, economic development, library expansions, consulting fees for pie-in-the-sky projects, and other financial sinkholes, but, on the other hand, they are willing to cut public safety.
 
The news media hasn’t helped. If anything, they have hurt our public perception; choosing to zero in on salary, pensions, benefits, cost of equipment, driving a rig to get meals, going to “mostly” false alarms, and sleeping at night and getting “paid for it,”–just to mention a few examples.
 
It’s as if the news media have anointed themselves as an advocacy watchdog group, slanting their press coverage to further their cause, which is to sell ad space for their newspapers and Web sites. In essence, they have become for-profit, political action groups. Gone are the days of objective reporting.
 
Right/left; conservative/liberal–it doesn’t matter. The personal politics has infested our news media. Fair and balanced reporting no longer exists, and they will perpetuate anti-sentiment from their obvious position of influence wherever they can. That might explain why the news coverage in the case of the Chillicothe (OH) Fire Department has been so dismal.
 
As an example, the local media gave the referendum that was defeated on November 2 extensive, negative coverage. On Thursday, November 4, just two days after the referendum’s defeat, there was a fire in the Majestic Theater in downtown Chillicothe (see: http://www.chillicothegazette.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2010101104004)/. The article on the fire in the local newspaper was seven sentences! A multialarm fire in their downtown with evacuation and injuries was barely a blip on the local news radar screen, and from what I am told, this is “typical” fire department coverage from the local news media. All in a day’s work, I guess.
 
But here is an eyewitness account:
 
“Whoever said the stage crew put out the fire was way off. I was at the dock with some friends when we went outside to smoke. We heard alarm sirens and commotion behind the Majestic (Theater). So we walked up. From the rear side, you could see the place filling up with smoke. People were running around, some almost in panic. One guy went to the fire station across the alley, but they were already coming. There was NO doubt the …. building was burning and the fire was not out at all. Whoever said that firemen run in as people run out was right. I think the firemen could have used more help, but that didn’t stop them from going in and putting it out … I was surprised they got the fire out. I thought it would probably go down to the ground.”
 
That is quite a different account than the one I got from the seven sentences from the newspaper.
 
So, why will a society that spends money for smart phones, satellite TV, big-screen TVs, computers, custom rims for their two vehicles, and many other “creature comforts,” not vote to spend four cents on the dollar for their public safety?
 
I speculate that public safety is taking the hit for the wasteful spending practices that have been around in good times. Once you get comfortable in a particular lifestyle you will spend and borrow to keep it.
 
A profession that was once held in the highest regard is now seen as no different from the rest of the working class. In the past 10 years, the dollar has lost another 20 percent of its value and, apparently, so have firefighters.
 
I have to wonder why our brothers and sisters would want to risk their lives for a community that believes that their firefighters’ lives aren’t worth another four cents on the dollar.
 
But, WE already know the answer.
 
Here is some related reading:
 

http://ci.akron.oh.us/webdocs/newsreleases/attachments/205%20Layoffs.pdf

Art Goodrich, also known as Chief Reason, has been involved in the fire service since 1980. He was active for 22 years and spent 14 years as a chief officer. He is past president of the Western Illinois Firefighters Association and affiliated with the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association, Illinois Association of Fire Protection Districts, International Association of Fire Chiefs, National Fire Protection Association, American Society of Safety Engineers-Fire Protection, and National Safety Council.

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