Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Basic Healthcare:

The Right of Every "Working" American

I was once a Yuppie – or at least I thought I was. I was young, I had a good job with good benefits, my wife had a good job (at the Providence Journal) with good benefits, and we had a single child - a beautiful daughter. Life was good and getting better! I had every reason to believe that I, along with my new family, would have a better life that my father and mother had – at least materialistically and by virtue of increasingly better opportunities.

Here I am thirty years later wondering what the heck happened. Life happened…

Two more beautiful kids (one more girl and a little boy), and private school tuitions for all of them. I lived in Providence and had no choice but to send them to private school. Divorce. Inflation. College tuition. More inflation.

Hey, I’m not complaining – it’s been a wonderful ride. I just have to laugh at those of us regular people who think we’ve got it made. Working class people aren’t meant to “have it all”. It’s meant to be a struggle for us. Some victories and rewards, but few life-altering or generational-changing increases in our upward assault on the social class ladder.

It’s with this in mind that I’d like to call your attention to one of the tactics employed by our upper-class to keep us lower-to-middle-class imposters in our rightful places – self destruction. They set us up to turn on each other and fight from within our own ranks. Divide and conquer.
The upper-class is the richest 1% of the population who control most of our country’s wealth. You know, the ones that were taken care of by Bush on the federal level and Carcieri on the state level. These are the people (and companies) with all the power.

Consider our health care system...

I’ve been in many heated debates over the last few years with many different people of all(not) most income levels and all political and ethnic backgrounds defending my position on employer-paid healthcare. I’ve debated in the workplace, on the streets, in coffeehouses, on talk radio and in many different political blogs and forums. There are many people who are ready to resort to a physical confrontation because of their belief that anyone who has a smaller burden due to healthcare premiums than they do, are stealing from the rest of the hard working people who are paying larger amounts.

I’ve never, however, been in any debate, in any of these places with a single member of the 1% elitist club. Of course not. They are quite happy that some of us are demanding that other lower-to-middle-class workers pay a heftier share. This never ending debate, along with the extremely hard feelings it creates in the ranks of workers, keeps us (the true majority) from demanding that those who control, and profit from, the health insurance companies and drug companies to cut back on their record setting earnings.

CEO’s, Corporate Board Members and the majority share-holders are all among the 1%. Upper & middle management are not, but they are usually generously compensated by the 1% to dole out the company rhetoric. That is really their only function – a buffer zone between the 1% and the workers. This is part of the reason that middle management positions are the first to go when profits are down. They are expendable. So ask yourself, if middle management (and even much of upper management) are expendable, of what value is the line worker?

The 1% are a crafty bunch. They, and their ancestors, have perfected the manipulation of the system to the point that we, as working class people, can’t even think of reaching or affecting them. The real problem with the 1%, however, is that this latest generation of power players have gotten too greedy. They’ve pushed the envelope to the point of absurdity. Can you even imagine one of their grandfathers stating to a reporter that $4.00 plus p/gallon gasoline is beyond the company’s control the day after their company had posted a world-record quarterly profit?

It’s time for a working man’s revolt. Instead of angrily complaining that I receive relatively inexpensive health care benefits; angrily complain that you are being fleeced by the healthcare companies, the drug companies and your employer. Take your anger to your U.S. Senator and demand action and regulation on this absurdity. Take your anger to your U.S. Representative. Take it to your Governor. It’s time for all workers to demand affordable healthcare as a basic part of employment conditions.

It’s a true shame when “working” people are dying due to delayed diagnosis of serious disease because they can’t afford to see a doctor unless it’s an emergency. The political blogs were full of people up in arms recently over the death of a detainee for a similar type of delay. Is it any less an outrage when hard-working people are facing the same fate??

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Providence Fire Department:

Already Stretched to the Limit

For the past few years the Providence Fire Department has been fortunate in that there have been very few 4-Alarm (or higher) fires in the city. There have also been very few occurrences of two or more serious fires burning simultaneously in the city. We (the Providence Fire Department) and the citizens of Providence have indeed been very fortunate.

All that changed at the end of May 2006. There was a serious fire in an old commercial building on Weybosset Street which was connected by a common wall to the buildings on the rest of the block. The fire was a stubborn blaze that snaked its way through the building via voids and spaces left after numerous renovations. Try as they may, the 1st Alarm assignment of firefighters were unable to expose all of the fire and extinguish it before it became unstoppable. That’s what happens sometimes – especially when you don’t have enough manpower on the scene in the early stages of a fire.

Eventually this fire grew to greater than 4 Alarms. With the additional manpower the firefighters were ultimately successful at keeping the fire from spreading beyond the original fire building. That in itself was no small accomplishment and required multiple companies to remain on the scene for days after the original alarm was sounded. This is not an unusual occurrence when a large building has been destroyed by fire and is rendered structurally unstable. Firefighters, unable to enter the building due to the unsafe conditions must continue to pour water on the rubble until demolition crews remove enough debris to expose the hidden pockets of fire.

Less than a week later there was a serious fire on the upper floor of a building under construction at the Manchester Street power plant. There was also a worker injured on the fire floor who needed to be rescued. A fire 7 stories above the ground of an unfinished building required firefighters to carry all of their equipment to the scene. Carrying 100 lbs. of equipment (including their turnout gear) up seven flights of stairs on a hot summer day would be beyond the endurance level of most people. Unfortunately for these firefighters, that’s when the real job began. It’s easy to see that this fire required more than a 4-Alarm assignment to provide the needed manpower to allow the Chief in charge of the operation to alternate fresh crews in order to prevent heat related exhaustion to cripple the attack. Don’t forget that these firefighters were wearing heavy turnout pants, coat, bulky boots, helmets and air pacs.

Once again the Providence Firefighters were up to the task. The fire was extinguished, the worker rescued, and the building sustained minimal damage. Both these fires, however, required virtually every working member of the department to be utilized in order to gain control of the emergency. Luckily for the city, these fires did not grow any larger or advance so quickly that the members of the Providence Fire Department could not get ahead of them and bring them under control.

In these instances we were all fortunate in that another dwelling fire did not erupt during the many hours the entire working shift was tied up. What if a 3-story, 6-unit occupied apartment building – and there are many throughout the city – caught fire and people were trapped in the upper floors? Many areas were completely without fire protection. Other areas were covered by fire companies from other cities and towns via our Mutual Aid agreement with other communities. The members of these companies don’t, however, have a working knowledge of the streets and the neighborhoods – causing a major delay in getting to the scene. Many of the companies sent here to cover our city are woefully undermanned – many with just 2 firefighters! Many of these companies don’t have the proper equipment to quickly hook up to our hydrants or our buildings’ sprinkler systems. Some are manned by firefighters who have never fought a fire in a three-decker!

This is a formula for disaster. Once again, on these two occasions, we dodged a bullet. No other fires occurred during this time frame. I am, however, not sure of how many Rescue calls were victims of delayed responses due to out-of-town companies covering them. I’m also not privy to any information regarding serious consequences resulting from these delays.

Again, on the night of July 18th, there was a serious fire which required the entire Providence Fire Department to bring it under control. The fire at the Port of Providence on the dock of Motiva Enterprises’ terminal was potentially a disaster which could have easily grown beyond our capabilities to contain it. It required the fast action and professionalism of the workers at Motiva and those of the Danish tanker, Nordeuropa, as well as those of the Providence firefighters to avert a major disaster that evening - not to mention to incredible conditions they were forced to work under due to the storm. This left much of the remainder of the city unprotected. There were some Mutual Aid companies at our stations, but most of our neighbors were busy themselves and couldn’t spare too many resources. Once again, despite so much potential for additional disaster, we were fortunate that the storm didn’t cause more life threatening situations to which we would have been unable to respond.

Again Providence dodges a bullet. A question for all you gamblers out there – how many more times do you think we’ll be able to dodge the bullet before we pay a hefty price in destruction?

Mayor Cicilline remains committed to gaining “staffing prerogatives” from the Providence firefighters. Enough with the political double talk. I think every citizen understands that the mayor means staffing cuts. He is determined to be able to either cut the number of fire apparatus on duty at any given time in the city or to cut the number of personnel on many of the trucks – period. Either way he saves money on the fire department’s budget, therefore he’ll take either option. He wants to cut the fire department in a city that’s been called one of the fastest growing cities in the Northeast! Just look around at all of the new construction going on in the city. Look at all of the new luxury condos that the mayor himself has boasted about. Look at the incredible resurgence in the city that he so proudly points out has taken place under his administration. The number of people in the city at any given point is growing at an alarming rate, yet the mayor is determined to cut back the fire department resources that are already being forced to stretch to the brink of disaster time and time again.

I think it’s time for Mayor Cicilline to find another place to balance his budget other than on the backs of the City’s firefighters. I believe that we’ve been fortunate up to this point but I am not willing to leave the safety of the citizens of this great city to chance. It would take but one time for a secondary disaster to strike while the majority of our fire department is tied up to wreak upon us a hefty price for his short-sightedness – very possibly a price measured in human lives.