Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Prov FF's frustrations over public perception


First of all no firefighter has ever said that we are the only dangerous profession. Secondly, when you look at the list of most dangerous jobs most of these professions are ones where the employee is as likely to die on the job as he/she is when driving to the neighborhood store. While I admire and acknowledge the inherent danger associated with fishermen, loggers, linemen, steel workers and pilots I don’t think they make a conscious choice to put themselves in harm’s way on a particular job – they simply go to work and do their dangerous work on a day-to-day basis. The one thing that I think all these professions have in common with firefighters is a passion for their job.

As for our military personnel, they are the most under compensated and under appreciated group in America – whether they are serving in a combat zone or just living in anticipation of being deployed there. At this moment in time our military members are well respected and thought of by the general public because we are at war in two separate arenas and there are considerable threats to peace elsewhere around the globe. This respect and admiration for these brave men and women will only last as long as the dangers of war are still in the headlines. The American public only has a headline news mentality.

Firefighters were considered brave members of our local communities for decades. They were also looked upon as less than educated and somewhat expendable. This perception would always change when tragedy struck the fire service – 12 firefighters killed in NYC, 5 killed in Buffalo, 5 killed in Boston, 6 in Worcester, etc. Then came 9/11; 343 FDNY firefighters were killed in the collapse of the WTC. Firefighters were revered as “America’s heroes”. When my wife said that it was about time that America’s citizens finally understood and appreciated what firefighters across the world do on a daily basis I told her, “This will only last for a few months. People will be complaining about how much we’re paid once again, wait and see”.

Obviously I was right. Oh, there are moments when (for a few days at least) public sentiment and appreciation return. Unfortunately it only occurs after another fire service tragedy such as the 9 firefighters killed in Charleston.

As for the “we just can’t afford you…”, statements look at the facts. This impasse has (almost) nothing to do with money – at least not money in the pockets of firefighters or union members. “The” deal-breaker for us from the very beginning has been staffing and manpower cuts which would severely endanger civilian lives as well as firefighter’s lives – and firefighter’s health and safety! Period.

The figures that the governor put out and Cicilline put out on the cost of firefighters is pure fiction. The only “out-of-control” cost relating to the fire department in Providence is overtime (which has gone down over the last 2 years). The reason it was out-of-control is that the city made a conscious decision that paying overtime was cheaper than hiring new firefighters when members retired.

To those of you who bash firefighters daily I say:

Talk to me after you’ve held numerous dead babies (including one whose face was bitten off by pitbulls). After you’ve done CPR on dying kids on the street who’ve been shot, stabbed, hit by cars, crushed by an elevator. After you’ve had to pry a hysterical, screaming, punching and distraught mother off your back so that you could enter her home, fully engulfed in flames, in an attempt to save her 8-month-old little boy – in vain. After you’ve stepped over the dead bodies of a mother and her 5 kids to put the fire out in her 3rd floor apartment. After you’ve contracted Hep C from a heroin user who bled all over you. After you’ve been directly exposed to HIV, Hep A, B & C, Tuberculosis, MRSA, and countless other direct and indirect medical exposures. After you’ve dug a barely breathing newborn from a feces and blood filled toilet only to find out later that the mother had AIDS. After you’ve “washed down” blood, bone and brain matter from the street so many times it’s no big deal. After a dying teenager holds your hand so tight you think it’s going to break while looking you in the eyes and begging that you don’t let him die – and having to lie to him.

I guess you get the picture. After you’ve done these things on your “job” feel free to publicly post your opinion that I am a greedy union member who only wants to retire at 42 and fleece the city’s taxpayers. I guess I didn’t get the memo because I’ve served the city’s taxpayers for 29 years and I’m over 50.

Do I resent your comments? You bet your @$$ I do! Do you have the right to voice them? Yes you do. But, as I’ve said from the very beginning, attack us with facts. We can defend ourselves against the facts because the fact is we are not overpaid, greedy or unreasonable when it comes to concessions in this tough economic time, which by the way, has been brought on by many factors but Providence firefighters are not one of them.

Lt. Tom Kenney
Providence Fire Department