Friday, December 16, 2011

Worcester Rescue One / Rescuers to Victim

We all know that this can happen
Any time we go out that door
Although we seldom give it any thought
This is what we signed on for

Ours can be a dangerous profession
There’s no way around it
We try to take every precaution
The situation will permit

Another fire in a wooden three-decker
In this old New England town
Houses built too close together
Worn, damaged and run down

Everyone’s asleep at four in the morning
Assuming they’re safe in their beds
A spark or an ember go too long unnoticed
The fire slowly but surely spreads

It consumes more fuel gaining momentum
Before it’s finally detected
Smoke and fire are silent killers
They strike when unexpected

By the time the first alarm was sounded
And trucks were on the scene
Smoke was thick and flames were raging
The night air filled with screams

The first-in Engine reports heavy fire
They see flames while on the way
The Chief calls for a second alarm
Reinforcements for this fray

Occupants are lead from the building
But not all are accounted for
The firefighters must conduct a search
By going floor to floor

As they search for victims trapped inside
And put water on the fire
The building begins to lose its integrity
As the flames just grow higher

The order to evacuate the building
Is given by Command
All firefighters depart the structure
Their hoses left unmanned

At just this time a civilian insists
His roommate is still inside
Second floor in the rear apartment
If he hasn’t already died

Time for a search and rescue team
To make one last try
Get in and out as quickly as possible
Before things can go awry

Two brave men from Rescue One
Attempted to test fate
Reach the victim and pull him out
Before it was too late

As they made their way up the stairs
The building just let go
Burying them both amidst the rubble
And trapping them below

One would live and one would die
As fate played its hand
Why God took one and not the other
Is tough to understand

The Jakes who work in Worcester, sadly
Have been here once before
It’s tough to think that again this Christmas
They’ll go through this hell once more

The holidays should be a joyful time
A time without such heartache
But once again our brothers in Worcester
Must bury a brother Jake

Firefighters from all around the country
Will bid firefighter Davies farewell
For he died the same way he had lived
While answering the bell

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Greatest Geneation vs. Our Generation

Tom Brokaw wrote a book chronicling the character of “The Greatest Generation” of Americans. That was the generation of our fathers or grandfathers – depending on our age. They were not self-absorbed people who put their own interests in front of society’s, regardless of the cost. Just the opposite, they realized that their own prosperity (and freedom) was also intertwined with the prosperity and freedom of the rest of society. This strength of character was not limited to one group of citizens either, it was equally shared between the haves and the have-nots.

In 1932, in the middle of the Great Depression, when the country and many of its citizens were in unprecedented distress, the top tax bracket rose from 25% to 63%. In 1940, when the country joined the struggle in World War II and the country had to ration and struggle to support the war effort, it rose to 81.1%. And in 1944 when the country began to emerge from WWII and attempt to get its economy back on track, it again rose to 94% and the lowest tax bracket rose to 23% from only 4.4% just three years prior.

The rate fluctuated to a 70% top tax bracket when President Carter left office. It dropped from 70% to 28% during the Regan Administration alone, but eventually rose to 39.6% under Bill Clinton during the 90’s – arguably the best economic times this country has enjoyed in almost a century. The stock market and the housing market were booming and unemployment was at an all time low.

When George W. Bush took office and began lowering the top tax bracket from 39.6% to 35% he also lowered the Capital Gains tax from 20% to 10% - another tax break exclusively for those who could afford to make investments rather than simply struggle to pay the bills. He also shifted many federal funded programs to the state level - which devastated state budgets across the country. These shortfalls were passed on to municipalities via shrinking state funded financial assistance. The result of these shrinking funds on the municipal level was inevitably passed on to the property holders in the form of higher real estate and property taxes.

The Bush tax breaks to the very rich were intended (so he claimed and Republicans continue to claim) to stimulate businesses and investors to create jobs thereby helping the lower and middle income families. Has that happened? Since the Bush tax breaks have been in place the level of unemployment has risen to historic highs. Not since the Great Depression has America’s lower and middle income families been in such dire financial shape. Maybe it’s time to raise the top tax bracket in the USA back to 63% to get us out of this Depression.

The Greatest Generation stepped up and showed their true integrity and character when things looked bleakest. Our present generation is setting an example for our kids and grandkids just as our parents and grandparents did for us. What are we showing them? We’re teaching them that if governmental promises and contracts are placing too much of a burden on us we can simply ignore them and walk away.

I don’t think we’ll have any books praising our generation any time soon!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

10 Year Tribute to the FDNY

Ten Seconds…Ten Years

Ten years is a very short time
A blink of an eye to God
For us it’s been our eternal reward
For those left behind, it’s been hard…

Ten seconds is a very long time
When that’s all you have left to live
There’s time enough to make your peace
But not time enough to give…

…to give your sweetheart one more kiss
Or to squeeze her oh so tight
Not time to assure your kids
Everything will be alright

From the moment I began this job
I’ve prepared myself for this day
So now as He suddenly calls me home
I already know the way

I remember…

Kaboom, kaboom, kaboom, kaboom
Like a freight train bearing down
I instantly knew how this would end
That’s when I felt His peace surround…

…surround my body, surround my soul
Surround my brothers in arms
I felt His love, like a giant cloak
Sheltering us from harm

While answering the call that day
I saw the second plane
It glided through the cloudless sky
Then burst into fire-like rain

It rained down fire, it rained down dust
It rained down bodies, too
It seemed no matter how we tried
There was nothing we could do

We knew the people trapped above
The hole ripped into the tower
Could never escape with their mortal lives
Without the aid of His holy power

I prayed that day, a silent prayer
As I stepped inside the lobby
I knew that without His intervention
We’d be merely recovering bodies

We began climbing the narrow stairs
While others were heading out
As we passed these frightened civilians
Some began to shout…

“God bless you, our brave firemen
you’re heroes to us all.”
But we were simply doing our jobs
Just answering the call

We knew when we began the fight
We all would not survive
But risking our lives for those of others
Helps keep our hopes alive...

...our hopes that good will conquer all
And God will help us through
Rewarding us all with eternal life
As our souls begin anew

I saw the face of God that day
As He led me from this place
His will, not ours, will always be done
Accept this fact with grace

I understood, at once, that day
What firemen were sent here for
Watch over His endangered as best we can
Of no man could He ask more

Ten seconds is a very long time…

...ten years is a very short time…

Thursday, August 11, 2011

RI Municipal Fiscal Crisis “For Dummies”

In keeping with the title of this post, I will not discuss or use any specific numbers to support my argument – only theoretical (and very simple) examples. Also, this same scenario is playing out in cities and towns throughout RI and the U.S.

Step 1:
In the year 2000, presidential candidate George W. Bush proposed a sweeping tax cut if he was elected. Despite the fact that it was pointed out that the wealthiest 1% of the citizens of the USA would be the biggest benefactors of such a plan Mr. Bush was determined to downsize federal government – and, perhaps coincidentally, help out his rich friends as well.

In January of 2001 he took office. He proceeded to push through his tax cut and, indeed, cut many of the federal programs he saw as being better served by individual states (RI included). This meant much less funding of social programs by the federal government. Millions of people around the US were faced with losing social programs to which they’d come to depend on.

Unfortunately the need for these social programs didn’t disappear when the federal funding did. The responsibility for funding was merely shifted to the state (RI). But…most of us were paying lower (oh so slightly) federal income taxes. The wealthiest 1% of the population, however, saved millions of dollars in taxes!

Step 2:
The states (including RI) were now scrambling to offset the decline of federal funding to help with their budgets. At the same time there were a growing number of citizens in the state who were in desperate need of social and economic government programs to aid in their daily survival due to these same federal cuts. They now turned to the state (RI) to provide a continuation of these services. At this same time RI (having an income tax that piggy-backed the federal system) was forced to raise it’s percentage of the federal tax in order to maintain the same level of income via resident’s income tax payments.

Although this wasn’t truly an ‘increase’ in taxes by RI, it sure looked that way to the casual observer. A rise in tax would come eventually. The last thing a governor wants to do, particularly a republican governor like Donald Carcieri, is to raise taxes and expand government’s responsibility in social programs. So, as the burden on the state grew he was forced to choose between raising taxes or cutting programs and reducing the aid to the cities and towns.

Just as the president had done at the national level, Governor Carcieri decided these programs were better run by the local governments as opposed to by the state. After all, he didn’t run for office to expand state government – he ran to ‘cut big government’ (as all good republicans do). He cut social programs and cut funding to the individual cities and towns and desperately attempted to balance his budget without the need to raise taxes. Tens of thousands of people were facing the possibility of losing the governmental assistance and programs that had helped them get by on a day to day basis. That responsibility now shifted to the cities and towns. But…most of us were paying lower (oh so slightly) federal income taxes, and about the same amount in RI tax. The wealthiest 1% of Americans (as well as RIer’s) were still saving millions!

Step 3:
Around this same time Central Falls, Providence, Pawtucket, Woonsocket and West Warwick (not coincidentally the cities and towns affected the most by these hard economic times), being urban centers, have always had a disproportionate number of the state’s lower income citizens in the most desperate need of the social programs that were cut on the national and state level. Therefore, these cities and towns quickly became one of the biggest losers in a country led by Bush and a state led by Carcieri.

Thousands of people were now dependent on their city or town to provide the funding for their needs. Crap runs downhill, and the cities and towns are at the base (bottom) of our governmental ladder. There was no other entity to pawn off this responsibility. With no other choice, the city began to spend much more than it was earning via its main source of income – property taxes. Inevitably the city had to raise its tax rate to bring in additional revenue. Home owners in these cities and towns began to foot the bill for the federal tax cuts – the trickle down effect run amuck.

A typical home owner in one of these cities or towns was paying about $200 lower federal tax and about the same in RI tax, but they were paying about $500 more in property tax per year – with no end in sight.


As things got progressively worse ProJo and other media began to point their fingers at the municipal unions. Their outrageous salaries and benefits, it seems, has pushed the city over the edge. It doesn’t seem to matter that these union members are “working” people of RI always paying their fair share of income taxes and property taxes. These lower middle income citizens and families are accused of breaking the financial backs of RI and its cities and towns.

The emphasis has been strongly toward giving the upper income citizens and corporations more tax relief in order to create jobs and stimulate the local economy. All this at a time when investors on Wall Street are reaping the benefits of record setting profits despite the dire financial picture for the average citizens of the U.S. Corporations are paying back federal stimulus money in order to allow them to pay outrageous bonuses to their CEO’s and upper management people, as well as lift what they consider unfair restrictions on their businesses such as outsourcing jobs overseas. Corporate greed is once again the norm.

Is this the way we Americans want our system to work? The more we “right the ship” on the backs of working class people the more we are destined to create a “have and have-not” social structure – eliminating the middle class altogether.

Tom Kenney

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Is cutting existing pensions morally wrong?

Well it’s finally happened. Central Falls retired police and firefighters are being “asked” (at least at this point) to have their pensions cut by one-half!! The Treasurer of the State of Rhode Island and the Mayors of its three largest cities are also stating that the pension problem cannot be straightened out without current retirees doing their part by giving substantial concessions.

I’m not talking about exorbitant pensions or fraudulent disability pensions, but rather fairly modest pensions that have been earned by employees via years of service and paid for by their own weekly contributions combined with the state or municipal mutually agreed upon contributions. The argument from the state and municipalities is simply that the unfunded liability in these systems is alarmingly high and the systems are in jeopardy of running out of money and therefore leaving everyone in those systems unpaid.

This catastrophic outcome is one which everyone involved (and we all are, at least as taxpayers) would hope to avert. The collapse of a single municipal pension system in this state would have dire financial consequences, not only for the recipients of this plan, but for all of the taxpayers of the state. Most of those citizens (and non-citizens) who pay no state income tax are recipients of some sort of federal, state or municipal social program(s), and as such would stand to lose at least some part of those handouts due to the increased strain on the system which would be necessitated by the loss of these pensions.

The reason these systems are in such financial disarray? The state and the municipalities have continually deferred their expected (and required) contributions so much that the systems are going broke. In other words, careless planning and budgeting by the politicians who control the purse-strings are the real reasons we’re now facing such a shortfall.

Most of the current employees in these retirement systems have already agreed to substantial reform in the structure and payments of their pension plans over the past couple of years. In all of these plans new hires are beginning their state or municipal careers under an entirely different set of rules regarding their pensions. These changes have been made in good faith by these employees and their unions in addition to contractual givebacks of benefits and pay raises in order to help share in the solution to our state’s financial woes. These things have been negotiated and agreed upon in order to construct a more sustainable system going forward. Even with these changes, however, if the state and municipalities neglect their financial obligations to properly fund these systems in the future we’ll be right back in the same position once again.

Much has been said and written about “broken promises” over the past year or so regarding this problem. Fiscal conservatives continue to point out that regardless of the promises made and our contractual obligations, that there’s “just no money” to keep these promises. In their minds it’s as simple as that. No money = cut current contractual benefits now or run the system dry and collect nothing.

As far as I’m concerned, neither is a reasonable solution. Do contracts between two parties hold any merit anymore?

All things, including accepted public moral behavior, are bound to repeat themselves over time. I believe it takes about four generations to complete a complete 360 degree turn-around to end up right back in the same position as one’s ancestors. Two generations ago our grandparents lived without contracts in their day-to-day dealings in most aspects of their personal lives – and even in small to mid-sized business transactions. About one generation ago, due in part to loosening public morals and character, our parents’ generation began to realize that they would need to have signed and notarized legal contracts in order to properly protect their interests – and they bemoaned the fact that the old-fashioned handshake that sealed deals in their parents’ day was no longer good enough between two parties to ensure that the deal would be honored by both.

At the present time we regret that things are not more like they were in the “good old days” when a man’s word was his bond. We complain that the kids presently have no understanding of the importance of moral values or good character, yet we seem to constantly teach them that somehow (via money or power or outright lying) they can dodge their responsibilities and walk away from their problems without dealing with the consequences. With all the public debate about walking away from the contractual obligations we’ve, as taxpayers via our government, agreed to, we are once again sending that message loud and clear to our children and teenagers – our future decision makers.

Can we continue down this path? I believe the answer is no. In the past two generations since our grandparents’ day we’ve wandered all the way from their accepted values of a handshake being the common way to seal an agreement with another person, to needing a signed contract in order to adequately protect one’s interests in inter-personal dealings and finally to disregarding contractual obligations altogether regardless of how many signatures and notary seals are on the paper – as long as it’s the best thing for us personally.

I predict that in the time that my grandchildren are making the decisions, the fourth generation after my grandparents, they’ll be back to the belief that a man’s word is his bond once again, sealing deals with a handshake. Unfortunately that will be much too late to be of any help in the situations we are struggling with at this time.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Wisconsin Union Fiasco

Just as in most problems we face in this complicated time in which we live, the current governmental financial crisis we face will only be fairly dealt with and solved by compromise on both sides of the debate.

The current plan, or lack thereof, in Wisconsin is a dramatic example of how many regular citizens don’t get involved in the political fray until the system has run amuck. Even though many Americans don’t often publicly voice confidence in their governmental officials they none-the-less expect that although there may be vociferous debate between opposing political philosophies, compromise will somehow forge a workable plan. When one side or the other attempts to implement change that represents the extreme ideas of their parties and force their will on their political opponents real people are affected by these changes and are shaken from their sleepy lives to rise up in defense of their way of life.

When Governor Walker and the Republican House in Wisconsin attempted to strip unions of their right to collective bargaining they drew a line in the sand that showed all working people that the government was taking over the workplaces of the state. First dismantling public sector unions and then attacking the private sector unions as well. Even when the unions agreed to the demands that the Republican controlled legislature and the governor had originally proposed it was deemed not enough. They (the governor and the legislature) felt they had the unions on the ropes and now was the time to go for the jugular.

That’s when the working people of Wisconsin (both union and non-union) realized that the fight to strip them of their right to collective bargaining was the real goal all along. When the people became aware of this they rose up in numbers that no one had expected and descended on the state capitol. The silent majority may have been in favor of tough negotiations with the public sector unions but they were aware that the ultimate answer is a compromise where each side makes some concessions, not a policy where one side sets all the rules and the other has to take it or leave it.

The current problems facing states and cities/towns across America is a direct result of the national recession caused mainly by unscrupulous investors and corporations not the working man or woman of this country. The federal government cut taxes to everyone, including the richest 1% of Americans, at the expense of federal money going to the states to help subsidize education and many of the social programs that comprise the safety net for those who haven’t the resources to fend for themselves. This fiscal reduction to the states forced most of them to severely cut the amount of aid they were previously providing the cities and towns. Having no one on whom to pawn off their lack of funds the cities and towns were forced to lay off workers, cut their budgets for necessary services and raise their property taxes.

The only way to fix this problem is via a combination of cutting unnecessary or wasteful governmental spending and increasing governmental revenues – at least temporarily. This wasn’t wholly created by overspending; underfunding necessary programs and services (and pawning off the responsibility to other lower governmental entities) also contributed to creating the problem. The answer, therefore, should not be entirely financed by fiscal cuts.

That means compromise…

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Guest article by Matt Phillips

Being vigilant is hard work, and it's a huge part of being a firefighter. You've always kept your eyes open for everyday occupational hazards. You know how to be careful and you've known for years. But sometimes it takes a little information to protect yourself.

Cancer may not seem like an occupational hazard that a firefighter needs to watch out for, but it certainly is. In older buildings and homes, builders used a natural mineral called asbestos. Asbestos is a fire-resistant mineral used in old dry wall and insulation, and was supposed to make a lot of homes and buildings safer for a lot of people. It can still be found in dry wall and in insulation in those older homes.

Today, when those homes are disturbed, for example, as you break down the walls of a burning building, asbestos fibers are released into the air. When inhaled, asbestos fibers may cause a deadly cancer to attack the lungs and you will begin to notice symptoms of mesothelioma.

These mesothelioma symptoms can include shortness of breath and chest heaviness. Sound familiar? They should. These symptoms are often confused with other more common, more treatable diseases. Even worse, mesothelioma symptoms are latent, often for up to 50 years. By then, the cancer has spread and treatment is either difficult or impossible.

The government has taken measures to protect heroes like firefighters, military veterans, and construction and demolition workers from asbestos exposure. Organizations like the AFL-CIO are rallying behind those who have already been exposed to asbestos and have developed mesothelioma. Though an act was passed to provide for victims, groups like AFL-CIO are fighting for more support.

So what can you do? Find out more about asbestos exposure and the dangers of mesothelioma, especially if you've been in the business of fighting fires for a while. Search the web; ask a doctor; visit a library. There are resources designed to provide us with what we need to know. With more information, you have a better chance of avoiding asbestos exposure.

You've always protected us. It's time for you to protect yourselves.

Matt Phillips

Tuesday, January 25, 2011 post about FF's & my response

Paul Follett: Underworked firefighters become whiners
01:00 AM EST on Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The basic problem that firefighters face, which gets little attention, is that through no fault of their own, firefighters suffer from boredom; 10 percent of the time there are not enough firefighters to handle the task at hand, but the other 90 percent of the time there is too little to do.

Consequently, they have too much time on their hands between the peak demands, too much nonproductive time; they can only train and polish equipment so much. The circumstances allow too much time to dwell on such things as their pensions and commiserating with their fellows on firehouse politics or on how the public does not appreciate their sacrifices or what the next meal will be.

Firefighters joined the force as spirited, young, very able folks and over time, the job boredom grinds many of them down into shells of their original selves and creates enclaves of whiners. Given the firefighters’good job benefits, they get locked in and economically unwilling to consider leaving the force to escape the boredom before they are pension-eligible.

My suggestion is to broaden the scope of their jobs, and make their jobs more interesting by making firefighters public safety officers.

With today’s communications technology there is no need for all firefighters to hang around at the station. These are capable people who, I am sure, could be crossed-trained for a broader public-safety role. They could be patrolling the streets, working in schools or participating in other safety functions while still being on call for fast response to fire or other emergencies.

The fire stations would be manned by a minimal, rotating staff of sufficient number only to get equipment to the emergency site. I would also suggest that the police force could be crossed-trained in firefighting — not necessarily as experts but able to accomplish the basic tasks. I suggest that the outcome would be more fulfilling with less boredom and improvement in public safety. Such a program could be started on a voluntary basis.

Paul Follett Wakefield

Tom Kenney: Follett’s drivel about firefighters
01:00 AM EST on Thursday, January 20, 2011

I couldn’t allow the letter-to-the-editor “Paul Follett: Underworked firefighters become whiners” go without rebuttal. ProJo’s editors have truly sunk to a new low by allowing such drivel to be printed.

Mr. Follett can take his cleverly-worded back-handed compliments to firefighters, “These are capable people who, I am sure, could be crossed-trained for a broader public-safety role” and go play with the lives and careers of someone else. He knows nothing about the job of firefighter. He makes many assumptions in his letter that are simply not true.

“…firefighters suffer from boredom; 10 percent of the time there are not enough firefighters to handle the task at hand, but the other 90 percent of the time there is too little to do.” Firefighters, despite what this man thinks, are not bored. He is right that about 10 percent of the time there are too few firefighters to do the task at hand, but his assertion that 90 percent of the time there is too little to do is ridiculous. Consequently all his conclusions from that point on are baseless.

He continually shows in his letter that he knows nothing about the importance of response time to an emergency. Response times, for the first-in fire company and for the entire first alarm assignment, are important criteria for determining the fire insurance rating of a municipality. Besides being an economic factor on their own, these rates show the effectiveness of a fire department to adequately protect the citizens of the city or town. These figures, minimum staffing levels and maximum response times, are not arbitrary numbers. They represent the real life factors to be considered when attempting to ascertain whether or not a fire department can reach the scene of a fire and stretch a hoseline into the building fast enough to save the life of a victim inside.

This cannot be done by having the on-duty firefighters separated in different areas of their districts doing different things. The company needs to respond together in the most efficient and expeditious manner possible – there’s a reason we have sirens on the trucks. Only by a quick response do we have a chance to make a save at a rapidly expanding fire. Mr. Follett’s ideas would be fine for a brush fire but not for a structure fire in an occupied building. These types of fires happen much more often than the general public is aware. Most do not make the news.

While it may be his uneducated opinion that “Firefighters joined the force as spirited, young, very able folks and over time, the job boredom grinds many of them down into shells of their original selves and creates enclaves of whiners,” it is far from the truth. Firefighters everywhere, rightfully, are insulted by this type of characterization. This is simply hateful propaganda on his part, with absolutely no basis in fact. We are not attempting to portray ourselves as super-heroes by any means, but we do put ourselves in harm’s way in order to protect our citizens and their property. It is a slap in the face to each of us that we have been talked about in this way the media (including ProJo) and uninformed citizens such as Mr. Follett.

Tom Kenney