Do You Think You Are Better Than Me?

So I read an article the other day in my local newspaper about the Fire Department in my town. It was actually a letter to the editor regarding the possible addition of part-time firefighters to the ranks of the FD. The letter was from a retired cop who also served  after his retirement as a council person. He was in favor of the FD Unions stance that they shouldn’t add those firefighters as he claimed they “wouldn’t care” about the citizens because they don’t live in the community and that they would also be “less qualified and less professional “. His opinion was like nails on a chalkboard to me and I will tell you why.
I have been a part-time firefighter most of my career. The area that I live has a plethora of opportunities to be a part-time firefighter. Myself and many other people have made a decent living working 2 or 3 part-time departments. We are usually able to line up a 24-48 schedule as most of the departments around shift the part-time folks to every sixth day. Therefore, you can work 2 places every sixth day and be on a 24-48 schedule. We work alongside the full-time guys and gals and have the same training and qualifications they do. We make less money per hour but we have what I think is a better work experience because we work different places and bring what we learn to our other departments. We are just as dedicated to serving the community as anyone we work with. To think that we are not is insulting. To think that someone is not capable of caring for a community they don’t live in is ridiculous! Most full time members of most of the departments around where I live don’t live in the communities they serve. The cities realized that the resource pool inside the city limits had dried up. Those employees care for and about the people they serve.
The fight against the part-time employees has gone on for about a year now in my town. Of course the union doesn’t want to do it because they see it as a threat to their employment, perks and overtime and I can understand their point of view but they claim that the influx of part-time will somehow sully the reputation of their department. That is one of the dumbest things I have heard.
I work in a department that has full and part-time. The full-time guys are union and the part-time are not. As a part-time employee, we have no negotiating power and rely on the full-time staff to argue issues with the city when they negotiate their contract. The union obviously does what is in their best interest of their members but they keep us in mind when they do it. In the past, they have done across the board pay cuts instead of laying anyone off. The advantage for them is that they have to lay some of us off before they lay a full-time person off so there is some built in job protection there.  Luckily that hasn’t happened but it looked like it was going to several times. We are in a better place now and things are looking up.
The department in my town seems to operate fairly well. I don’t know that much about them but have had some of their guys working for me part-time (a bit ironic) when I was a Chief. As someone that has been in a this business for awhile and in management for part of my career, it seems to me that the department in my town is understaffed. I regularly see their engine respond with 2 people as they run a “chase” vehicle (a car or pick up truck) on serious medical calls in the city which is their 3rd man from the engine crew. As a citizen, I have real concerns about how many people will show up on the first alarm if my house is on fire. If adding a few part-time staff to the daily roster would beef up the initial response, then why not do it. It would certainly help the initial attack. They have 3 stations. The 2 outlying stations are large but only house a crew of 2 and run as a combo company. Why not add a few to boost the numbers?
The other issue I have is that it seems like a slap in the face to their mutual aid partners that respond in on a structure fire in the city. The surrounding departments are part-time/volunteer. It seems arrogant to me to say that the people that are part-time are less qualified when they are coming to help your inadequate response.
The guys and girls I work with are just as qualified as the full-time staff members and some are even more qualified. The crews that work in other departments are just as qualified as well. We do the same job and suffer the same losses or aches and pains as the full-time staff. I have never understood the “I am full time so I am better than you” mentality. The idea that you are not a “professional” firefighter if you don’t have a union card or a full time spot has never made sense to me. I have worked in this business for a long time. I feel I am just as good if not better than most of my peers. I have been a Chief twice and have held officer positions at several different levels. I have seen co-workers come into the business and work a few years, test and secure a full time spot. They have way less experience than me and they know it so they don’t come at me with some sort of elitist attitude. Rather, they are happy to have an experienced crew member helping them do the job.
As far as the town I live in, there is an issue on the ballot to “protect” the city firefighters. I hope it fails because it seems to me, as a citizen, that the priority of our Fire Department isn’t to protect the community. It seems as if their only focus is to keep their inflated salaries in place and not provide an adequate response. We will see what happens in the election.
So if you are full time and you are reading this and think that you are better than a part-time firefighter, I can assure you that you are not. I have met many part-time and volunteer firefighters that have more heart and passion for the job than you ever will and I would pick them for my team any day of the week. Don’t forget where you came from. This nations fire service was built on the backs of part-time and volunteer firefighters.
As always, thanks for reading and I hope everyone is watching out for each other!

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