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Attention! Attention?

February 21, 2012

Something’s odd. My last post generated a 50-fold increase in traffic to this blog. That got my attention. But it also got me asking why.

I suspect something I said touched a nerve. The only comment posted despite getting almost 500 hits so far was an anonymous, ad hominem attack that suggested I am “delusional, ill-informed, bitter, uneducated and probably doing a huge disservice to (my) firefighters, (my) department and (my) taxpayers.” Nice.

From this response, I drew the conclusion that at least some firefighters resent having attention drawn to the current situation, especially when so many others in their communities are struggling to get by. It’s a sad irony that so many of those struggling are exactly those to whom we have sworn our service.

I consider it self-serving and self-defeating to shoot the messenger when the message is so clear: Firefighters need to accept responsibility not only for the community they serve but to the community as well. That’s why we call it public service folks.

Most other public servants get it. They are anything but ‘delusional, ill-informed, bitter or uneducated.’ They are, however, disillusioned, if not dismayed, that all or most firefighters and cops get to keep their jobs while enjoying better pay and benefits at the same time others in the public sector worry about their jobs, look for new jobs or wonder whether they can afford retirement.

I want to be clear about this: Not all firefighters lack these insights or empathy for their fellow civil servants. Just some. And they are the ones who blame others for their problems rather than looking for partnerships and solutions that will help everyone do better (not more) with less.

As a fire chief, I am happy to work with any and all who want to improve the quality of fire and emergency service to our community. I do not consider it a given that people who get paid to serve do a better job. I do not consider it a given that my job, my pay or my benefits are entitlements; I must earn them. Earning these means looking first to what my community needs and expects of me. Doing this well requires me to look beyond past practices and my own biases and ask tough questions, even if they make me or others uncomfortable.

I believe we need firefighters. I trust the community will pay them for their service. But I also believe their willingness to do so has limits. And we may be approaching them faster than we know.

Those firefighters calling for my resignation or firing need to ask themselves how well they really know the community they serve. Even if I do go away, the questions I am asking will not.

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