In these times of dollars and cents, and bottom line budgets, it's often overlooked as to what it is that our Beach fire fighters do. The firefighters are the labor and backbone of any fire department. Without them we would have no fire department. I assure you what I have to say is professional, I just want to offer some incite and perspective from "our" point of view.
What is a "firefighter"? Some people might be surprised to discover what a "firefighter's" job entails. When disease, disaster, fire, injury, or accident threatens to impact negatively on another human, in any way, the fire department is called. Police mitigate people to people problems, Fire Department mitigates EVERYTHING ELSE!
If someone is having the most tragic or horrible day of their life, they usually call the fire department. More and more expectations and jobs are added to the list of fire department responsibilities, all the time. This is usually done without adequate funding. The fire department welcomes these new responsibilities but, once we explain that we will need more equipment, training and more personnel to achieve these goals, those people who control the purse strings usually do not part with the money readily.
This is a career, not a job. Despite being on the top-10 most dangerous jobs for 100+ years, we have a low turnover rate; we have all made a commitment to this career and our training is ongoing. We are often painted as greedy, money hungry, lazy, blue-collar workers. We wear uniforms and use tools but the tools and equipment we use can save lives. We are all hard-working family men and women.
The public often says that we don't have many fires anymore, but who does? Nationally, fires are down, due impart to improved fire codes and prevention practices. We are not just fire departments anymore. We provide multiple disciplines of service including EMS, water rescue, hazardous materials, rope rescue, trench rescue, confined space, bio terrorism and the list goes on. If an UFO landed on Estero Boulevard, someone would call 911 and expect the fire department to respond.
In several instances, a comparison of hours work versus dollars paid, several of our Beach firefighters are actually underpaid. The regular weekly work schedule is 56 hours not 40. Every week that is 16 hours more than most jobs, a fact the public needs to consider when evaluating the fairness of firefighter salaries.
Furthermore we do work 24-hour shifts and people often say that we're not busy for the full 24 hours. This is sometimes true, but it's our time and time away from our families and the potential of a call.
My co-workers and myself have had to sacrifice to work our tours of duty. I have missed birthday parties, family functions, holidays, sporting events, I have been called at 2 a.m. by an upset wife who's home alone with a sick child. I've been ordered for 48 hours (mandatorily held for an additional 24-hour tour), when I thought I would be going home. And when we have to take a vacation day it's 24 hours out of the vacation bank at a time. I am not complaining, just bringing this often-unknown information to the public's attention.
I (along with several of my co-workers) have been exposed to patients' with T.B. (Tuberculosis), H.I.V. and hepatitis, I have inhaled smoke and been exposed to hazardous materials, I have been exposed to urine, vomit, feces, M.R.S.A. (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), and C-diff (Clostridium Difficile). I have been involved in an apparatus accident; I have been swung on, spit on and cursed at. I am not complaining, I love my job.
I have had to get out of the shower to get dried off and dressed and respond to the call in seconds, have returned back to firehouse a cold meal more than once, and from a dead sleep at 3 a.m. we are expected to go from 0-100 mph and perform at our best.
When responding in our fire apparatus with lights and sirens on, our chances of being involved in a motor vehicle collision go up 25 times, our chances of developing hypertension (high blood pressure), cancer and heart attack go up exponentially with every year of service. This is due in part to a conditioned response, meaning every time the tones go off, we get a dump of adrenaline, making our hearts beat a little faster and make us breath a little deeper and it doesn't matter if you have only been on the job for 1 year or 25 years, this effects us all. The average life expectancy of a firefighter who has completed 25+ years of service is only 12-15 years from the day he retires. Once again, I am not complaining, just bringing it to your attention, I LOVE MY JOB
When I was sworn in, I took an oath to risk my life to save the life of others, up to and including the ultimate sacrifice. What other profession entrusts it employees to go into complete strangers' homes, or to protect their property? In what other profession will a parent hand their lifeless child to a stranger and plead, "save my baby"? LIFE safety is our # 1 priority! We are willing to risk a lot to save a lot.
How many of you have ever had to call a home owner that was out of town and tell them that their home here on the beach is gone due to fire and smoke damage? How many of you have had to look the friends and family of a deceased patient in the eye and tell them that their loved one is dead? How many of you have had to scrape a teenager off of the pavement and know that, despite your best efforts, his outcome would be dismal?
We make a difference. WE SAVE LIVES and protect property. We recently had a pediatric drowning that we revived and we are proud to announce that this child was released from the hospital days later without any permanent deficits. We can often limit fires to room and contents instead of an entire structure fire if we are notified in a correct and timely manor.
I invite each and every one of you to come and ride with us for 24 hours, participate in our 1-hour vehicle check everyday where we inspect our fire, rescue and medical equipment. Come ride with us during spring break when we don't get much sleep during our 24-hour shift. Come ride with us during brush fire season when we leave the firehouse first thing in the morning and don't return for 12+ hours. Come see what we do, then you might understand why we respond an ambulance and fire truck to our calls.
There are quite a few things that the Beach firefighters do "off of the radar." Whether it's helping a citizen or visitor change a tire or carry a resident up the stairs of his stilt home because he just had foot surgery and can't walk. We do spirit of holidays and give of our own time and money to help the pediatric cancer patient's at the Children's Hospital of Southwest Florida.
We (the beach firefighters) due to the tough economic times have forgone all pay raises and cost of living increases, yet the price gas, diapers, groceries and business still increases. Just like everyone else we are expected to do more with less, BUT AT WHAT COST? What is the price of a life?
Regardless of who the fire chief is, who the commissions are, regardless of what fire engine we drive or what gear we wear, we will always respond to the call, we are the Beach professional firefighters.