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Reno Guest, first of all I am somewhat at a lost on how to reply to your posts as they seem to be all over the place and make some very disconnected points. But I will try. From what I can gather you used to be a volunteer firefighter “somewhere”. Also you say that a “dirty farmer” volunteer firefighter once came to help you, and additionally, you do date yourself with the use of the term “rescue squad” and the fact that you say you quit being a volunteer firefighter when departments began offering Emergency Medical Service. So based on these limited facts alone, I am going to assume that you were a volunteer firefighter for a very small rural community about two decades ago.

What you were not was a highly trained, educated, career firefighter, serving a community of over 100,000 citizens, in today’s modern emergency response field. Including responding to such threats as the “average” fire, large commercial facilities storing, using, and transporting highly dangerous hazardous materials, a community with a large retirement population who are statistically more likely to suffer from a life threaten medical conditions, a highly compacted downtown and historic district with commercial and residential structures built closely together before modern fire codes, and construction methods and materials. A nationally recognized overburden traffic and street system with the highest rate of accidents in the state, a fast moving river and intracoastal waterway system with a large amount of recreational and commercial boat traffic, a large state port located in the middle of the city that stores and transports a large volume of hazardous materials and other commodities, and a post 9/11 world where the threat of a terrorist act, however small, exists for every community, especially one that has a university, a concentrated population, numerous large scale public events, and a state port.

For the sake of full-disclosure and honesty, I am one of those highly trained career firefighters who serve a large and vibrate community of over 100,000 people, and who is trained to help prevent and minimize the effects of these potential disasters and many others. Additionally, I am also trained and willing to help educate the children, seniors, and other members of our community groups the importance of fire prevention, as well as willing and able to install smoke detectors for those in our community who may be less fortunate than others, as well as insure that new parents, grandparents, family, and friends have their child safety seats properly installed so that we can prevent the needless death and injury that has been caused by the improper use of them. That is what I am, that is what I speak of, and that is what I do for $9.53 a hour because I have a desire to help others, a desire to have a rewarding career, and because I expect that the citizens I serve will recognize this fact and provide me with a living wage, and most importantly, to support me and my fellow firefighters in the eyes of our city leaders, instead of criticizing us based on some out-dated, and quite possibly, jaded opinions they formed during their years in a volunteer fire department, in some small rural area, two decades ago.

While I also do not believe in calling people names, (I am not going to say that you are stupid or an idiot), but I will say that you are un-informed about the history of today’s modern, career fire-service. And if you are not, then I am going to include the following “history lesson” for those who may be. During the 1970’s there was a large number of structure fires in almost every metropolitan community on almost a daily basis. It actually was jokily referred to as “urban renewal” by many within the fire service. The fire service recognized this fact and began pushing for stronger fire prevention laws and education, the use of modern fire-resisted construction materials, and the increased use and requirement of smoke detectors. These efforts, among others, helped to decrease the death and destruction caused by “fires”. With these increased responsibilities, as well as stagnant wages, firefighters began to call for higher wages. While you would think that elected officials and citizens would have rewarded them for their hard efforts to prevent fires, they actually listened to the “bean-counters” who said that firefighters were responding to less number of “fire” calls, so they must just be sitting around drinking coffee. So the fire service recognized a need and ability for them to help in regards to providing emergency medical care, and fire-based EMS was born to assist the “rescue squads”. Again, firefighters believed that they were under-paid for the increased services they were providing, and again, instead of thinking the fire service for increasing the number of lives that were being saved in a pre-hospital emergency setting, they again looked at the number of “fire” calls, which were still decreasing based on the fire service’s fire prevention efforts, and said that the firefighters must still be drinking coffee. This continued over and over again as the fire service worked to start and perform hazardous materials response, water rescue response, vehicle extrication response, confined space response, high-angle rescue response, fire education programs, and others, in order to better serve their citizens and to stop being criticized for drinking coffee.

Then in the immediate after-math of 9/11, 343 New York Firefighters put down their coffee cups and made the ultimate sacrifice, but again and again, the bean counters only looked at “fire” calls (you know what this is don’t you, it’s where a firefighter sprays water and then gets out of the way, in complete disregard for the occupants that may need rescuing, or any other hazards, such as ruptured gas lines, roof and floor collapse, flash-over, back-drafts, etc., etc., and if you can’t detect my sarcasm, let me just say that the “fire” was the least concern for the FDNY on that fateful day). But with all of these additional sacrifices and responsibilities, all of which is in service to our community, we still find that our highly trained and dedicated public servants are under-paid, and they only make $9.53 an hour for all that they do. Instead of supporting them, you and others look to criticize them. Including criticizing them for taking a couple of minutes every now and then to have a cup of coffee, and discuss with their “brothers and sisters in service” something a little more light-hearted then seeing a dead baby at a traffic accident, a young mother killed in a house fire, or a grandfather who died from a heart attack after all of their hard efforts to save him. Or maybe to take a second to make a call home to tell their family that they love them, miss them, and sorry they cannot be there for Christmas morning, sorry that they cannot tuck their children into bed, and to tell their loved one to keep holding down the fort for the next 24 hours, every third day, until they can safely return home again!!!!

Now let’s address the “cushy” schedule the firefighters seem to have according to some people who have never taking the time to fully understand it. It goes without saying that the fire department is opened 24/7, 365. That comes to 8,760 hours a year firefighters must be on duty. With three shifts of firefighters working, that comes to a firefighter working 2,920 hours a year, while the average 40 hour a week employee only works 2,080 hours a year. That means that a firefighter works an average of 56 hours a week, or eight hours a day, every day, 365 days a year, including Christmas, Thanksgiving, 4th of July, New Years, their children’s birthday, their wedding anniversary, etc., etc., etc. For those of you who may say “yea, but I work 60 hours a week at my job”, remember you get paid time and a half for those additional 20 hours, while firefighters have a special overtime exemption written into federal law that says they do not get paid overtime until they work MORE THEN the 56 hours a week average. And if you are not making time and a half then either your employer is breaking the law, or you own your own business and get to reap the rewards of your hard work (unlike firefighters who have reduced the number of deaths and injuries from fires, heart attacks, hazardous materials spills, etc., etc., etc., yet see no rewards for their actions), all of which is a separate discussion for a separate time. That is the true definition of their “cushy” schedule, all for $9.53 an hour.

Let’s also be very clear when we define what we are discussing here. We are discussing the woefully low salaries of Wilmington Firefighters when compared to their pears throughout the state. A figure that has been showed time and time again, by numerous studies, both internally and externally, to be almost disgraceful when compared to other municipalities. We are not talking about a volunteer fire department in Brunswick County, a rescue squad in Pender County, “my old department up north”, the ISO ratings in Timbuktu, or any of the other topics people seem to want to bring up to redirect and redefine the discussion (which is a very old debate principal used by someone who cannot effectively debate the original topic). We are talking about the woefully below average pay of firefighters here in a community of over 100,000 people, that answered over 10,000 calls for service last year, that provides fire response, emergency medical response, hazardous materials response, extrication response, confined space rescue response, high angle rescue response, water rescue response, marine firefighting response, WMD response, in addition to fire prevention, smoke detector installation, child safety seat installation, and fire education to the children in our schools.

We are talking about professional firefighters that must complete 240 hours a year of training to maintain their firefighter certification, in addition to continuing educational requirements to maintain their certifications in Emergency Medical Care, hazardous materials training, rescue training, water rescue training, marine firefighting training, WMD training, etc., etc., etc., and those who are working to obtain their Associates Degree in Fire Science so that they can be recognized as the professionals that they already are, while responding to a call for service about every 45 minutes on average, department wide. Now if you think that all they do is drink coffee then you must not have a good understanding of how many hours there are in a day, or you just refuse to change your out-dated thinking of today’s modern, professional, career firefighter. And if you honestly think that a group of “volunteers” can provide this same level of service, that an employer would allow their employee to leave and go “volunteer” every 45 minutes when they are at work, that they same volunteer would get out of bed every 45 minutes, 365 days a year, and that they would attend training 4 hours a night, every night of the year including weekends and holidays, while working to get an Associate’s Degree, then you really do not have an understanding of what the trained, professional, career, firefighters of the Wilmington Fire Department do!!!!!

But remember, when you or your loved ones need one of them, they will put their cup of coffee down and be there for you, they will give you the highest level of service they can, they will continue to miss holidays, weekends, birthdays, anniversaries, and family reunions to help you, and if you can’t at least find it in your heart to say thank you once in a while, that’s OK too, because they do it for the love of their fellow citizens, and they do it because they believe that they truly are their brother’s keeper.

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