Let’s clear up a few mis-conceptions that some of you have about this subject. While it is easy to say that firefighters just lay around sleeping all the time, because “you watch the news and there doesn’t seem to be many fires”, it ignores the fact that firefighters perform many different functions, and in fact “firefighting” is only one small part of their jobs.
A professional career firefighter here in Wilmington is 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. All of this equals almost 12,000 calls for service last year, or one call about every 40 minutes, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. At an average of 30 calls a day, if our local media only devoted 30 seconds to each one during their news cast, the first 15 minutes of their 30 minutes news would be nothing but stories on the fire department. There is a reason why you do not hear and see the “average” work of Wilmington’s Firefighters, and to equate the number of stories you see on the local news to the amount of hard work performed by our firefighters is very disingenuous at best.
Additionally, they are 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.
Finally, they 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., as well as 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 still responding to a call for service about every 45 minutes on average, department wide.
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, as well as all of the “overtime” they receive. 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. Let me say that again!!!! Firefighters DO NOT receive “time and half” until they work more then 56 hours a week!!!!! So the next time you think about all of the “cushy overtime” firefighters get, think about how you would feel if your employer made you come in to work an additional 16 hours on a Saturday and Sunday and paid you NO overtime. Lastly, the firefighters at Sunny Point are FEDERAL firefighters who have different overtime rules and all actually some of the highest paid firefighters in the US because they are federal firefighters, and the firefighters at New Hanover County actually do make more than Wilmington firefighters, which is exactly the point being made by the firefighters that Wilmington is not paying them a comparable wage when compared to others throughout the state, including in our own county!!!!
Now let’s look at a firefighter’s ability to “sleep on the job”. First of all, as we all know, sleeping at the fire station is necessary because fire departments cannot just close shop and go home at 5 PM. So to criticize the nature of providing 24 hour emergency response to you and your loved ones, while demanding that the fire department provides 24 hour emergency response is pretty hypocritical to begin with. Secondly, firefighters have the “opportunity” to sleep at the fire station, but do not have a “guarantee” that they will. While there are nights were they can get 8 hours of sleep, there are many nights were they cannot. Just last week (March 25-31), the WFD responded to 48 calls for service between the hours of 11PM and 7AM (this is public record if you would take the time to research it). That comes to a call for service every 70 minutes, much less than the 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep you seem to think they get every night. On top of this, your answer is that they should then go out and work a part-time job with little to no sleep, as well as continuing to miss out on the holidays, weekends, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and family reunions, among other important family events that they miss out on, while still working an average of 56 hours a week at the fire station without getting paid time and a half for those additional 16 hours.
Finally, when you say that if they are not happy making $10 an hour, and that they knew this coming in, then they should just leave, I ask you this: “How much is your life or the life of your loved one worth?” At $10 dollars an hour multiplied by the 2,920 hours a firefighter works on average, then you are saying that your life is only worth $29,200, and not a penny more!!!! Because as you have said, if firefighters want more pay, they should just go find another job. So I will ask you one more time, “How much is your life or the life of your loved one worth?”. Because if you ask those whose lives have been saved by the members of the Wilmington Fire Department, I’m sure that they will say that it is worth every penny ever spent by the City of Wilmington on every firefighter who has every dedicated themselves to helping protect the lives and property of our citizens. Also, it is true that firefighters did not take this job expecting to become rich at it, but they took the job because of their desire to help others, their desire to have a rewarding career, and because they expected that the citizens they serve will recognize this fact and provide them with a LIVING WAGE, and most importantly, to support them in the eyes of our city leaders, instead of criticizing them based on some out-dated, and mis-informed ideas they have about what the professionals of the Wilmington Fire Department truly do.
Also, for everyone who says that the firefighters who have decided to make a career out of serving the citizens of Wilmington, who have roots in this community, who are starting families, buying homes, and helping to invest in the future of our community, should just leave, then I also ask you this: “With all things being equal, if you were to have open-heart surgery and out of the two surgeons who could have one has only done the procedure once and has only been out of school for a year, or one who has done the procedure over 500 times over their 25 year career, who would you choose?”. Because if every firefighter in Wilmington was to truly follow your advice, the department would be left with a bunch of 18 year olds straight out of high school who just need a “job” for a couple of years until a better one comes along. That is the logical conclusion to your line of thought, period.
But hey, instead of being able to go home after their 24 hour shift to tell their family that they love them, missed them, and that they are sorry they were not there for Christmas morning, sorry that they cannot tuck their children into bed one/third of the time, and to tell their loved one to keep holding down the fort for the next 24 hours, until they can safely return home again, maybe they should just go and get a second job, or a third, or a fourth, instead of being paid a fair living wage based on the wages of other departments in the region and the state, because, as one of our former city council members said, “you can’t save them all”, but hopefully one of them will not be you, or someone you love and care about.
P.S. What’s really funny is that as I went to post my reply, the top two stories are how the Wilmington Fire Department is currently on scene of a major gas leak downtown that is causing the evacuation of some homes, and earlier in the day, the Wilmington Fire Department responded to a four-car accident that sent two toddlers to the hospital. Funny how you never hear about the hard work the members of the WFD do on a day in and day out basis, or how they just sleep all the time (by the way, that’s sarcasm).
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