Our Job Is Not Dangerous?

An Editorial by Charles Garrison, PAC Chairman LPFA

After reading a recent news story covering the discussions of the Leander City Council, Leander City Manager, and representatives of the Leander Professional Firefighters Association, I became disturbed over the statement by our city leaders that our jobs are not dangerous and to refer to the Federal Bureau of Labor statistics.  This statement was made to buttress the contention that Civil Service is not needed by our firefighters nor our city.  In a single statement, the City Manager has just advised Council and the citizens in attendance that our work is no more dangerous than any other occupation and has publicly undermined our honor and has defaced the sacrifices made by the many that have lost their lives or have been injured while working as firefighters.

As a person that had worked regularly with statistics to make business decisions, I am shaken to the bone that an attack such as this was done to discredit our profession and was a blatant scoffing of our vocation.

When reviewing the Bureau of Labor (BLS) statistics, we can find fisherman, airline pilots, and even farmers are at higher risks than the firefighter.  Although these fatality statistics are accurate, but these statistics don’t fully bear the truth about OUR profession.

It is not a secret that we are not fighting fire a majority of our time while on shift.  We work medical alarms, check hydrants and hoses, participate in training and public relations events, etc.  But when working on US 183 at 2 am on Saturday night in the roadway providing medical and rescue services from a motor vehicle accident, or when working a wildland fire in an urban interface or thick brush, or when working the structure fire, we as professionals work in a very hostile environment.  The risks are real and have a high potential of death or injury.

But as professionals, we continually train and practice to understand and manage those risks.  Each of the incidents that we work are all similar but are inherently all different.  We are called to make decisions quickly and correctly to ensure the safety of ourselves, our fellow crew members, and our customers.  Our equipment, training, and our leadership works in concert to conduct our operations efficiently, effectively, and as safely as possible.  I can remember during my service in the Navy while working on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier that I was told “this is the most dangerous and hostile work area per square foot in the world.”  Now during my years of service, I only saw one crewmember that had died among the countless launches and aircraft recoveries done during all hours, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.  Was this job dangerous?  Working mere feet away from jet engine intakes and exhausts, multiple aircraft taxiing about the flight deck, aircraft launching from a stand-still to 250 mph in three seconds, jet fuel being pumped, the list goes on.  The reality is that we, like our fellow Army Soldiers and Marines, do spend time in-house, cleaning apparatus and facilities, training, playing, eating, and sleeping, but when duty calls or the alarm sounds, we go from zero to 100 in a matter of seconds.  We are quickly immersed in a dynamic and volatile environment and we have fellow crew members and customers to protect and serve.  As firefighters we may never know the fear and immanent hazards experienced in a gun fight, or taking cover from mortar fire, or not knowing if an IED will explode, but we do understand the risks of being run over by a drunk or distracted driver, being assaulted by a intoxicated patient, being overrun by a fire after the wind changes direction, being pinned under cement after a wall collapse, or being lost in the midst of fire within a structure while running low on air.  This is all while serving our communities, our state, and our country.  As with the infantry man, we do not do this in hopes of becoming rich or in anticipation of being called a hero.  We do this because we love our work.  Being a Firefighter is not what we do, but it is WHO WE ARE.

If we review the 2011 BLS statistics, we can find that Fire Protection ranks at the top in being in the category of the highest incidence rates of total nonfatal occupational injury and illness cases.  The fire service has worked feverishly to reduce the rates of fatalities for the past two decades.  Our fire service leaders and certain legislators have dedicated their life’s work to see these numbers lowered.  As we gain momentum in reducing these fatalities, we now see how current municipal leaders are using these gains to thwart the honor and dedication of our profession.  

As an association, as a professional firefighter, as a dedicated servant to our community, we should not be idle in our concern for the recent statements by our Leander City Leadership.  We should not accept the assertion that our work is like any other and can only be measured by a statistic.  We are the face and voice of our community and should not be ashamed in seeking an improvement in our current policies and procedures that would benefit our future workers and our city.

Forbes recently listed firefighters as number three in a list of the most stressful of jobs, behind a military enlisted person and a military general!  After this recent assault by our city leadership, I’m feeling like this should be moved to number one. 

 

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Leander Firefighters for Civil Service