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How Much is your Life Worth?

If we save a life and in turn lose our own, our value is in the life saved. If we lose our life at the scene of a building that is already lost with no human life at stake, how do we recuperate the cost?

If you were shopping in the mall Christmas Eve this past year, you may have noticed all of the "sale" signs. Retail stores prepare to have enough product on hand to satisfy all of their customers. They estimate how many people shopped in the store all year long and then cross reference that number with the amount of items they sold last year at Christmas. Scientific calculations generate a reasonable number of expected merchandise items to stock.

How can the stores determine the cost of an item?

Research and development are giant costs in the beginning of a new item's life. No companies feel this burden more than drug companies. They perform years of analysis in expensive laboratories. Toys need to be tried on kids to see if they will be the next "gotta have." Any chef worth his salt will try new recipes on family and friends before giving them to restaurant patrons. These costs must be recuperated at the point of sale.

Advertising moguls work hard to provide a stimulus to all potential buyers. They produce catchy jingles and funny commercials. They send flyers to your house and put billboards and posters on almost any vertical surface. They do this in hopes of gaining a "market share" in you the customer. Billions of dollars a year are spent trying to get people to buy a new Barbie doll or better mouse trap. These costs must be recuperated at the point of sale.

The production of anything requires machinery, a plant and employees to run them. Labor is labor, no matter the industry. Real estate has become a very high priced commodity. The raw materials must be purchased before the finished product can be brought to light. It is next to impossible to make something from nothing. These costs must be recuperated at the point of sale.

Shipping and handling needs to be totaled. Freight cars, tractor trailers, ships and airplanes are not the proverbial "free ride." The means of transportation are one cost and the people needed to make the journey are another. Salaries and benefits are the same if you work in the fire service or haul new Ford F-150s to the show room floor. These costs must be recuperated at the point of sale.

Notice there was no mention of profit. Companies do not supply us with necessary goods out of the kindness of their heart. They intend to make a profit. This perpetuates the cycle, gives companies longevity and employees the needed jobs to provide for their families. All of these transactions add up to the price of the merchandise we see on the shelves. These costs must be recuperated at the point of sale.

Taxes and tariffs are added. The federal, state and local governments make a small amount of the total price.

If the store manager was zealous in stock calculations, the store might become an undersized warehouse. Too much on hand and not enough being sold. This may result in the choice to reduce the price of something in order to "move" it. We see this phenomenon as a "sale" sign. There are times when the price for an item at retail will be less than the cost of the item. Stores use these loss leaders to entice you into the door in hopes of having you see something else you may want or need. This loss will produce a gain on another item in the end.

If we view your life as a product... How much is your life worth?

Before you were born, your parents were exposed to lots of other children. They did a little research and thought they might be able to do a better job than the neighbors in child development. They may have tested theories on a dog. A decision was made to take off the training wheels and try for a human child. Conception, just like invention, can happen overnight (literally) or may take years of concentrated effort with a little outside assistance.

Newly crowned parents are beacons of joy. They send out birth announcements and take pictures of their newest bundle. They advertise their new arrival. They welcome all the attention. Along with attention come a great many gifts. That is a good thing because clothes and diapers are not free. Formula and swings are not free. If you ask your mother, she will tell you that she had significant "Labor Pains" bringing you into the world. As you grew, the price of labor shifted to always making dinner and washing your laundry. School lunches and a new bike. Jackets, hats and baby needs new shoes.

Transportation was necessary to and from every place you wanted to go. Gasoline prices were lower then but I suspect they still had an impact on the family budget. Your father would get off work early to get to a game and made sure your homework was done so you would get good grades. The benefits of which might be a scholarship to college and a brighter future for you. When you were old enough to drive, how many times did you leave the car with less fuel than when you got it? Did Dad ever slip you a twenty when you were going out and he knew you were broke?

Did you go right to work? Were there choices made about your future? Perhaps you honored us as citizens and joined the military. Thank you for serving. Maybe you went to school. College is an enormous expense.

You enter life owing nothing but you are in a great debt to your parents. Along the way, huge sums of money are spent on you. They may or may not add to your worth. One thing is for sure. Your cost is still less than your value. You are a great bargain.

Then it happens. You meet the one. Everything you ever dreamed of. The best part is that they see you the same way. Life is good. You get married, incurring the same amount of debt as that of some small nations. Would we make good parents? Let's give it a go... children bless your home. You do for them all that your parents did for you. They see you as the most important thing in the world, which is no small responsibility. To them you are priceless. Think about that word. No price. Value beyond price. Worth that can not be put into numbers. Not worthless... worth everything and more.

Now, why do we put a "sale" sign on our lives? As firefighters we are put in positions of inherent danger. We chose our profession. We want to save lives. We will risk a lot to save a savable life. And risk a little to save a savable property. Why then are we selling ourselves out at less than our cost by putting our lives in jeopardy on property that is already lost. Aren't we worth more than that?

We need to stop slashing the price on our lives. Our worth is more than that of a derelict building. We are worth more than the pile of rubble that is taken to the dump after a building is torn down. If we save a life and in turn lose our own, our value is in the life saved. If we lose our life at the scene of a building that is already lost with no human life at stake, how do we recuperate the cost?

I urge you to evaluate your life's worth. It can not summarized in numbers or charts. Choose life. If you are a firefighter, be safe on the job. Watch for possible traps. Listen to the guys who have been in those situations and are telling you to back off. Sometimes the bravest and most courageous thing to do is back out of a bad situation.

First due officers need to apply real world risk/ benefit analysis to the scene. What are the goals as incident commander? Do they add up to the price we will pay in the lives of the firefighters working with us? Safety is paramount.

We owe it to our firefighters to get them home. We owe it to ourselves to go home. We owe it to their families and to ours. We have a big responsibility to provide an accurate accounting of our efforts. Figure the cost for doing business. Never sell yourselves or your people short. Do not discount our collective worth. Leave the "sale" signs where they belong, at the stores. Now go and thank your parents.


Jameson R. Ayotte is a Fire Lieutenant/Paramedic with the Amesbury, MA, Fire Department. He began his career in EMS in 1994 and entered the fire service in 2002. Lieutenant Ayotte has been a company officer since 2005 and is the shift commander of group 1. He is a member of the Amesbury Fire Honor Guard.

Lieutenant Ayotte holds a B.S. in Exercise Physiology and an M.S. in Physical Therapy from UMass-Lowell. He is a certified Fire Officer I and Fire Instructor I. He also instructs Anatomy & Physiology and Medical Terminology. He lives in Amesbury with his wife Melanie and their two sons. He can be reached at jamesonayotte@yahoo.com.

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