Fire Politics: Honest Disagreement Or Acts of Cowardice?

When engaged in politics, one will encounter those who agree with their positions, those who disagree with their positions and many whose beliefs are somewhere in between. With this in mind, politics is often defined as “the exercising of political opinions and principles.” Although the term “politician” is not always received in positive terms by the public, when combined with the word “statesman,” it is actually quite flattering and defines a person who regularly exhibits “the eminent ability, foresight and unselfish devotion to act in ways that they feel are in the best interests of their country.” The goal of governing is to reach common ground on issues and find acceptable solutions to a wide variety of challenges.

It’s a shame that when it comes to displaying respect for the contributions and sacrifices of firefighters, not all politicians act in ways that meet the definition of a statesman – especially during the past few years, and more specifically at the local and state levels of government.

Going “dark” on issues

I’m not talking about elected officials who disagree with the agendas of the fire service. Politicians and constituents will have disagreements on various public issues, including those related to fire codes, fire department funding, unions, firefighter compensation, benefits, pensions and the like. They may be considered “political foes” by the fire service and others, but they don’t necessarily act out their positions and beliefs in ways that are mean-spirited and disrespectful. They go about the business of governing in a consistent way and make it clear to others where they stand and why. They are not ashamed of their positions and publicly defend and represent them – and they are willing to listen to others. Even though they may be viewed as someone’s political foe, they may also periodically fill the role of statesman, focusing on moving their communities, states and country forward. There are often issues on which you can find common ground with these politicians, even though there may be disagreement on other issues.

Instead, the focus of this column is on politicians who act and speak out in ways disrespectful to firefighters, and then run for cover when it’s inconvenient or unpopular to act and talk that way in public. Sadly, we sometimes see this played out in communities and in states that have experienced firefighter line-of-duty-deaths.

Periodically, we encounter members of city councils and state legislatures who commit outrageous public (and back-door) attacks on the integrity of firefighters and their leaders, and suddenly “go dark” when firefighters are seriously injured or die in the line of duty. Bottom line, they lack the courage and conviction to stand by their beliefs. They are afraid to speak out (or act out) at these difficult times when the public is celebrating the contributions of firefighters and mourning their loss. They want others to believe that they do this out of respect, but most people in the public are not fooled by their silence. They see through the ruse and realize it’s nothing more than a cowardly act.

Bottom line, if elected officials truly believe in their principles, they should have the courage to represent them publicly. If they hide during difficult times for fear of public retribution or backlash, perhaps they should rethink their beliefs. I doubt this has ever been highlighted so emphatically as when the parents of a firefighter who died in the line of duty recently notified a certain city councilman that he was not welcome at their son’s funeral. They made it crystal clear that this was not about their political views; rather, it was about the lies and other ugly things this councilman had said about their son and his fellow firefighters. The mayor and the other members of the city council were welcome to attend, but not him. I’m not sure an elected official can be held more accountable than that, except, of course, at the ballot box.

I struggled with whether to submit this column. In fact, I wrote it, put it aside, read it over several more times, revised it and finally decided it should be published. We may not be able to prevent this type of behavior by elected officials, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept it – so I decided to talk about it. Maybe it should be discussed more frequently and exposed for what it really is – simply the act of a coward. n