Maybe it is just me, but I am really not pleased with the manner of public discourse in our nation. It seems as though the concept of basing ones' arguments on the truth has taken that proverbial long walk off of a short pier. In my opinion, new lows are being set almost weekly (daily) with regard to the manner in which our political leaders, at all levels, treat the truth with a seemingly cavalier regard. I am not accusing them of lying, but their grasp of what constitutes the truth is slipping badly.
As a lad growing up in the 1950's, I was imbued with the spirit of truth as a cornerstone of my moral compass. Mom and Dad seemed to specialize in catching my brother and I when we played fast and loose with the facts. Let me assure you that my folks were proponents of the old spare the rod and you spoil the child approach to discipline, so the lessons stuck with Bob and me.
This education was carried further by the leaders in my Cub Scout pack and my Boy Scout troop. When you were given a task, you were expected to complete that task without a wide array of excuses. The same held true with my football, wrestling, and track and field alliances. Somewhere along the way it is possible that I began to drift off the centerline of the truth highway a bit, but by and large I remain a strong proponent of truth as the underpinning of our critical work within the fire service.
Sadly, I do not see the same sort of allegiance to the truth when it comes to the world of political discourse. I can recall the occasions when political people, whom I trusted, became proponents of the bait and switch style of marketing used so successfully by the people who have sold electronics along the highways and byways of Northern New Jersey for many years now.
Are you old enough to remember the old perfume commercial where the soothing, romantic voice sounded forth urging you to, "… promise her anything, but give her Arpege?" This is an ad pitch which has been around in one form or another for many decades. As a younger man, I succumbed to the lure of this commercial with some sadly negative results. It was only when my wife applied the perfume in question that I discovered the fact that this aroma made me sneeze. So much, then, for me trying to take advice from a perfume commercial.
Let me suggest that a number of politicians have used this advertising phrase as the jumping off point in their devious attempts to remain in office. My research seems to indicate that their new motto is something along the lines of, "… promise them anything and then once you are elected, screw them." Perhaps I have been a cynic in my latter day, but that is what I believe I have seen.
The examples of this attitude abound, starting with the palaver which was foisted upon us at the 2009 Fire Caucus Dinner. A parade of political people put forth a list of promises which included just about everything, with the exception of Arpege. Of course as the events of that year played out, we had to battle to maintain our key fire programs. It is at times like this that I am glad that I carry a small notebook within which to capture the promises of the speakers at these events.
It seems to me that all across America we are encountering situations where people, who have absolutely no idea of what we in the fire service really do, telling us how to do our jobs. One thing that you and I must remember is that it is not just us they are pushing around. They are doing the same thing to our associates in all of the other public sector disciplines. These people believe that they are empowered, by dint of being elected, with divine knowledge bestowed upon them directly from the heavens above. Why else is could it be that we have people that never even managed a dog pound telling us how to do our jobs?
It is bad enough that think they know everything, but many of them use a subterfuge built upon a foundation of lies, deceit, and misinformation to buttress their pathetic programs which are filled with an array of nefarious notions about how they believe government should be run.
Sadly, many of us are forced to work for these malevolent people. These are the folks who, if they had their way, would consider adequate fire protection to consist of two people riding around in a pickup truck with a couple of fire extinguishers. These are the folks who ask why we need so many people to do our job. Let me suggest that people like this are a plague upon all of us.
Nonetheless, we must all labor diligently in the trenches to provide the best possible fire protection for our communities that we can. I am going to suggest that you built your arguments upon the firm foundations created by the facts within our professional fire protection literature. Use the groundwork laid for you by those of us who have created the literature which guides our field of endeavor.
In those cases where the politicians lie, hit them with the facts. It is like I have long stated. There are three things which you need in abundance if you are to succeed in the delivery of local fire protection services to your community. It is my belief that you must arm yourself with facts, figures, and friends. As long as you are telling a true story, supported by your facts, figures, and friends, you can live with yourself.
Unfortunately, you will not always win, but you will always be able to look yourself straight in the mirror and not cringe. Let others limit their harangue to the un-provable lies which reside within their gullets. Be gallant in defeat and keep working to protect the people who have been entrusted to your care. Do not sink to their level.
To improve your chances of success, you must reach out to build bridges to the many different groups who make up your community. I have a buddy in Southern New Jersey who has become a past master at garnering the support of a wide variety of groups within his community. Ted Lowden, Chief of the Evesham Township Fire/Rescue is out visiting with one group or another every week or so. He belongs to a number of organizations within his community. This is critically important in a fire district scenario, where Ted's budget is placed before the citizens of the township during the annual fire district election process in February.
Ted works to provide his friends with the necessary facts and figures to show the true needs of his agency. I can only recall him experiencing one or two losses in the last couple of decades. Ted understands the need to present a factual request for help to his electorate. Ted also understands the need to stick to the facts. That is what I am suggesting you do.
Let me close with an example of how battling for what you believe in can become a necessary part of your life. City officials in San Diego, California have blasted the fire department and its personnel for costing the city more than a figure more 325 percent higher than the EMS service provided by Rural Metro to the city.
According to an on-line article in the Pomerado News, Fire Chief Javier Mainar and union President Frank De Clercq both said the comparisons amount to mixing apples and oranges. They are working hard to create the distinction between the two disparate examples being pushed by the political people on the city council. These two men are not lying down and letting the city council roll over them without a fight.
They said that firefighters trained as EMTs and paramedics respond not only to numerous medical aid calls but also to hazardous materials spills, traffic accident rescues, natural disasters, explosions and other incidents their Rural/Metro counterparts aren’t trained to handle. Mainar called the conclusions of the council members “blatantly misleading.’’
“To accept this comparison as valid, one would have to believe that all firefighters could simply be replaced with single-function EMTs or paramedics and that these lower-cost employees could then be called upon to handle the wide range of emergency types firefighters respond to each day,’’ Mainar said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.’’
Thanks to my buddy Billy Goldfeder for sending me the link to this most interesting on-line article. If we are to strengthen the fire service in its battle with the know-nothing people who hold the power over our professional lives, we must share the stories of what is going on in the world around us.
Will the folks in San Diego win? I sure hope so. I wish I could tell you what will happen. However, let me assure you that when you fight on behalf of your people, you will sleep soundly at night, confident that your troops are out there working hard on your behalf. Tell the truth, work the system, and do your best. Who can ask for more than that?