The difference in work load that you cite may be true in most circumstances, but the comparison to those professions was not about the workloads. The comparison was more about job classification in regards to the "overpaid" comments. You simply can't look at Walmart or food service employees and determine that firefighters are "overpaid" because they comparatively have a better compensation package. The more appropriate comparison for the firefighter occupation is to compare it with other skilled labor occupations like plumber, carpenter or nurse. When you do that, you will typically find that compensation is very comparable and may even lag behind in some aspects.
The workload of a shift firefighter, when looked at the actual work time v. downtime, in most cases, is much lighter than that of a plumber, carpenter, nurse or any other position that some here wanted to compare themselves to. To expect to be paid the same per hour when in most cases, we have that much downtime, including sleeping time, involved in the position is simply ridiculous.
I don't recall any whining about being "underpaid".
If you want to compare saleries and whine that we are underpaid, you have to compare apples v. apples and look at the work produced. Bottom line is unless you are in a very busy company or the department keeps you very busy when not on runs, the actual work produced per hour is far less when compared to occupations that do not offer the downtime in the fire station that we have.
Yes, it can be a "perk" of the job. If you look at that time in terms of tangible production of a product or service, then it would not be a reach to view it as "unproductive time". However, if you look at sleep and downtime from a different perspective, the time isn't necessarily as "unproductive" as you and some may think. Given the nature of how we work and the importance of being on top of your game when responding to calls, this time can help to keep personnel more "fresh". The time can also help us recover mentally following a particularly difficult call. It can also be spent on other things with occupation value.
Being able to sleep and have that downtime is a perk of the job. Call it being available, I really don't care but it is simply unproductive time, and it is a perk that the position offers. But the simple fact is when the public looks at the position, that is what they see, but the fact is that given the actual work time involved in many firefighting positions, most firefighters are fairly well compensated for what we do.