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    Default Firefighters Quit Volunteer Department

    Twelve Riverton firefighters quit
    Chief replaced by someone outside the department

    By AMANDA REAVY
    STAFF WRITER

    Published Wednesday, April 19, 2006

    RIVERTON - Nearly half of the volunteer firefighters with the Riverton Fire Protection District have resigned since the board of trustees decided Monday night to replace Fire Chief Gene Smith with someone from outside the department.

    Smith, 53, is a 27-year veteran who spent 10 years as chief. The new chief is Louie Rogers.

    Some of the 12 who left said Tuesday that the board's decision was political and not in the best interests of the department or village. They said Rogers has no relationship with the more than two dozen firefighters.

    Board member Ray Lee, the only trustee who could be reached Tuesday night, declined to discuss the matter.

    Lee said another trustee, Jim Good, would speak on behalf of the board but that he would not be available until today.

    Sangamon County Board member Dennis Wieland, who appoints the district's five trustees and was present at Monday's meeting, also referred questions to Good.

    Smith said his dismissal as chief was primarily the result of miscommunication and a different philosophy on how to handle personnel positions, primarily with board president Alex Lyons, who was appointed about seven months ago.

    "The fire district board felt it could run the department better than I could. ... They felt they needed a change for the fire department," said Smith.

    He said the position of chief is up for reappointment each January. In the past, the firefighters would take a vote on who they wanted and pass it on to the board.

    "They'd usually approve that person. When the district board was asked that last night (by fire department members) - if they have a say - the comment was, 'No, this is the way it is, and if you don't like it, too bad,'" Smith said. "That didn't sit well with too many people. The (volunteer firefighters) are the ones answering these calls, getting up at 3 a.m. They meet every week on Wednesday. The board is paid and meets once a month."

    Smith said one point of contention between him and the board members was their desire for him to fill the position of deputy chief.

    "I don't feel the need for a deputy chief, and it's not their position to tell me," he said. "It's a volunteer organization with roughly 27 members. I didn't want to end up with too many chiefs and not enough Indians."

    Firefighters who resigned said Rogers had expressed his desire to be chief to the board. They said a handful of firefighters supported the move because they wanted to be appointed deputy chief or to some other officer position.

    Rogers was out of town Tuesday night and could not be reached. State Journal-Register archives indicate he was a member of the Riverton Volunteer Fire Department at one time.

    Smith said talk of replacing him had been going on since January, and he warned the board that if firefighters were denied input, many would leave.

    He said board members felt that since Riverton gets mutual aid assistance from Dawson, a smaller department wasn't a concern.

    "I really don't know if they'll be an adverse effect on residents. ... The people who quit last night are the basic core of the department," Smith said.

    Sharyl Ellis, a nine-year firefighter, was among those who resigned after pleading with the board to compromise before appointing Rogers.

    She said the 12 members who have left represent a combined 111 years of experience.

    Relying on firefighters from another department could add 15 minutes to response time in emergencies, which could be the difference between life and death, Ellis said.

    "We always had a problem with daytime calls. Even with our full roster, we're shorthanded because people work during the days," said another firefighter, John Ippolito, who resigned after nine years with the department.

    Ellis said she doesn't feel comfortable serving under someone the firefighters haven't worked with.

    "I have children I'm responsible for. ... There's already danger to being a volunteer firefighter, and they've added to that risk 80 percent," she said. "And as a chief, if you don't know what (department members) can handle, if someone is scared of structure fires or can't climb a ladder, there's no chance your leading me into that situation."

    Ippolito said he feels the fire protection district board is out of touch with the needs of the department and lacks diversity since all of its members are appointed by Wieland.

    Cindy Bodine, a Riverton resident, said she doubts much of the community realizes they've lost half their fire department.

    "That's quite a few people, and that means we're not protected very much," she said.

    Jeannene Koslosky, whose husband, Thomas, is one of the firefighters who resigned, said she is organizing an informational protest today to alert the community to what's happening and how it could affect their safety.

    She said former firefighters, their family members and concerned citizens will meet at Ellis' home in the 500 block of East Adams Street at 6:30 p.m. and march to the firehouse.

    "I appreciate everybody's effort. I just feel like it's falling on deaf ears," Smith said.

    Ippolito added that it's difficult for many of the firefighters to give up a job they loved.

    "It kills us to leave, but to stay with someone that's shoved down our throats, we won't do that," he said.

    Amanda Reavy can be reached at 788-1525 or amanda.reavy@sj-r.com.
    Sad day, anyway you look at it in Riverton, Illinois.
    Last edited by ResQUrCat4Free; 04-20-2006 at 02:33 AM.

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    Some of the 12 who left said Tuesday that the board's decision was political and not in the best interests of the department or village.
    Ah yes, and walking out and abandoning your village is so much more of having the "best interests of the village" in mind.
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    Good point Bones. Regardless of how they try to blame everyone else, they still walked out on the community.

    It seems like they tried to pressure the board by threatening to leave and when the board didn't back down then they threw a fit like my three year old and stomped out whining "I quit!!! I'm taking my toys and going home!!"

    just my $.02
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    This is waaaayyyy too familiar. As such thats as much as I think I need to say.

    Except good luck to those who stayed on, and are keeping the flame burning in the station.
    If you don't do it RIGHT today, when will you have time to do it over? (Hall of Fame basketball player/coach John Wooden)

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    Volunteer firefighters do tend to get very upset when someone from outside the department is appointed Chief. While this is a rare event, it does occur from time to time and usually has this type of an affect on the membership. Some may feel "cheated" out a promotion that they felt was thiers, while others may feel that they can't trust the outsider being brought into a very private club (this feeling is true of vollie and paid departments). Still others fear the change that will almost certainly come when someone with fresh ideas and concepts takes over the reins.

    For whatver reason, the board must have felt this this organization needed new blood. In time, some of the members who quit may find themselves drifting back, especially if they find out from the members who remained that things aren't that bad, but for others, there will be no returning. It is obviousy a sad day when the fire service loses experienced people, but change is something that WILL occur, and if someone can't accept that change, they will be of no benefit to the organization.

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    Quote Originally Posted by cityfire7
    Good point Bones. Regardless of how they try to blame everyone else, they still walked out on the community.

    It seems like they tried to pressure the board by threatening to leave and when the board didn't back down then they threw a fit like my three year old and stomped out whining "I quit!!! I'm taking my toys and going home!!"

    just my $.02

    I don't consider them to have walked out onthe community. With 12 members totaling over 111 years of experience, they have served their time. If they are fed up with all of the political BS, let them be with their families more and just relax.

    If they don't feel comfortable working under this guy, I'm not going to call them babies for leaving.

    Just my $.02
    Last edited by millerman; 04-20-2006 at 11:43 AM.

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    It sounds to me as if the organization needs new blood, but on the commission, not in the chief's office...
    My opinions are my own and do not, in any way, reflect those of any agency to which I am affiliated...

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    I wouldn't fault them for bailing out. The Board of Trustees should have anticapated problems like this would have happened. They also should have anticapated that if the 12 unhappy firefighters stayed on, what problems they could have created.

    I know many of us volunteer "to give something back to our community". But BELIEVE ME its not #1 on most volunteers lists for joining and staying with it. I believe comraderie, fun, excitement and the bravery thing keep more people around. If these guys felt betrayed by the board and community so be it. They may have made the right choice by leaving. Personally I feel the board could have communicated there feelings better to the department and let the department find new leadership, hopefully from within their own ranks.
    Last edited by osfd100; 04-20-2006 at 12:25 PM.

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    Be ****ed at the board for not listening to the firefighters and walking out because the board put someone in charge who isnt related to or know the firefighter is BS. I can understand being ****ed off at the board but, wouldn't staying on and trying to change the system from the inside be better than running home to momma because you didn't get your way. At least stay on and try to make it work, who knows the new chief could be the best thing that happens to the department.

    In the past, the firefighters would take a vote on who they wanted and pass it on to the board.
    Based on what who the firefighters like or who is the most qualified. If its a popular vote its useless anyway and maybe needed to be changed anyway.

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    Based on what who the firefighters like or who is the most qualified. If its a popular vote its useless anyway and maybe needed to be changed anyway.
    It may not work like that down south of the Border, but most Canadian Depts do vote their chief in, and then it gets ratified by the Board of Trustees, or whatever that body calls itself in that juristiction. From my experience of the depts around the Malahat area, this system seems to work very well.

    The one time where a dept was "Ordered" by the Board to accept a chief who was brought in from out of town, it didnt work. He was relieved of duty after 12 or14 months of taking the position, and well... the rest is history of the Good Kind.
    If you don't do it RIGHT today, when will you have time to do it over? (Hall of Fame basketball player/coach John Wooden)

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    Unhappy Further Updates

    District defends new fire chief
    More Riverton firefighters resign, community members protest

    By AMANDA REAVY
    STAFF WRITER

    Published Thursday, April 20, 2006

    RIVERTON - Though more volunteer firefighters resigned in protest Wednesday, the Riverton Fire Protection District board is standing by its decision to appoint a new chief.

    "Louie (Rogers) comes highly recommended, highly trained, highly certified," board member Jim Good said, after the five trustees unanimously decided Monday to replace longtime chief Gene Smith with Rogers, an Emergency Medical Services system educator at St. John's Hospital.

    Twelve firefighters, including Smith, announced their resignation following the decision, claiming the board rejected their input by replacing Smith, a 27-year veteran of the department with 10 years as chief, with someone from outside the department who is unacquainted with the more than two dozen firefighters and their abilities.

    At least two more firefighters resigned Wednesday, while others remain undecided.

    Nevertheless, Good said the board is confident in Rogers' abilities to improve the department and keep residents safe, even with fewer firefighters.

    A newly appointed trustee whose first regular meeting was Monday, Good said fellow board members asked him to speak on their behalf.

    "As far as talking about Louis, he is actually an instructor in a lot of areas as far as the firefighters train in," Good said. "A lot of training that new firefighters or EMTs need, Louie can do there in Riverton versus sending firefighters to other schools."

    A news release issued by the board highlights Rogers qualifications and accomplishments, including his certification as an Emergency Medical Technician-paramedic, firefighter and rescue specialist. He is trained in fire arson investigation from the University of Illinois Fire Academy and also has training and experience with the National Incident Management System and the Fire Protection District Administration.

    Rogers, who was out of town Wednesday and couldn't be reached, was once a member of the Riverton Volunteer Fire Department in the late 1980s.

    Good declined comment on why the board rejected the firefighters' choice for chief.

    Each January, the position of chief is up for reappointment, and both Smith and Rogers submitted resumes. Rogers was selected because of his experience and his plan to enhance the department's current services, Good said."There is a plan, as far as how we want to organize the fire department. A lot depends on the personnel who stay away or come back," he said. "He had a nice plan of how to organize the department and make services more efficient and provide better training."

    Tom Babicky, a captain on the department until Rogers appointed someone else to his position Monday, said the firefighters' biggest problem is how the board handled the matter.

    "If they would've just listened to us and members vying, requesting and pleading for them to do this the right way, we would've welcomed the new guy into our department. Make him do the same thing you'd expect of us. When we come on, we're expected to come up through the ranks," he said.

    Babicky said he and other firefighters asked the board to make Rogers a Riverton volunteer firefighter first so he could introduce his plan and give it an opportunity to work with help from Smith and his command staff.

    "Wouldn't that more benefit the community? He is unknown to a majority of the (department's) membership, and that is the only problem the membership had," he said.

    Another resigned firefighter, John Ippolitio, said he plans to attend the caucus before the next Sangamon County Board meeting May 9 to voice his concerns about how board member Dennis Wieland appointed the fire protection district's trustees.

    Despite the resignations, Good said Riverton residents shouldn't fear for their safety in an emergency.

    "The number of firefighters in a volunteer fire department is always a concern. You can never have enough," he said. "... We don't want anybody to leave the fire department. The five board members interviewed the gentlemen and decided to go one direction. I hate to think volunteer firefighters would leave because of that. But our interest is in the safety of the Riverton Fire Protection District, and we think we've done that.

    "Louie has done a very good job of communicating with area fire departments, like Sherman, Rochester and Dawson, and has their full support in anything comes up in the event we need them. We do a mutual aid agreement with all of them now, and they're aware of the situation and will jump right in and help us out."

    However, former firefighters and residents who marched though town in protest Wednesday say that assurance is not enough.

    About 50 people held signs with messages such as: "Mutual Aid is not the Answer" and "Politics and Lives Don't Mix."

    One of the protesters, Jamie Petitt, turned in her firefighting equipment, ending five years with the Riverton department.

    "It was very tough. For the last five years, I've spend every Wednesday (at the firehouse)," she said.

    Babicky said he is still "in limbo" on whether or not to resign.

    "I want to find a common ground. It pretty much looks impossible right now because the decisions have been made. I'm still one of those wide-eyed optimists that believes I can change and they can see the errors of their way and reconsider and meet the compromise that so many people are asking for," he said.

    Amanda Reavy can be reached at 788-1525 or amanda.reavy@sj-r.com.

    Jonathan Kirshner / SJ-R
    Riverton volunteer firefighter Jamie Petitt prepares to turn in her gear Wednesday as protesters cross the street during a march against the changes made by the Riverton Fire Protection District board
    Looks like neither side wants to back down.
    Last edited by ResQUrCat4Free; 04-20-2006 at 12:44 PM.

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    It may not work like that down south of the Border, but most Canadian Depts do vote their chief in, and then it gets ratified by the Board of Trustees, or whatever that body calls itself in that juristiction. From my experience of the depts around the Malahat area, this system seems to work very well.
    Is there a standard that the chief has to meet or is it just who ever the most people like? I can see where a system that you descibe could work with minimum qualifications and a clear understanding of what each others role in the process is. Of course communication is the key and that is what appears to be missing in this whole mess.

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    Well you can't just walk in the door during election time and have your name put to the ballot.

    In reality, the more certifications and experience the better. Both of the last two Malahat chief's were about equally qualified, as was the one I mentioned in the "Other Dept".

    For the Malahat folks, when your name is submitted as 'voted' by the membership, before being accepted as Chief, there are interviews with the District Board, and a review of your service record plus qualifications. In my history with the dept, I do not know of any time in which the Board refused the Memberships vote.
    If you don't do it RIGHT today, when will you have time to do it over? (Hall of Fame basketball player/coach John Wooden)

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    Sounds like you have a system that actually gets you the best qualified candidate and the one that can work the best with your members. Too bad more departments havent caught on.

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    I am of the mind that there is ALOT more to this story than what has been reported.
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    Quote Originally Posted by cityfire7
    I am of the mind that there is ALOT more to this story than what has been reported.
    AND THAT, my Friends, is the $64.00 statement.
    If you don't do it RIGHT today, when will you have time to do it over? (Hall of Fame basketball player/coach John Wooden)

    "I may be slow, but my work is poor." Chief Dave Balding, MVFD

    "Its not Rocket Science. Just use a LITTLE imagination." (Me)

    Get it up. Get it on. Get it done!

    impossible solved cotidie. miracles postulo viginti - quattuor hora animadverto

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    Quote Originally Posted by cityfire7
    I am of the mind that there is ALOT more to this story than what has been reported.
    AMEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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    Yea, like Paul Harvey always said "Stay tuned for the rest of the story."
    Just know, I chose my own fate. I drove by the fork in the road and went straight.

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    Sad situation for all involved. I wonder how the new chief feels about things. I guess the volunteers who quit didn't see any other way they could influence the board to change.

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    Maybe I read this wrong but the chief who was replaced is a VOLUNTEER chief, correct? He's not a paid chief leading a volunteer or combination dept. (as I've seen in other areas) so why would he be replaced with an outsider???
    If he was a paid chief, I could understand it - qualified candidates for a paid/career chief's position often come from an outside source (maybe a retiring or soon to be retired Dep. Chief from a larger dept. as an example).
    So why would you replace him with an outsider who "used to be" a member (my question is when...was he a member 6 months ago or back in the 70's)
    who "expressed an interest" in being chief???!!!!

    It definitely sounds like this board had an issue with the chief...seems they didn't get along. If he wasn't doing the job properly, then I could see removing him from office and replacing him with another QUALIFIED member who had the right mindset for the job. Replacing him with Jim Bob, your fishin' buddy who "used to be a member" doesn't quite seem the logical approach to the situation.

    Now I realize (and am a firm believer in this) that there are 3 sides to every story..his, theirs and the truth but from what I read (which is a one sided argument mind you), the only thing the chief may have done wrong (or be viewed as wrong) was to not appoint a deputy chief. While I agree that 27 people is a small amount and you don't want "too many chiefs, too few indians" as the chief mentioned, having another "higher up" to handle the management of the dept. doesn't seem like a bad idea. But who knows, maybe they had a really good capt. with a supportive lt. or two as well as active members who handled the dept's affairs effectively.

    As far as "walking off the job", I don't know how to react to that...the community (that they swore to protect) will suffer as will their fellow FF's.
    Reading a small article can't really provide insight into what this dept. might become with this "outsider" coming onboard...he may be a power hungry tyrant with no people skills (hmm, anybody else know a few of them in your own dept./area???), no dedication to the dept. and a bass ackwards approach to running a fire department. Who knows...he could be scouring the internet right now looking to find a 62' Dodge high pressure pumper and tin helmets for "his" members to use at fires...Bunker gear, SCBA, accountability, RIT, proper training..."We don't need none of that...back in my day when I was a fireman, we just got on the tailboard, pulled up your hip boots and took a deep breath before you went in"...OH BOY...flashback to the 70's!!!

    Maybe that's why these FF's chose to resign....who knows????

    Just my 2 cents...Stay Safe...

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    Have to agree with MalahatTwo7 on this one...

    Ten points for electing your chief and handling personnel matters within the dept. if you have that option...city/town bureaucrats appointing fire chiefs...zero.

    Most departments here (nearly all volunteer) elect their chiefs (some elect ALL officers, some are chief appointed) and it usually yields good results. My dept., for example, elects ALL officers. Those who came before set out a nice set of bylaws for the organization that very specifically lay out what qualifications candidates must have before they can accept a nomination for a specific office. And we seem to have a great group of very levelheaded members who vote for the best person for the job, not for their friends.

    If that happened here, I guarantee we'd have people walk out too. Would I? Hard to say...maybe...more than likely though, I'd just make everyone who had anything to do with that decision REALLY sick and tired of hearing us by being a persistent objector.

    Is it right to walk out on the community? No, but I don't see where these guys and gals are walking out on the community...they have legitimate concerns. If I did not feel safe, as safe as we possibly can be, I wouldn't be fighting fire either. I get a lot of satisfaction from being a firefighter, BUT it's not my career and it doesn't pay the bills and if I decide to have a family someday, being a volunteer sure won't take care of them either. I have to be around to do that. I love taking care of the community but I'm not going to needlessly put myself in danger. I could go take care of another community that cared about taking care of us. Everything can't always fall on OUR backs...if the community is dissatisfied with their level of protection they need to tell the district, since the dept. seems to be run by them. The community will get the level of protection that they demand. If they choose not to stand up for their dept., then perhaps they'd like to have the experience of having to risk their lives for someone they didn't trust? They sure wouldn't...guarenteed...they chose not to volunteer in the first place...even when things were good.

    It stinks to not be supported financially by your town, but I'd rather work my butt off fundraising than have interference of that magnitude by people who do not have our best interests, or those of the residents of the community, at heart.

    BUT, to counter everything I just said...maybe the new chief is a good, experienced guy that the firefighters would like if they gave him a chance.

    BUT, I trust my chief, and we would all fight for her till the end if the town tried to pull that stuff...

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    Did anyone else notice that the trustee appointed to speak on behalf of the board (Jim Good) is new, with his first regular meeting the night this all took place? Seems he either had a personal "axe to grind" with the current chief, or maybe the other trustees are completely spineless, and are feeding this guy to the wolves. Maybe it will all come out eventually.

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    I still don't understand how they are turning their back on the community.

    First of all... they are volunteers. Yes, I understand that SOMEONE has to put the fires out, but it's not their responsibilities as citizens to do so. They have volunteered for this. Would it make a difference if they quit because... their wife thought it was too dangerous, or if they moved out of the community.
    Second, they have served their community for over a century combined, they don't own the community anything more. That's probably more volunteer work than 99% of that community put together.
    Whether they quit because they were tired of the political BS in the fire department, or they just didn't feel safe anymore, I can't get upset. They have served their community for a long time, how can we say they are turning their back on it?

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    Here's the question:

    Lets just say for argument sake, you live in rural area, of approximately 300 families, and your FD carried a VOLUNTEER staff of say..20. Now something so drastic happens that more than 1/2 of them decide they can not work under current conditions.

    Now lets say that because you live in the rural area you do, you and your guys work "in the City", more than 20 miles away. Leaving, maybe.. if you're lucky 2 or 3 guys in the Home area, able to respond to most things. That is of course during a working day.

    Lets go one step further.... its in the evening, when most nights you could count on better than 10 to respond to any given alarm. Now you've just lost over 1/2 of your manning pool. Which means IF YOUR LUCKY, 5 or 6 guys are able to respond to that same alarm, where you could have had 15.

    Ask me again, about turning your back on the community. And think about this question from the view point of the family or patient that we are expected to serve, to the best of our abilities.

    Lets say it was your elderly neighbour who called 911, and expected to see your smiling face. How are you going to feel when you find out he/she DFO'd, and became DRT because no one came?

    I know how I would feel and I know what I had to do when the situation did occur.




    Sadly...B-T-D-T-G-Tshirt - ya want it, cuz I'd rather not have it.
    If you don't do it RIGHT today, when will you have time to do it over? (Hall of Fame basketball player/coach John Wooden)

    "I may be slow, but my work is poor." Chief Dave Balding, MVFD

    "Its not Rocket Science. Just use a LITTLE imagination." (Me)

    Get it up. Get it on. Get it done!

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  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by MalahatTwo7
    Here's the question:

    Lets just say for argument sake, you live in rural area, of approximately 300 families, and your FD carried a VOLUNTEER staff of say..20. Now something so drastic happens that more than 1/2 of them decide they can not work under current conditions.

    Now lets say that because you live in the rural area you do, you and your guys work "in the City", more than 20 miles away. Leaving, maybe.. if you're lucky 2 or 3 guys in the Home area, able to respond to most things. That is of course during a working day.

    Lets go one step further.... its in the evening, when most nights you could count on better than 10 to respond to any given alarm. Now you've just lost over 1/2 of your manning pool. Which means IF YOUR LUCKY, 5 or 6 guys are able to respond to that same alarm, where you could have had 15.

    Ask me again, about turning your back on the community. And think about this question from the view point of the family or patient that we are expected to serve, to the best of our abilities.

    Lets say it was your elderly neighbour who called 911, and expected to see your smiling face. How are you going to feel when you find out he/she DFO'd, and became DRT because no one came?

    I know how I would feel and I know what I had to do when the situation did occur.




    Sadly...B-T-D-T-G-Tshirt - ya want it, cuz I'd rather not have it.
    So they are obligated to serve in the department under conditions that they don't favor because no one else in the community has the desire to help out, even though they have already put in an average of 10 years each serving their community? It doesn't make sense to me, sorry.

    And if half of the department is so upset that they quit, and the other half is on the fence about it, maybe a mistake was made.

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