As the Moulin Rouge burns: How much is enough when it comes to firefighter pay?


 

The caller instructed me to look out the window and across the street.

I replied that our building has no external windows, but that I had been outside, seen the smoke and was fully aware the vacant Moulin Rouge casino was ablaze again.

In a rather agitated manner, the gentleman informed me he was a firefighter. I took him at his word. He proceeded to excitedly upbraid me and the newspaper for our consistent criticism of local government’s awarding of double-digit annual pay and benefits increases to unionized public employees — the firefighters usually being among the most richly rewarded of these.

How much is it worth when your business or home is on fire and you want a rapid response? he asked in so many words. He asked if in my job there was a chance I might not survive any given day. He asked what it is worth to have an EMT rapidly arrive if my wife were having a heart attack.

Everything, I answered, wondering if there was a veiled threat to not show up if I failed to accede to the union demands.

But he could not seem to so easily find a price tag when I was asking the questions. Would he do his job for $75,000 a year instead of $125,000? If it is so vital and impossible to value, would $500,000 be enough? Why don’t we ingrate taxpayers simply give the firefighters everything we own in thanks for saving our worthless hides day in and day out while risking their own?

I asked, why do the police and firefighters in Clark County have to be among the top paid first responders in the nation? They are, you know. It was in all the papers. Are their jobs that much more dangerous or vital here than elsewhere?

Then he falsely accused the newspaper of “constantly attacking firefighters.”

That got my dander up, and perhaps caused me to become just as excitable as the caller. “We have never attacked firefighters. Never. (OK, we did call the leadership of the county firefighters selfish brats for refusing to even consider salary concessions during this recession in which taxpayers are being pounded like baby seals. But is that really attacking?) We have questioned the commissioners and council members who have awarded consistently high pay raises,” I said.

We have questioned how much is enough. At what point will the compounded pay increases consume the entire gross domestic product of the local governments?

I’m sorry, the job of firefighter is important, even vital. But we put prices on everything. To say we must pay every penny the unions demand, and like it, is not negotiating. It is extortion.