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Critics of firefighter pay should try doing the job

After reading articles from bean counters such as Glenn Cook and Geoffrey Lawrence in your Viewpoints section about the overpaid, narcissistic Clark County firefighters, I can no longer remain silent on the subject. You see, I worked for the Clark County Fire Department for 30 years and am very proud of both the department and its hard-working members. So I trust that includes me as one of those overpaid retirees.

I must admit, their statistics concerning our pay and retirement were impressive, and must have taken many minutes of labor at the computer to acquire. But they dealt only with dollars and cents. Nothing of the human aspect of the job. Frankly, they sound like disgruntled, underpaid complainers, with little talent but to sit in front of their computers, pointing, clicking and criticizing while suffering a severe case of sour grapes.

After reading their articles, I suppose I should feel guilty for having drawn a decent salary, (it hasn’t always been that great) and subsequent retirement. But I don’t. Here’s why.

I was hired in 1974, and I netted about $600 for two weeks and I thought I’d hit the job jackpot. I was extremely grateful then, as today, to Clark County for hiring me. I’ll never be rich, I thought, but that’s OK. I loved my job and co-workers.

Back then, there was a lot of free time in the 24-hour shifts at the station, and firefighters did little else but put out fires. Today, it’s a different world, and nothing could be further from the truth. There are not enough hours in the day to do what needs to be done.

The training is never ending. Fire hose drill requirements both day and night. Medical certifications and recertifications, refresher courses, hazardous materials training, school fire drills, hydrant servicing, business pre-planning and inspecting, to mention a few.

Medical responses vastly outnumber fire calls, and the calls in general are far more diverse. Suspicious items, white powder investigations, chemical odors and spills, assaults, shootings, stabbings and every type of accident imaginable, both industrial and in the home. Placed in harm’s way from many occurrences, not just fire.

Their statistics make no mention of the stress endured, or the career-long sleep-pattern disruptions from being awakened by the alarms in the middle of the night along with the adrenalin rush that goes with it, or the visual and mental overload that one gets from the constant exposure to injuries, death and destruction.

Those writers have probably never carried a half-dead child from a burning house. Nor have they done CPR on someone while the hysterical family watched only to have them die later despite our best efforts. Nor have they sat in full gear for sometimes an hour or more in 115-degree heat simply awaiting an assignment, if not actually firefighting. Nor comforted in their arms a crying person who just lost everything they owned.

Those writers probably wouldn’t go out of their way to expose themselves to projectile vomit, or blood, or tuberculosis, or HIV, or hepatitis, pneumonia and other diseases and illnesses, as firefighters do in the normal course of their duties. Nowhere in their stats did they mention the debilitating injuries incurred, most of which come after the fire is out during overhaul procedures. Their focus is everyone’s focus — money. Remember, firefighters pay taxes, too.

Of course there is overtime. It’s either that or hire more people, both of which are costly, and neither are desirable in these hard economic times. But failure to do one or the other presents even more of a danger to both firefighters and the public. So with that overtime comes not only the so-called exorbitant expense, but also exorbitant sacrifice in time away from family.

So Mr. Cook and Mr. Lawrence, if you don’t like it that we are paid well, and we have, as you say, overpaid retirements, then tough. Do something about it, if you have the stomach for it and are men enough. Then you, too, can and reap the reward of a secure retirement.

As for me, I refuse to feel guilty or apologize for something I was promised and worked long and hard to get. Especially when the salaries of professional athletes and many corporate CEOs are far more obscene.

Peter L. Haslehurst is a retired Clark County firefighter.

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