Let’s really honor our firefighters … with pay raises

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 28, 2001

The leaps the human brain can make in the course of a few minutes is truly amazing. While heading home Christmas Eve, between singing along to bits of &uot;Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree&uot; on the radio, one thought struck me: What a bunch of hypocrites we are.

Now I know what you’re thinking: I’m about to go off on some tangent about the commercialism of Christmas and how many of us ignore the true meaning of the holiday.

Nope, I want to talk about something that is equally troubling to me – the way we’re treating firefighters.

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In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, when the New York Fire Department lost hundreds of its firefighters, those men and women who risk all to save life and property have been put on a pedestal – and rightfully so.

Anyone who has ever been to a large fire or, God forbid, has ever been trapped by such a fire should already have great respect for firefighters.

They do incredible things and do so often in spite of the danger to themselves.

It is that image of the brave heroes that has changed the way many Americans look at firefighters and to a lesser degree, police officers, too.

But what is sad is we haven’t put our money where are mouths are. Firefighters across America, and here in Natchez, are paid a pittance of what they deserve.

Think about their job description.

Wanted: Bright men and women who enjoy long periods of boredom sporadically interrupted by sheer terror. Must be prepared to work 24 hours a day, if required. This job offers absolutely no guarantees of safety or even a predictable workday – ever. At any given moment applicant may be required to drop his or her fork and rush to scene. Once there, as others are running away, applicant must run toward the danger. Hazardous duty isn’t an option; it’s the norm.

Sound enticing?

Certainly not to me, though the lead-footed teen in me would love to be able to cut through traffic with a siren and red lights, but that’s where my jealousy ends.

Who in their right minds would want to take those risks and do so for almost nothing in return?

Sept. 11 reaffirmed Americans’ respect for the work firefighters do. Firefighters have our respect, but we still need to show them our gratitude.

The starting pay for a rookie Natchez firefighter is around $20,000. Many firefighters must take a second job to help support their families.

These guys deserve more pay. And so do law enforcement officers, for that matter. Until you’ve seen firefighters or police working under extreme conditions, you don’t realize how difficult they work.

Hopefully, when the city and county holds those budget hearings that few people ever seem to attend, residents will remember the emotions and sense of gratitude they felt after seeing the New York firefighters raise the American flag in a scene reminiscent of the Iwo Jima flag raising during World War II.

Perhaps if we put those emotions into perspective, firefighters, from New York City to Natchez, will begin earning the pay they deserve.

Kevin Cooper is editor of The Democrat. He can be reached at (601) 445-3541 or by e-mail to kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.