Recent headlines have been dominated by stories about honoring police when they are under fire, and fighting low teacher pay. However, one group is consistently left in the dust: first responders. Local firefighters and emergency medical technicians don’t get nearly enough coverage and credit–and its high time that changed.
Aside from the obvious fighting of fires, these brave men and women are always on the scene at car accidents, and assist during medical emergencies. In 2014, there were 783,300 volunteer firefighters in the United States, serving and protecting Americans — without even receiving a paycheck. “Until you put your life up as collateral for another life, you don’t know what lifesaving is about,” shares a firefighter in Detroit’s BURN documentary.
But a lack of sufficient funding has left first responders, over two-thirds of whom are volunteers, under-equipped as well as under-appreciated. For example, a local volunteer department in an area not too far from me, but which I am unable to name for reasons of confidentiality, up until last year was forced to use structural turnout gear that was over ten years old. This equipment was no longer compliant with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) which sets codes and standards by which fire departments must follow.
Firefighters who are paid can face threats to their jobs. In Lorrain, Ohio, the fire department relies heavily on public funding, but with a recent $1.4 million budget cut by the city council, twenty career firefighters stand to lose their jobs. In response, a tax levy was proposed just last week to fund the local fire department. A similar proposal was rejected by voters just five years ago, but Councilman Joshua Thornberry has launched a campaign titled “Firefighter’s Levy 2016” to secure support.
Counties and localities that lack sufficient funding–or the willingness to fund–their local fire departments are a major problem. Fuel and insurance for emergency vehicles, rent for department buildings, repair costs for vehicles and equipment, and training costs can quickly add up, surpassing the budgets provided by localities. Many departments turn to federal grants and funding alternatives, or take on fundraising efforts in order to cover these costs, both of which take even more work–whether it be paperwork to apply for grants, or man hours and supplies needed to raise funds.
Even massive political exposes about this problem can fail to produce results. Detroit, Michigan averages 500 arsons a month. Setting fires for profit has become an alarming problem in poverty-stricken Detroit, one which firefighters face on a frequent basis. In 2014, following the 2011 aforementioned Detriot BURN documentary, funding increased somewhat to expand the fleet of vehicles, but still failed to cover all needs.
What also remains difficult is finding answers to why our firefighters are not receiving the support they need, a problem that both Republicans and Democrats alike must address on a local level. We can get caught up in worrying about what current presidential candidates should hold office, but the fact of the matter is that, without first responders helping us locally, we may not even be here today.
Take the time to contact your local leaders in order to draw attention to this problem, and help support the first responders we take for granted.