It takes a lot of intestinal fortitude to question certain professions these days.
Who wants to put their child's teacher on the spot? What? And jeopardize a possible A on the next report card? Or how about taking a shot across the bow of doctors or nurses, knowing that you might be the one needing a visit to the hospital near you very soon?
Of course, they're professionals, so we wouldn't expect them to not fulfill their honour-bound duties to the absolute best of their abilities. Still, the average person would think long and hard before speaking up about concerns they might have.
Also falling into this category are firefighters, the ones you like to see coming if your house is ablaze. Hopefully they're glad to see you, too, which might make one wonder aloud if they should question how much they make for what they actually do.
In a recent column in The Globe and Mail titled 'How firefighters fan the flames of fear,' Margaret Wente held firefighters' feet to the fire.
She started out with this: "What happens if your city dares to cut the fire department budget? Easy: Children will die. Maybe even yours."
"We like to think of firefighters as brave men who rush into burning buildings and risk their lives to save others," she continues. "And so they do - once in a while. These days, the overwhelming majority of their work is responding to medical emergencies - many of them non-life threatening, such as picking up elderly people who have fallen down. .. But firefighters have to justify their existence. So they race to the scene because they can often get there a few minutes faster than the paramedics can. The evidence that this faster response saves lives is scant to non-existent.
"And when paramedics show up two minutes later, then what? Well, the firefighters can always direct traffic."
The same could be said here. Also, construction companies have long voiced their displeasure with some local firefighters who also build houses and compete with them. Wente goes on to say that in most jurisdictions in North America, only two to five per cent of calls to fire departments are actual fire emergencies. And that across the United States, "the firefighters' gravy train is crashing to a halt as municipalities run out of money. Some smaller cities are amalgamating services, and some are contracting out."
We could do that here, or reintroduce volunteer fire departments. We've done it before, and they are much less expensive.
Nanaimo won the right in court to use Vancouver firefighters as their comparable pay scale. The Union of B.C. Municipalities has a resolution to consider at its September convention calling for the provincial government to provide direction to arbitrators in regards to local government decisions, asking that "arbitrators not 'impose parity' or 'near parity' with Vancouver firefighters' on collective bargaining taking place outside of Vancouver."
So, as we look abroad and see the financial crises across the world, most notably Greece, where public sector wages and pensions are so far out of line with the realities of the private sector and taxpayers' ability to pay, this is a problem that is slowly but surely coming to a neighbourhood near us.
In one sense we might say good for them, as they take advantage of civic governments who have forfeited the strength to say no.
When wages are vastly higher than those of citizens who pay the freight, that is not sustainable. Firefighters may win this battle, but may end up hosing themselves in the long term.
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