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My first June commentary speaks to the perception that firefighters are not worth the money and benefits they have fought so hard to obtain - and to the epiphany when the contrary is realized.

In short, last November Ohio defeated SB5 which would have severely limited the bargaining procedures of public employee unions. This only after a lofty battle by the State’s teachers, firefighters, police officers, and other public employees to get the bill placed on the November ballot. In Ohio’s case, the public stepped up and supported the right of these professionals to negotiate their futures. However, on June 5th, Wisconsin re-elected Gov. Scott Walker who has demonstrated a blatant hostility toward public employee unions in a heated recall election. Is this going to be a continuing trend of public employee unions in constant battle with State lawmakers across the country? You bet! And how will the public react if these issues reach a voter’s ballot? It's hard to say - but if current economic hardships continue, it may not bode well for the unions.

(And before I continue, I am going to say up front that I am not a union member and do not work for a union fire department.)

In general, the public has a very favorable opinion of the fire service. But in these hard economic times, they often see firefighters as strong-arming their local municipality to take more than their fare share of the public's hard earned tax dollars. What's more, nasty contract negotiations always hurt the image of the fire service much more than the image of the politicians who know all too well how to spin the situation.

Not all contracts are good for the cities involved, and yes, the municipalities have the right to ask for concessions and re-negotiations when the current contract is a finical burden in times of dwindling tax revenue. But I will fight to the last man to preserve the right to negotiate those contracts and not have terms dictated by politicians who may not have the firefighter's livelihood, profession, and/or safety as their main interests.

All this being said, if firefighters are to retain their good spirits with the public, and have a fighting chance when these attacks on public employee unions hit the ballot, then a strong positive public relations campaign needs to be initiated now. Because if your image is of a union thug, the public will surely let you know when it's time to vote!

I am sure there are many views and opinions on this subject... please feel free to add yours to the conversation.

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Comment by Jonah Smith on June 18, 2012 at 1:17pm

Another Home Run Paul.  Thanks for your unwavering support of the fire service community.  Statements and commentary like that from above are too often overlooked by the public and even the fire service.

Comment by Rommie L Duckworth on June 18, 2012 at 1:05pm

Excellent illustration and commentary of a difficult subject. The political rhetoric on both sides will sway some, and leave others with a bad opinion of the politicians, the firefighters or both. The key point that we need to stay focused on "the right to negotiate those contracts and not have terms dictated by politicians who may not have the firefighter's livelihood, profession, and/or safety as their main interests.” We appreciate your work Paul, and I, for one, will be sharing this image with as much of the public as I can. Perhaps it will help at least a few to achieve some clarity of thought when it comes to "who we are, what we do and why” in the fire service. Thank you.

Comment by Paul Combs on June 18, 2012 at 10:03am

Thanks, Chief - just read your latest blog and couldn't agree more! For those of you who have not had a chance to read it, here's the link:

http://www.fireengineering.com/blogs/blognetwork/john-k-murphy/2012...

Comment by John K. Murphy on June 18, 2012 at 9:53am

Right on Paul. There has been some recent voting in California that is affecting firefighter pensions along with  other acts of reducing staff and stations. I do not think the public actually realizes the danger they face with these reductions. In spite of those setbacks, we continue to respond to all calls. When we don't show up one time and someone dies, the blame is placed squarely on the backs of the firefighters not the elected officials. The fire services need a good Public Relations message that if repeated often enough, the public conscious light bulb may click on and there will be additional citizens standing alongside the firefighters to stop this erosion of public safety services. It is a shame that the profession is painted with the "thuggery" paintbrush. Nice job on this illustration.

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