There is a column in yesterday’s Las Vegas Review-Journal by John L. Smith that is well worth reading. Some of it may be true, none of it may be true, or all of it may be true. It really doesn’t matter at this point and I am not here to argue those issues. Why I think you should read it is because it sums up the perception many political leaders and a portion of the public have of firefighters today. The column gives Smith’s view of where the image of Clark County firefighters currently sits following a long, ugly battle over wages and benefits.
Ten-days-ago I was in Phoenix speaking at the IAFF and IAFC Labor-Management Initiative (LMI). Besides my talks on building reputation equity, I did a lot of listening. I was quite impressed with the group there. A lot of fire chiefs and union leaders who realize they need to be working together as much as possible to deal with the continuing assaults on their budgets and ultimately their safety. At the same time firefighters are looking at what this movement attacking pensions means for their economic future. And fire chiefs are concerned that pension losses could reduce their ability to hold on to people they’ve spent a lot of time and money to train. I encourage you attend LMI next year.
But back to this column. It will be easy for many of you to read it and be angry. Some will say screw John Smith for being anti-firefighter. That visceral reaction is understandable. Unfortunately this isn’t just Smith’s impression and it isn’t just isolated to one county in Nevada. Hopefully after you calm down you will realize this is what you are up against and you need to do something about it.
I am hoping smart fire service leaders across the country are looking at this and trying to prevent it from happening in their communities. Working together as labor and management, as those in Phoenix were doing, is a probably a good way to start.
The real challenge is figuring out how to connect with your community to help them see that firefighters are still the same people who were their heroes almost ten-years-ago when the unthinkable happened.
In fact, Smith starts out his column by saying, “It wasn’t so long ago that just about everyone adored local firefighters.” Here are some other excerpts (but make sure you click here to read the whole thing):
Consider that love affair a thing of the past. County firefighters and their union representatives have only themselves to blame. By their arrogance and greed, they invited the scrutiny and criticism of their hog-fat contract that haunts them now that an arbitrator has sided with Clark County in its contract negotiations with International Association of Firefighters Local 1908. (The new contract calls for $7.4 million in wage and benefit cuts. The union had offered $6.1 million in cuts.)
The department fiddled while Southern Nevada’s economy burned. Union president Ryan Beaman has the unenviable task of trying to spin an embarrassing defeat in a positive light. Good luck, pal.
If they’re ever going to repair their badly damaged image, county fire representatives should start by accepting responsibility for their own mistakes. The greed and arrogance hang heavy in the air.
County firefighters are forfeiting more than salary and benefits. They’re throwing away the trust and respect of the public.