The video above, by Charlie Hannagan at Syracuse.com, is from Firefighter Memorial Park in Syracuse, New York. On this day in 1939 the Collins Block building collapsed taking the lives of eight firefighters and an assistant chief who died three days later. With this memorial service, the Syracuse Fire Department each year honors all of the city’s firefighters who have died in the line of duty. Currently that number is 45.
What isn’t on the video, but is the focus of an article by Hannagan, are the speeches by Chief Mark McLees and IAFF Local 280 president James Ennis. Each man takes the opportunity to remind political leaders and the public that we are the same ”hometown heroes” who were held in such high esteem after 9-11. They address the budget cuts impacting safety and the attacks on firefighter pensions. An important message that needs to be heard all across the country.
But will the citizens and the politicians listen?
It is extremely tough out there right now for firefighters. It isn’t just that you are often losing these economic battles. That’s horrible in itself and is having a devastating impact on scores of departments. It is the image and reputation of firefighters that is also taking a hit. This week alone, on opposite sides of the country, firefighters are making big news with some very unflattering stories about their work ethic (click here and here).
As I pointed out earlier in the week, I am not here to argue the facts of any of these stories. It is the bigger picture that has me worried. Chief McLees and President Ennis are on the right track, but so much more needs to be done. Make sure you read the comments already popping up about their statements to get the full picture of what’s out there.
Today, “the economy has bottomed out. The government has bailed out Wall Street, the banks, the automobile, insurance and housing industries. Firefighters’ pensions are now being blamed for the financial woes of the state and many other states across the nation,” he (Chief McLees) said.
“Are you kidding me? Firefighters’ pensions are the cause? Seriously?” McLees said.
“The last time I checked there was no plaque with the names of bankers who died in the line of duty. There are no statues of Wall Street executives who laid down their lives for total strangers,” he said.
James Ennis, president of Syracuse Firefighters Local 280, continued on the same theme.
“In these extremely difficult economic times, when pundits and others may argue about the number of firefighters needed to safely operate at a working fire, or complain about the pensions and benefits we receive, I remind you of the 45 brave men whose memories we honor here this morning,” Ennis said.
“I ask, and implore, that you assist us from ever having to add yet another name to the wall behind me,” he said.
Ennis then reminded those present that firefighters and retirees face a shortened life expectancy, a greater risk of getting cancer and other diseases because of their continued exposure to smoke, toxins and other byproducts of combustion in the course of their careers.