I really have enormous sympathy and compassion for the 13 firefighters indicted in the Cleveland scandal. Clearly, some of them got caught up in a bad system and now it looks like they will likely pay a big price (click here for the details). The only way I can see a system like this thriving for so long is that people above the grade of firefighter had knowledge. How else does a firefighter not report to work for more than four years, pay someone to take his place and, until recently, get away with it?
But some aren’t going to like what else I have to say about this mess. I apologize ahead of time for getting on my soap box and preaching, but here goes.
There are quite a few comments on Facebook and elsewhere from firefighters defending the indefensible. No, it’s not okay to subcontract out your job as a firefighter and it’s not okay to receive that money and not pay taxes. And it probably isn’t okay to be earning credit toward your pension when you don’t bother to show up to do your job. What these firefighters are being charged with is a lot more than simple shift swapping and the public isn’t going to have any sympathy for you.
Firefighters often rightfully point out the citizens don’t understand their job. But defending this blindly has me thinking, in this case, too many firefighters don’t understand the rest of the world and how it looks to the people who pay their salaries. Step back from it for a moment and pretend you are the average taxpayer who knows nothing about the fire service. Do you get it?
This should be a wake-up call to anywhere else in the country that has similar practices occurring. Actually that wake-up call should have happened with the first news coverage of this, well before the indictments.
As I’ve pointed out numerous times in recent years, there has been a clear pattern to these stories that has coincided with the nation’s economic woes. I have seen the same stories in city after city. It often starts with a politician focusing on reining in firefighter overtime and benefits and leaking his or her findings to a reporter. Then, other somewhat related issues and stories are suddenly “uncovered”. And there is always that one case, like the guy away from the job for years in Cleveland, that is so out there, that it fuels outrage in the community.
My warning when I first discussed this pattern was to clean it up before it becomes news about your fire department. There will be people watching what happens in Cleveland. If you have similar issues in your department, clean it up now before someone makes a criminal case out of it.
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