Watching the St. Johns County Commission meeting last night, I could not help but think what a mistake our professional firefighters made in 1998 when they decided to invite the AFL-CIO into their ranks.
Last night, the Commission approved a fire millage rate of 1.2 mills; which will net $1.8 million less than last year for Fire-Rescue. In my opinion they could have made good use of 1.3 mills — a figure that was discussed and, I believe, could have been earned had it not been for the IAFF “negotiators”.
The reduced millage could mean a loss of 12 firefighters and a halt to the department’s building program according to Chief Bobby Hall.
The vote on the fire millage rate was 3-2, with Vice Chair Ron Sanchez and Commissioner Phil Mays against.
Sanchez, was once a volunteer firefighter himself. He was obviously put out with the firefighter’s union last night because they were dancing around the direct question about whether or not the union was going to demand pay raises next year.
I was once a deputy in the sheriff’s reserve — serving as a volunteer. When I graduated the law enforcement academy, I was offered employment with the sheriff’s office as a full time employee earning $8,800 a year. I accepted but did not take the job because of the money. Had the job only paid $7,700 a year, I would have still accepted it. And, I took the job knowing that it only paid $8,800 a year so there was no need for me to start begging my sergeant for more money. I did then what many law enforcement officers do today when their agencies don’t have extra money for things that might make their job easier or them more comfortable — I simply bought them myself. If I didn’t have extra money, then I waited until I did.
St. Johns County underwent a gradual transfer from a 100% volunteer organization with only 5 paid inspectors to where we are today. There are still 2 or 3 active volunteers that I am aware of.
In the early 2000’s, when the list of well over 300 volunteers was examined for participation and response, it was discovered that there were less than 100 actual volunteers countywide.
In the following years increases were made in State training requirements for firefighters and paramedics and more volunteers dropped out.
According to county sources, as the paid staff continued to grow, professional firefighters began staffing the volunteer stations. The volunteers realized that the career staff was responding to all the calls and the volunteers began showing up only for actual fires or other major occurrences.
This volunteer support gradually died out which brings me to where we are today.
In a crisis, everyone has to make sacrifices, pitch in and share the load — we are in the midst of a real financial crisis.
Our libraries, school system, social services agencies and other public safety agencies all make effective use of fully qualified, trained and able-bodied volunteers as a force multiplier. The Sheriff maintains a fully certified reserve unit of sworn deputies as well as public service assistants who answer calls for service where a law enforcement officer may not be required.
Perhaps the county should consider what savings could be achieved by developing one or more volunteer units of certified firefighters and paramedics who could work alongside more seasoned personnel.
We pay our firefighters and paramedics whether they are battling a house fire or watching television in the fire house. The majority of their shift is not spent fighting fires. Staff reductions in full time employees, supplemented with fully certified part-time employees and volunteers could allow us to lower the cost of our fire service without risking lives or sacrificing response times.
Firefighters are essential to public safety as are law enforcement officers; however they are no better than the other people employed by our county who were told that next year there will be “no raise”.
The union organizers and agitators, some of whom do not live or pay taxes in St. Johns County, have done a disservice to the honorable image of a firefighter whose first duty is to save lives and property; lowering them to what some are now calling a prima-donna mob of gold diggers whose loyalty is coin-operated.