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Firefighter Hero-Worship and Floridians’ Hypocrisy: When Public Employees Save Lives

| June 10, 2011

Hero-worshippers' smoke can be lethally hypocritical, too. (© FlaglerLive)

FlaglerLive Editor Pierre Tristam’s weekly commentaries are broadcast on WNZF on Fridays just after 9 a.m. Here’s this week’s.

There’s really been only one story in Flagler County in the past few weeks: The wildfires. I’ve had a chance to see the disaster up close a few times, and to see firefighters in action at several of the fires. These men and women’s valor can’t be overstated. Nor can the effort they’re putting out, though words really are cheap when trying to convey the magnificent work getting done out there, and the price being paid for it. County firefighters have had all leaves canceled. They’ve been working on mandatory 36-hour shifts for weeks, with no end in sight. As County Administrator Craig Coffey put it yesterday, “we’re at the end of our rope,” though somehow last week the same county administrator and his deputy, along with the Palm Coast city manager, thought it was fine to skip town and attend a conference at a posh resort in Clearwater. The conference was titled: “Making magic: how bold can government be?” Very bold, obviously.

But the fires have been a story of disconnects all around.

Click On:

Northeast and South Florida are in drought conditions. Fires aren’t raging only in Flagler, Volusia, St. Johns and Putnam. If you bring up the Division of Forestry’s map of wildfires in the state, not a single one of the division’s districts is spared, though northeast Florida has the bulk of them. So when is Gov. Rick Scott going to declare a state of emergency? It’s not just an alarmist designation. It’s a financial urgency for counties like Flagler, where the county fire department alone has been spending $40,000 a week just on overtime. That doesn’t include other costs. The county had a $350,000 reserve for this sort of disaster. But it’s burning through it. A disaster designation from the state would release more dollars and other forms of aid. But this is the Scott administration we’re talking about. It starts fires. It doesn’t put them out.

The Live Column

It’s not just the fires. The drought alone would warrant a disaster designation. The average water demand for the week a year ago in Palm Coast was 7.2 million gallons of water per day. Last week, it was 8.8 million gallons. That’s a 22 percent increase. The population hasn’t increased 22 percent. By some measures—labor force and school enrollment—it’s fallen by a percent or two. Richard Adams, the city’s public works director, attributes spiking water use directly to “extended drought conditions.” Last year then-Gov. Charlie Crist sought and got a federal disaster designation for Flagler and 34 other counties in response to a freeze and last year’s drought. He got it. Where’s Scott now? Probably scouting the location for his his next tea party spectacle.

There’s a local disconnect, too.

Flagler County firefighters have been battling wildfires since December, when the county’s burn ban was first declared, though  the first sizeable fire broke out in March with the 350-acre Old Brick Road blaze. Then in May it’s as if hell started franchising all over the western portion of the county, anchoring its most destructive business just west of Espanola. It’s been 13 years since Flagler County has seen anything that destructive. But to many people on the east side of the county the fires might as well be in another world, because the smoke hasn’t been blowing this way. Last week when smoke blew over Palm Coast for a day, a fireman told me that he got “a ton of calls” at his station—which never happens: people usually call 911—from people asking if there was a fire somewhere. He couldn’t believe it. People still have no clue, though those who do have been generous: at the county’s Emergency Operations Center yesterday, Flagler County’s Marine Corps League was dropping off crates of water for the firefighters, as many people have, doing their part for the cause.

Finally, there’s this inexcusable disconnect: those firefighters people fall in a heap to call heroes and lavish with praise are the same public employees, unionized employees, most of the same people and the lawmakers they elected just finished bashing, insulting, demeaning and robbing. They’re the same public employees whose unionizing rights have been under assault. The same public employees whose salaries have been cut. The same public employees whose health benefits have been sheared or premiums jacked up. And in Flagler County, they’re the same public employees who’ve gone without a raise for three years, yet who, when the fires aren’t burning, are blamed for everything wrong in government.

The disconnect is unreal. The hypocrisy is unreal. Get with it, people. Words are the cheapest commodity next to false flattery. Don’t just call these firefighters heroes. That’s meaningless. Here’s what would make a difference: quit trashing public employees. Quit trashing the unions that keep them strong. Quit voting for clueless lawmakers who trash either. And put your money where your hero-worship is for a change next time you think a tax cut is more important than paying for the men and women saving your property and your skin.

39 Responses for “Firefighter Hero-Worship and Floridians’ Hypocrisy: When Public Employees Save Lives”

  1. Justin says:

    And not one word of mention about the volunteer firefighters that put in more hours than the “paid” guys/girls,They only work 36 hours. The volunteers have been working 20 hour days every day! They called into their work so they could help the community. It just makes me sick!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Coming from a long line of firefighters, police officers and ironworkers – I salute you Mr. Tristam

  3. palmcoaster says:

    Justin we sure keep our volunteers firefighters guys/girls in our minds and hearts also. If you can suggest anyway we, the residents, can help them more in anyway showing our appreciation please let us know right here and now. What if they open a Volunteer Firefighters donation account in one of our friendliest local banks were a citizens contribution can be mailed to go and benefit our brave with any needs from financial help to equipment or supplies of their choice? Imagine at just one dollar donation per household just right there will be about 35,000 plus. The suggested won’t burden anyone…
    Thank you Flagler Live for telling it like it is, excellent editorial!!
    In 1998 the too long time taken by then Governor Chiles declaring state of emergency in this county in time (to save funds) and because of that not sending equipment and manpower to fight the fires, caused the burnt down of 76 Palm Coast homes, when in 1985 131 homes were lost. Is Rick Scott doing the same now? What about we all go and demonstrate in numbers at the county and city halls for this thug to send the help we “really need now and we are not getting yet?”
    Also these two, county and city managers need to pass by their leisure trips while this emergency ongoing. Maybe they went to “learn something new in order to sock it to us in the next “Economic Development Charade to be held again soon?”

  4. Jeanne Lowery says:

    Hurray for the article! Firefighters and Police are never thought of until someone needs them. The paid and volunteer workers need to be praised. And every single person in Flagler County should call , don’t write, CALL the Governer’s office today. Call 850-488-7146. Tell them you demand he help out the Countys fighting the wildfires. We need money to help fight the fires. Don’t wait until the fire is at your front door. We need help now so that it doesn’t make it that far. God Bless the firefighters (volunteers and paid) and all Emergency responders. There’s a lot of people helpling out. Thank goodness they don’t do it for the money, we would be in a world of hurt.

  5. lawabidingcitizen says:

    You lefties just don’t get. We’re against the unions, not the workers and the sooner they understand that it’s the unions who are their enemy not their bosses, us taxpayers, the better off we’ll all be. Unions, especially public sector ones, only have one raison d’être and that’s to confiscate money from workers to promote themselves and lefty politicians.

  6. Dorothea says:

    Justin, personally I applaud all the volunteers who assist the various fire departments and it’s likely that Pierre does as well. But that’s not the jist of this commentary. It’s about public employees and their unions getting the shaft from politicians and a certain segment of the electorate who think that public employees and unions are expendable. Where IS Governor Scott? Probably fiddling anti-public employee tunes at a tea party, while Florida burns.

  7. lawabidingcitizen says:

    Here’s an FYI from the far left blog, Politico, the NEA is taking 60 million of the dollars taxpayers paid teachers to teach our children and giving to Obama’s re-election campaign.

    ‘Nuff said.

  8. Mike says:

    A well-written piece that should (but, sadly, will not) alter the views of the big-mouthed egotistical jerks that seemingly plague the boards here. Policemen, firemen, and educators are the backbone of society, heralded only when convenient and it is brought to our attention how necessary their services are. And then these public employees are bashed at all other times. One must wonder what a strike among the firemen would cause right now? Just leave the citizens to their own devices and put out the blazes themselves. But these brave men and women will not stoop to these levels.

    They are too good for that. Are we?


  9. Career Firefihgter says:

    Justin, apparently you didn’t read the editorial or just ignored what it was about. Read it again and tell us how volunteers are effected by increased insurance premiums, attacks against our groups ( unions) that give us a collective voice, a Gov. who wants to completely dismantle retirement, (BTW remember that Florida’s retirement system is one of the most sustainable in the country) and a portion of the public that demonizes us while asking for more of us all the time. Now, don’t get me wrong, I value and appreciate Fire Rescue volunteers. My opinion is completely opposite than that of the IAFF who does not support volunteers. I think that volunteers supplement the lack of manpower and are a huge help. The IAFF sees volunteers as taking jobs away from career firefighters. With that being said, let me ask you a few questions. Are you insinuating that you and your work are more valuable than that of a career guy because it is volunteer? Career firefighters can’t choose not to come in and work the fires. (unless they want to loose money or their job) Can you? Lastly, why do you volunteer? Every time that I have volunteered, weather it be for the boot drive, participating in the MS walk, at my kids school, or any other event that I participate in, I have done so out of the kindness of my heart, because I wanted to make a difference or effect someone’s life in a positive manner. If you want recognition for your hard work, look into the eyes of the career guys standing next to you in the woods, or handing you a bottle of water, or looking out the back of the ambulance as they close the doors. That twinkle you see is them saying “Thanks!” AS ALWAYS, be safe and take care.

  10. Career Firefighter says:

    To all of the citizens who continue to support us and to those who have donated water and other supplies, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! ALL firefighters in this county (both career and volunteer) have worked very hard to protect you, your families and your property. We will continued to do so and see this current local state of emergency through to the end. (however long it may take) Your support and gratitude is greatly appreciated though not expected.

  11. Frances says:

    Excellent article!!!!

  12. SSDD says:

    I guess the difference between you and most is you look for the differences between volunteers and career firefighters and you personally are looking for something out of this. Most people don’t worry about whether you are getting paid or volunteering your time to do the job, they just see it getting done. Sure, I’ve seen how A LOT of the County Firefighters think they are so much better than anyone else because they work for Flagler County Fire Rescue. Guess what, you have the same training they do, oh and here’s a little tidbit, Before the fires 13 years ago in 1998, the ALMIGHTY Flagler County Fire Department did NOT exist… It was the fires that got it formed. Beofre then, the county did just fine with all VOLUNTEER fire stations except for Palm Coast’s 2 stations. Hell, I bet if it went back to that, I could only imagine the amount of money that county would save, and how much better all the fire departments would get along again without Petito’s political bullshit…

  13. Flagler Citizen says:

    I had heard, this afternoon, that they were evacuating homes in the Seminole Woods area. Does anyone know if this is true or not?

  14. palmcoaster says:

    I just called the 850-488-7146 and after some long ringing an assistant of Governor Rick Scott administration took my message to convey to the Governor for “declaring state of emergency and get the help needed in our county and all the other counties to control these fires”. Told them the IT in charge is Clay County John Ward . More residents should call as well. I will post if any, their reply.
    This map calls for estate of emergency now.

  15. Itchey says:

    There has been an out pouring of support for all of the firefighters from the citizens and business’s of palm Coast and Flagler County. Champs Help Association has volunteered and collected many things for the fire fighters.

    My question is? Wouldn’t the Governor react to a request from the County Commission to declare an emergency? I would think that would be the customary chain of Command right? Why have we heard nothing from the commission?

  16. Marci Davis Artist says:

    ka-ray’zie eh?

  17. Peggy Ellis says:

    You’re a voice in the wilderness, Pierre.

  18. Debra Nanus Bryant says:

    kuddos to you Pierre, for writing such a REAL story!

  19. concerned says:

    WE ARE ONE. I stand in solidarity with all public employees; teachers, fire fighters, nurses, construction workers, and all under attack by governors and state legislatures.

  20. Stefan Friedlander says:

    What about those who do this sames work without compensation. Its the volunteers that make a difference and most don’t complain

  21. Colleen Walsh Conklin says:

    Great story Pierre!!!

  22. David Morris says:


  23. mara says:

    THANK YOU, Mr. Tristam, for telling it like it is.

  24. seaturtle33 says:

    Hallelujah! Let the truth be told! THANK YOU to our firefighters.

  25. seaturtle33 says:

    Just for accuracy, while the volunteers serve an important role in helping to fight these fires, they are only a very small percentage of the firefighters out there. Their hard work is appreciated, but their numbers are few. Let’s not be caught up in arguing about who is doing more work, or who is getting recognized. Every person out there is playing a role and the important thing is that everyone work cohesively to contain these fires.

  26. John Newy says:

    I salute and admire all the hard and dangerous work the firefighters have been doing to protect our lives and property.. We as a community need to do more to support them. We take them for granted..until we need them…I thank all the brave men and woman that have been out there fighting these fires while we sit home nice and comfy, because of their actions..God Bless

  27. Steve Wood says:

    There needs to be NO talk of who is doing most of the work out there in the woods. IF A TREE FALLS or someone gets caught up in some FLASH OVER and DIES IT MAKES NO DIFFERENCE WHETHER THEY ARE VOLUNTEER OR CAREER THEY ARE JUST DEAD. Keep the FAITH GUYS AND GALS YOU BOTH ARE THE BEST IN MY BOOK AND I AM PROUD TO SAY I KNOW YOU. ( BRING ON THE RAIN.)

  28. Becky says:

    I don’t believe it’s bashing, to point out that we are running out of money, both the State and Federal levels, and across the board budget cuts will have to be made, as well as public employees having to increase the level of their contributions to retirement and health plans. We appreciate our public employees, and we appreciate the private sector. Until we all abide by the accepted ‘rules of debate’, there won’t be any meaningful understanding of what is happening fiscally, and what the future will bring without cuts in government spending.

  29. Justin says:

    Thank you palmcoaster, Jeanne Lowery, Stefan Friedlander, John Newy! You understand what I meant! For the rest, I am sorry for your ignorance. If you don’t understand, Go sign up and volunteer!

  30. NortonSmitty says:

    lawabiding, how can you possibly say you aren’t against workers, just the Unions. That’s like saying you love trees, it’s those goddamn forests you hate. You wingnuts make no sense, and are outraged at only whatever your handlers at Fox/GOP Inc. tell you should raise your blood pressure. If it wasn’t for bitter crotchety old farts like you, Rush and Hannity would still be on some AM local radio spinning Franki Valley records.

  31. Dorothea says:

    Becky, you did not mention increasing revenues. Is it too much to ask that the very wealthy contribute more rather than receiving all the tax breaks? You so-called fiscal conservatives are the ones who don’t have a meaningful understanding of fiscal responsibility and the problems brought on by those who don’t recognize that our best years, economically speaking, were when we all paid our fair share of taxes.

  32. mara says:

    Government is NOT A BUSINESS. That’s why it’s a GOVERNMENT. It is not a private enterprise–it was never meant to be one.

    Our first mistake was buying into that Reagan-era talking point. It’s been all downhill since.

    All these people who long for “The Good Old Days, When America Was Great” need to remember that when It Was Great, the top tax rate was something like 52%. If we’re to be “Great” again, EVERYONE NEEDS TO PAY IN THEIR DAMNED FAIR SHARE OF TAXES AND STOP COMPLAINING ABOUT IT.

    Because those taxes pay for these firemen, among other things. When will those hypocrites who want to eliminate Government altogether going to learn that when you make it smaller, people like the Firefighters end up costing you *more*? (see: overtime during wildfire season)

    Pay your taxes–that includes YOU, Big Business–and the firemen will continue being paid. This is not rocket science–it’s simply a matter of turning off the damned television and not regurgitating the lies on CNN or FOX…

  33. Kim says:

    THANK YOU to ALL firefighters and support personnel. God bless you all and prayers are being sent your way to stay safe.

  34. Ryan Langemeyer says:

    Dear Lawabiding… you can’t have it both ways: hate the unions but love the workers. The unions ARE the workers. If business owners and governments willingly and adequately compensated workers, unions would be unnecessary. Wages have been stagnate or dropping for a very long time; benefits have been reduced or eliminated; etc. etc. So, please, don’t try to rationalize your illogical line of thinking. Either you want your “heros” paid appropriately, or you don’t!

  35. Anonymous says:

    Of course since Thursday that I called Rick Scott and left a message for him with an administrative assistant, asking please to declare state of emergency..I never received a reply. To be expected anyway.
    I recall in the past contacting former Governor Charlie Christ and promptly I received a confirmation of reception. Welcome to the new Florida, on fire again Very smoke in the C section this morning…as alerted.

  36. mara says:

    Let’s send these dedicated firefighting heroes more than our thanks. Let’s fight this criminal governor who regularly hides from the press–and let’s fight the staff that protects him. Bombard his office with phone call requests until he rightfully declares a state of emergency for Flagler County:

    Office of Governor Rick Scott
    State of Florida
    The Capitol
    400 S. Monroe St.
    Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001

    (850) 488-7146
    (850) 487-0801 (fax)

  37. mara says:

    Becky, you really need to tell the whole story here. When EVERYONE pays their fair share of taxes, we’ll HAVE more money ACROSS THE BOARD.

    Tell your bosses in Tallahassee that we’re no longer buying the talking point/excuse that “across the board cuts” are needed. Stop the bashing of our public employees and stop the bashing of their paychecks.

    It is crap like this that is not “opinion” but state-sponsored brainwashing and you should be ashamed of yourself for falling for it.

  38. Brian says:

    I found this article while searching on ways that we could help, and how we could donate and where. This article seems to be more of a political hit piece than anything else. That’s fine, but a few references of how we can help the fire fighters could have gone a long ways. I guess I’ll just keep searching.

  39. Antoine Schatzman says:

    Hi! Someone in my Facebook group shared this website with us so I came to look it over. I’m definitely enjoying the information.

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