“Thank you for your service.”
During the 16 years I spent in the Canadian Armed Forces, I was the recipient of this heartfelt message a number of times. It was nice to hear, of course, but it often made me uncomfortable.
As far as I was concerned, I was simply doing my job — a job that paid well and came with good benefits, a pension plan and generous leave entitlements. When I was on extended training at some god-forsaken army base, my compensation was enhanced via field pay. When I was on operations in Afghanistan, I received danger pay and other financial incentives.
I gave a lot, yes. But I also got a lot.
So imagine my difficulty watching volunteer firefighters in Queens receive inadequate funding from local government and insufficient appreciation from the public. These folks deserve to be thanked for their service just like our military personnel. And that gratitude should be expressed not just in words, but in deeds as well.
Our volunteer firefighters serve us in many ways. They are not only first responders; they are often the only responders. They are on-call 24/7, 365 days a year and do tough, dirty and dangerous work that helps keep us safe. And they do all of this for zero pay, meagre benefits and little official recognition.
Facebook, the source of so much toxic “drama” in today’s world, provided a case in point a few days ago. Liverpool firefighters announced an increase in fees for filling wells and swimming pools and were met with less-than-courteous objections from several keyboard commandos.
I assume departments provide this service to offset the cost of firefighting equipment and operations. I also assume it is a joyless task on the best of days. But to have to do it in the face of public griping — that must be truly awful.
The endless requirement to raise funds must be exhausting for firefighters, ladies’ auxiliaries and others. Many people support the breakfasts and dinners, the “chase the ace” nights, the flea markets, the 50/50 draws and other events. But too many residents — including some sitting in our council chambers — pay only lip service, without offering more concrete support.
Whether they serve out of Caledonia, Greenfield, Mill Village, Port Medway or Liverpool, the men and women of our volunteer fire departments deserve better. They deserve better from municipal government, from local businesses and from the public at large.
Region of Queens council — members of which love getting their pictures taken in front of shiny red trucks — can and should do more for our volunteer firefighters.
Council should increase funding for training and operations. It should ensure every member has suitable personal protective equipment (bunker gear). It should provide annual or milestone honorarium payments. And it should also give free parking to firefighters, just like it has to military veterans.
Local businesses could provide much-deserved recognition and rewards to our firefighters by offering discounts for serving members and their families. (A little would go a long way in terms of thanking them and boosting their morale.)
Finally, residents of Queens can always do more. If you already do something to support our firefighters, consider helping just a tiny bit more. If you’re not chipping in, it’s time to start. If you don’t have money to donate, perhaps you have some time to offer.
We must always remember the demands placed on our firefighters and their families. We must also keep in mind they are volunteers doing their absolute best with limited funds and equipment.
If you have something negative to say about them, consider stepping away from your keyboard or putting down your phone. Otherwise, put on some bunker gear, strap on an oxygen tank and grab an axe or a hose. Then we’ll see what kind of complaints you have.