Area firefighters who draw their salary, at least in part, from money paid out by the county, are hoping for a consequential pay hike once budgets are set for the next year. In Wendell, the fire department is supported through the county budget entirely, although much of that money comes from a fire tax levied by the county on the people who live in Wendell. In Garner, firefighters are paid with funding that comes from both the county and the town.
It’s a challenge for a small town department to keep good firefighters when the pay is well below market value as it is for firefighters paid for by the county. It’s even harder to keep those good firefighters when there are better paying jobs just a few miles away in cities like Raleigh or Cary.
Pay increases likely to be recommended by the Wake County Fire Commission – if approved by county commissioners as part of the budget – won’t make local firefighters rich, but the increase in pay will be noticeable in the firefighters’ personal budgets.
We read in the paper and see on television about the dangerous work firefighters do. There’s nothing safe about running into a burning building. Thankfully, that kind of event is the exception rather than the rule. These days, many calls to the local fire department involve helping rescue squad folks who are answering sick calls or rolling up to the scene of a car wreck, where the major part of their job is traffic control and cleaning up the mess.
While those tasks may not be all that dangerous, they are vitally important and I can imagine the people they are helping see the firefighter as nothing short of a godsend.
But here’s another thing, I know. I’ve worked at newspapers in seven different communities over the years, and firefighters, as a group, are the most genuine, down-to-earth people in each of those communities.
Most of them are good ol’ boys. They get a rush out of hearing the alarm and responding to a call. They are parts of a well-oiled machine when it comes time to do their job at the scene of a fire. And when they aren’t busy with the serious business of a firefighter, they believe in having a good time.
Over the years, I’ve seen firefighters in tears at the scene of a fatal car wreck. I’ve seen them laughing and carrying on at a local fairgrounds when they are competing in something akin to a Firefighter Olympics. I’ve seen them head to their training facility for an all-out party. I’ve seen them turn out in force on a Thanksgiving night to put out a fire in a local tobacco warehouse that was set by a group of juvenile delinquents who apparently had nothing better to do. And, I’ve seen them drive those great big, unwieldy fire trucks down the road in the middle of an ice storm when most of us wouldn’t dare try to get out and drive.
So, yes, I for one am pretty glad to see county officials recognizing a shortcoming and working to right the problem. It beats the daylights out of setting aside the same amount of money for some corporate entity who feels entitled to demand tax breaks in return for locating their business in our communities.
It’s hard to know what the true value of a firefighter is. Perhaps if we’ve been fortunate enough never to need the services of a local fire department, there may be some question about whether the raises are necessary.
Many people would likely say the pay increases being considered aren’t really enough. I’m sure those folks who have been helped by a firefighter at some point in their life would argue that the raises aren’t enough.