They say you can’t put a price on safety, we beg to differ. In fact, the New Jersey State FMBA, which represents more than 5,000 professional firefighters, EMTs and emergency dispatchers has painstakingly done the math to let taxpayers across the state know exactly how much having the benefit of full time fire protection costs them.
It seems Jim Perskie, former Editorial Page Editor of the Press of Atlantic City also believes you can put a price on safety, $10 an hour. In his piece recently posted by PolitickerNJ, Mr. Perskie advocates for a proposal to expand the ranks of the Atlantic City Fire Department by hiring local residents to serve in this dangerous position at less than a living wage.
Imagine, while low wage workers and those that truly support the concept of the American Dream have sounded the rallying cry for raising hourly pay to at least $15 nationwide, Mr. Perskie believes it is right and proper to put brave residents in harm’s way on a daily basis for a lower pay than a casino worker, gift shop cashier, or nightclub hostess. This doesn’t seem like a sensible approach to breaking the cycle of poverty, or building stronger communities in Atlantic City.
Having read and reread this piece several times, I still maintain a glimmer of hope that Mr. Perskie wrote it tongue in cheek. Surely, a gifted writer who has proven his ability to help shape the debate on many important public policy issues doesn’t truly believe that a Nucky Thompson type job fair is the solution to Atlantic City’s woes. While common ground on a plan to put Atlantic City back on a path to financial strength must be found, I sound the alarm loudly at any proposal, serious or not, that jeopardizes health and public safety as this one does.
For the purpose of defending the positions, ability and full time commitment of the professional firefighters across this state I have the honor of representing, and in the interest of the reader’s time, I’ll refrain from sharing my own opinion on how we can recast Atlantic City as the jewel of the Eastern seaboard it can and should be. Instead, I’ll offer a few thoughts on what it takes to keep those we are tasked with protecting safe.
Like most other workers, each and every day a professional firefighter leaves home to report to work not knowing what the day may bring. However, for firefighters this uncertainty is a difference between life and death. Coming face to face with a fallen electric wire that could send enough voltage through his body to fry his insides, running into a burning home to search for and rescue the small child paralyzed by fear of smoke and flames, entering a partially collapsed building to search for anyone still trapped inside as the foundation under him continues to crumble. These are not extreme examples, but the day to day reality of being a professional firefighter. Not to sound over dramatic, but each shift, unlike most other jobs, could quite literally be their last.
To be clear also, these are not the types of events that you solve simply by sending more firefighters into harm’s way. Undoubtedly Mr. Perskie would agree that it is not just about the number of firefighters that respond to an emergency, but also the quality. Every professional firefighter I represent and have the honor of serving with goes through rigorous and continuous training, staying on top of the latest firefighting and lifesaving techniques that we are asked to call on during any given shift.
I don’t write this response to Mr. Perskie in hopes of earning his respect or seeking the compassion of those that read this. To be sure, firefighters are very much aware of the risks we face on the job we signed up for. And I challenge anyone who does read this piece to find a professional firefighter who does the job for the pay. I don’t belittle the fact that professional firefighters are compensated by taxpayers. I do take exception with the stunningly dangerous and misguided proposal Mr. Perskie puts forth.
I also write this because the rhetoric he espouses, that professional firefighters, along with law enforcement, are part of the problem is getting old. Most agree that we provide a necessary and affordable asset to every community we serve. And like teachers, residents do want to know that their local governments are providing the very best fire and police service possible. All New Jersey residents deserve nothing less than highly trained professional public safety personnel to protect them. As a career firefighter, and President of the NJ FMBA, I’m proud to be part of that protection, and as a taxpayer, I demand nothing less of my own elected officials.
In conclusion, in case you were wondering what the price is of safety as it relates to professional fire and EMS services in your community please visit www.njpropertytaxfacts.org.
President, NJ FMBA