Voters in Dunmore, Pennsylvania have spoken (http://www.firefighternation.com/forum/topics/referendum-vote-causes).
With a ‘no’ vote on a referendum to increase taxes to fund the fire department; you would wonder what factors determined the vote outcome and what lies ahead for the future of fire service to the town of Dunmore.
Does it appear that there is a public backlash occurring with the fire department?
What has been the relationship between the town and its firefighters?
Are there concerns by the voters that money earmarked for fire department purchases have not been spent wisely?
Were the voters expecting to see current services maintained with the failure of the referendum?
Was it clearly communicated that, without passage of the referendum, cuts would have to be made?
Did a misconception exist that services would come from other communities in order to maintain current levels of service?
Did the public understand exactly what a mutual aid agreement covers?
When fire departments get involved with referendums for whatever reasons, they are immediately invested at an emotional level. In my opinion the reason is simple; firefighters are passionate about what they do for their community and want their community to be just as passionate as they are.
The reality is that many in the community have no sense for what motivates their firefighters, because those issues are transparent to them.
On a typical day, firefighters won’t show outward or public emotion, believing that it is a sign of weakness and unprofessional. It is for this reason that I feel that the public will reject this uncommon display of emotion as ‘gamesmanship’ by the fire department to instill fear in their citizens and that will detract from any need-real or perceived.
The relationship, if one has been established between a fire department and their community, is very important.
People might see their firefighters in their fire department roles, but they must also see that firefighters share many of the same social and economic morays as they do.
Voters want to see firefighters as productive citizens in their communities, whether it is at sporting events, church or other civic/community events. They don’t want to see their firefighters in trouble with the law or with their mortgage lender.
Some may expect a higher moral code for their firefighters, but not a higher level of entitlement.
In other words; citizens expect firefighters to BE better, but will not treat them as ‘better’. And if firefighters have been given preferential treatment-real or perceived-then backlash will also occur.
Open houses at the fire station are a key to establishing need for equipment and justification for its purchase. Having recently, purchased equipment on display with firefighters ready to answer questions is the best response to questions of spending practices.
The public needs to know that their tax money is going for needed equipment and that fundraiser and donations will be used to raise money for additional equipment and items from a ‘wish list’.
However; holding fundraisers and then showing up in new fire department logo clothing such as polo shirts, coats and hats can send the wrong message, even if members personally paid for the clothing. This is an example of bad timing that gives the appearance of impropriety that could lead to public apathy towards the fire department. In this case, much will be made about it and the department will find itself defending themselves from misguided public perception because of a lack of communication.
Many small departments see very few structural fires and have more than likely expanded services to include vehicle extrication and first response to medical calls, even though taxes have only been collected for fire protection. Unless the fire department is charging non-residents, then more than likely, revenue has not kept pace with expenditures.
Residents will often miss the more subtle calls and will only notice that there aren’t many fires, which in their minds, means that there isn’t as much of a need to fund fire protection beyond current levels or quite possibly, reducing it.
Do we establish a sense of betrayal with our public when they discover the costs that allow firefighters to pursue their dream for the best job in the world?
If firefighters project an uncommon passion for their occupation, does it somehow create an expectation by the public that we would do it for nothing or very little?
Do they take us at our word that we will continue to serve no matter how tough things get?
Getting assistance from neighboring communities in the form of mutual aid has always been the answer in towns where the event grew to larger than local resources could manage. Mutual aid was never intended as a ‘stop gap’ measure for budget constraints.
‘Mutual’ means that there is an expectation that reciprocity of effort is shared by communities and that mutually benefits the area.
In my opinion, you are going to see fire departments offer services on a contract basis to communities who are making cuts in programs.
At the very least, you may see departments voiding MA agreements and in turn, billing for services.
Regardless; neighboring communities will not allow the expense of their services to increase as their neighbors decrease and relying on mutual aid to fill that gap.
It might very well create feelings of protectionism and isolationism that is reminiscent of the 1950s.
A few months ago, Mike Ward asked if the fire service was the next ‘tea party’.
I will ask, “Could we have ‘Dunmore’?”
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