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What a quote...re: college education for firefighters

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  • #31
    I have had a running e-mail dialogue with Barbara Anderson since this whole flap began. I would say she may be uninformed about the nature of the job and the level of training that we receive as entry level firefighters, but after e-mailing with her I would say she is neither ignorant nor unwilling to listen. Perhaps those of you who sent less than professional sounding e-mails should re-evaluate how you respond to someone who says you are uneducated.

    By the way, I am not defending Ms Anderson's position and personally I think we should have equal educational rights with the cops.

    Take care and stay safe,



    • #32
      Originally posted by FFTrainer:
      I guess Ms. Anderson doesn't realize that Brawn and Courage alone will do nothing but increase your potential for injury at a fire scene. Only with Brawn, Courage and KNOWLEDGE can we succeed in our day to day duties of serving as FF's.
      I have to agree-take Lennie from Of Mice And Men. He had brawn, he had courage, he didn't have knowledge, and look where it got him.

      Althea Forhan


      • #33
        As part of my running e-mail exchange with Barbara Anderson she has sent me copies of her latest columns on Firefighters. I thought those of you who do not have access to papers that run her column might like to read what she had to say.

        I found them both interesting reading.

        Column #1:

        Column for the Salem Evening News

        by Barbara Anderson

        submitted March 2, 2001

        Help, I’m drowning! Somebody call 911!

        Oh, wait. The guys you’d reach at 911 are the ones who are sending the e-mail in which I am sinking. Never mind.

        It all started with a phone call from a reporter who was doing a story on Governor Cellucci’s proposal to extend a police benefit to firefighters.

        The police law provides raises for police officers who receive college degrees; the community pays half the increase, with the state picking up the rest. A recent Boston Globe story noted that the courses are not monitored by the state for quality or relevance, so I responded that the police program should be audited before it’s extended to another group.

        At some point in the conversation I also said, "Firefighters do their job because they have a certain amount of brawn and courage, things they probably don’t need an education for".

        If I had spoken more carefully, the phrase would have read, "Firefighters already do a great job in an arena that requires not only brawn and courage but basic intelligence; what’s broken that would be fixed by a college degree?"

        Things I have learned since the un-careful quote was sent to a firefighters e-mail list with a request to respond directly to me:

        1. Firefighters can be very thin-skinned. My new penpals accused me of calling them "uneducated muscleheads" and "brave blockheads"; one insisted I was equating them with TV wrestlers.

        Another said I made them sound like Lennie in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men: "a large, gentle, mentally retarded migrant worker". Actually, when someone says "firefighter", I think of Paul Newman. Don’t these guys know they are among the most admired people in our society?

        2. Some firefighters do have B.S. or associate degrees in fire science that they find invaluable in dealing with the complexities of modern firefighting: "hazardous materials, including toxic waste spills; emergency medicine, building construction, management of fire services and fire behavior".

        Yet career firefighting has always been one of the good jobs available to men who couldn’t afford or didn’t want to go to college. Should this change?

        3. According to a firefighter’s recent letter in the Wall Street Journal, "73% of the more than one million firefighters in the U.S. are volunteers". If that’s true, most firefighters don’t get regular paychecks at all, never mind increases due to college degrees. Still it is assumed they do a good job. Some men apparently fight fires for the same reason men race cars, explore everything from deep sea to deep space, and join the Marines.

        4. Here is the shocker. I thought that all firefighters get a basic education at firefighting school before they go on the job. However, in Massachusetts that education is sometimes called OJT -- on-the-job training. There is no state law that requires firefighters to attend the fire academy, which is a training building and tower in Stowe. Some do, some don’t, and some are on a waiting list for months – yet they still go out and fight fires.

        There’s a conundrum here. If the career and volunteer firefighters who contacted me are right, college courses are essential for both their safety and that of the public. Yet here in Massachusetts, recruits sometimes have no formal firefighting education but OJT; still we confidently trust them with our lives.

        I intend to seriously pursue this issue for a future column, but right now you may ask:

        After a week of corresponding with highly intelligent, eventually good-natured firefighters around the world, do I regret the statement that started it all?

        I wouldn’t have missed this for the world. A firefighter from New Zealand made a valiant effort to explain things to me: "What the speaker intends to convey may be very different from what the listener understands. Traditionally men have been similarly misunderstood when they have felt their reference to a woman’s nice (deleted) has been taken badly. Combine this with ‘not particularly bright, but she DOES have a great (deleted)’ and you come close to how the fire-fighters felt about your quoted comments."

        But in the end, they were merciful. I sent the really hostile ones over for my partner Chip Ford to deal with, and eventually one of them thought he had it all figured out. As he explained to the other firefighters on the e-mail list:

        "1. They’re civilians. If you think about all the stupid things civilians do, this really isn’t much of a reach. The other day on a rescue training I had a lady ask me, ‘If this were a real emergency, you guys would be doing this a lot quicker, right?’ I told her that if this were a real emergency, we wouldn’t have thrown the victim in the hole.

        "2. These people are as passionate about their politics as we are about fighting fire. Dumb as a box of rocks or not, they ARE bold enough to stand up for what they believe in."

        I consider that a major compliment, coming from a firefighter. Guess I’m not very thin-skinned myself.


        Column #2:

        Column by Barbara Anderson

        Firefighters, Part 2

        submitted March 5, 2001

        Since Governor Cellucci proposed extending the police higher education law to firefighters, I’ve communicated with firefighters and public officials in this and other states hoping to property inform readers of this column about the issue.

        Let’s start with two basic assumptions that I believe are held by most of us civilians.

        1. Public safety in general is the primary reason we have government. While we must always weigh risk vs. cost – it would be foolish to have a police bodyguard for every citizen and a fire station on every street – we should fund adequate public safety before we do anything else, or nothing else matters for long.

        2. Firefighters are heroes just for signing up, for being willing to do a job that can turn extremely dangerous. They must respond to not only fires, but hazardous waste spills, water and ice accidents, terrorism and earthquakes.

        Others of my assumptions, however, did not hold up. I had thought that all Massachusetts firefighters got basic training at the Firefighters Academy, before they arrived at the local firehouse to work.

        Fact: There is no state law requiring any training at all for firefighters. Unlike most professions from barber to nuclear physicist, firefighters do not need a license or degree of any kind to get a job. One cannot even go to the Fire Academy unless he first has been hired as a firefighter. There is presently a backlog for the 11 week basic course, and in some communities, recruits are working with just local training.

        A firefighter told me that in his northern U.S. state "the Department of Commerce has established rules for firefighters and among them are a requirement for all firefighters, whether career or volunteer, to have completed the minimum training program at a Vocational Adult Education College before engaging in interior firefighting operations. Many fire departments here set their own (higher) entry level requirements".

        I asked about privatization. One firefighter insisted that it doesn’t work, except perhaps where municipalities keep tight control. However, another e-mail came in from the west.

        "Privatized firefighting is alive and well in Scottsdale, AZ. I was employed by Rural/Metro in (another) County as a private fire fighter. Its Scottsdale operation went union about two years ago, but continues to be a much more cost-effective operation than conventional government-run fire departments... Rural/Metro has emergency services operations running from Canada to South America. Of note in the US are Crash/Fire/Rescue operations for the enormous FedEx hub in Memphis and fire protection and EMS for Knoxville County, TN."

        The Massachusetts political culture won’t allow privatization so there is no point in dwelling on this. The question is, will our mostly career, all-government firefighters get their own version of the police education benefit, giving them payraises and additional pensions as they receive college degrees?

        I would hate to see firefighting become a job that required a college education; much of the job is done now by blue-collar professionals and volunteers who are entirely competent. But some other aspects are more complex than they used to be and more specialized education is surely valuable. Massachusetts colleges offer fire science courses; these are not, however, controlled or monitored for content or value – which is exactly the problem with the police version of the higher education law.

        Also, as more fire departments are trained to do emergency medical runs and fire education, it’s important to make sure they’re not too busy to do the one thing no other department can do: fight fires.

        The first priority should be to make Fire Academy training mandatory before putting any recruit or civilian in harm’s way. The Academy is funded by the state through a charge on insurance companies, but if it needs to be expanded, state and local government should make sure public safety comes before sports stadiums or non-essential services.

        This does not mean giving police and fire unions everything they ask for: their pay and benefits should be driven by the marketplace, and the bottom-line fact is that there is no shortage of applicants for these jobs.

        Those who acquire additional skills should certainly be eligible, within the restrictions of the marketplace, for promotion and additional pay; I’ve never understood the thing about union group-negotiated pay rates. But then I’ve never understood union group-related work conditions either; in my private-sector world, each firefighter would negotiate his own pay, work hours and job requirements. Then we wouldn’t see the ugly sight we saw in Boston recently when firefighters unhappy with negotiations mobbed the mayor and spit at him and his wife.

        However, I do understand there is value in the present Knight-Brotherhood system that contributes to an esprit de corps within fire departments and among firefighters around the world. As one of them told me, "My Dad was a volunteer firefighter for as long as I can remember. It is very hard to explain what this job means to me, it is as much a calling as a job."

        Many people with higher educations and better-paying jobs would envy him that.


        I think she may have learned a thing or 2 from those of us who took the time to try and educate her.

        Take care and stay safe,



        • #34
          Kinda weird to see my smart *** comments quoted in a "big city" newspaper. Glad I wasn't quoted out of context.


          • #35

            She used a couple of quotes from things I told her too.

            Just as I suspected though, she wasn't ignorant, just uninformed.

            So what's your opinion of these columns?



            • #36
              I think she's sincere. I think she has a good outlook on this incident and apparently on life. As I stated earlier, I respect her passion for what she believes in. I believe both sides benefitted from the exchange.


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