Recently I read an article by Jeffrey Polet in Bridge, taking aim at fire fighters. Polet, a professor of political science at Hope College, seemed to belittle public safety programs in America. In the article he made reference to Holland, the Michigan town where I live.
At 65, I have come to believe there is a huge difference between knowledge and wisdom. Polet views the dynamics of our community as a boxing match between local government and public safety, i.e., police and fire protection. The residents of Holland have time and again made it clear they want a strong public-safety organization. I agree that times have changed, but I know first-hand that public safety is finding ways to meet new challenges and demands.
With 36 years as an active member of the Holland Fire Department, let me enlighten you. I am what they now refer to as “paid on call,” formerly known as volunteer. This past month I answered nine fire calls and attended two training sessions – on hazardous materials and how to handle emergency situations in the community.
My department stands ready to protect not only homeowners and their belongings, but also industry, an airport, highway travelers, water rescue and the list goes on.
Polet’s issues with the cost of public safety reflect a lack of even basic common sense, let alone knowledge. As local firefighters we have made adjustments. I now receive less in paid compensation today than when I started 36 years ago, I am on call 24-7 every day of the year, expected to do more and face much more serious health risk than in past years. I’ve been called out in the middle of the night many times. At one time we had a benefits package, but not any more.
I, along with my fellow firefighters, are committed to protect because we believe in community. I suggest Polet move to a location where local government allows one to opt out of protection from public safety. They do exist!
But I believe my community and our local government has the wisdom to value and manage a strong public safety program.
Larry Sybesma is a retired auto dealer who has worked as a volunteer firefighter in Holland for 36 years.