Every time we are faced with a new emergency or pandemic, people feel the need to remind the world of who the “real heroes” are. We celebrate the actions and sacrifices of those who are on the front lines of emergencies and crises; nurses, police, sanitation workers, and yes, firefighters. For over two decades, I have been a professional firefighter, a job that often is grouped under that category of “real heroes”. I, however, have never once considered myself to be a hero. We firefighters do not want to be considered heroes - we want to be seen as professionals. We want our career to be seen for what it is; an incredibly tough and demanding job that deserves the same respect afforded to any other career, regardless of whether or not we are experiencing a national crisis.
Firefighters are required to complete hundreds of hours of training every year. We are required to respond to people at their worst of times every day. We are expected to be ready to leap into action every second. Whether it is 2 p.m. or 2 am, we have to be ready to make decisions that determine the outcomes of life-or-death situations at a moment’s notice. Despite the constant demand on our time and often our sanity, almost every firefighter you meet has a second job. We don't do it because we enjoy working all the time; we do it because it's the only way we can make ends meet. We did not sign up for accolades or awards; we signed up to serve and help others.
Yet how are we expected to serve and protect when the budgets give us no support or room to do so? Rarely are we the first ones thought of when spending arises. Yet, if unicorns were to ever fall out of the sky with little martians riding on them, Public Safety workers such as firefighters would be the first people to get the call, to get the information, and to be expected to fix the situation. We have to handle everything with whatever tools and education we may have. We are the first ones called when anything bad happens, no matter how few resources we have at our disposal. We are the first to be thought of in emergencies.
The one exception is that we are almost always the first on the list when decisions about budget cuts are being made, with extreme consequences to our safety and quality of life. Many of us cannot afford a relaxing and worry-free retirement at the age of sixty-two, despite the fact that our bodies often beg for us to retire from fire-fighting long before this. For the work that we do, for the sacrifices that we make, for the danger that we put we put our hearts and bodies through every day in order to insure your safety, we are given mere scraps from budget plans.
It is time for a new approach when it comes to Public Safety. It is time that we Public Safety workers are considered and appreciated outside of emergencies and pandemics. Cities and counties need to rethink their budgeting process and ensure that their First Responders are a top priority. None of us signed up to get rich. None of us signed up to buy huge houses. And none of us signed up to be called Heroes. We signed up to save lives, and we work hard to receive the same respect and consideration of those working in other equally admirable career paths. So stop throwing around the word “hero” as if it will somehow provide the same comfort to us as a stable income, or the same validation as having our careers taken seriously. Stop calling us “heroes” as if that word will make up for all that has been denied to us. We are not Heroes; we are professionals, and that's how we wish to be treated.