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cushy job, my ass

I don't know whether to thank Chuck or curse him for showing me this Slate article (and don't miss Chuck's rant on the subject).

The article, by Douglas Gantenbein, is called Stop calling firefighters "heroes."

I'm going to blockquote the same parts that Chuck did, because it's the meat of the article:

When California Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger toured the state's catastrophic wildfires a few days ago, he uttered the phrase that now accompanies any blaze as surely as smoke: "The firefighters are the true heroes."

It's understandable why he said that. As fires go, the California blazes are scary. They are moving incredibly quickly through dried brush and chaparral that practically explode when they ignite, threatening the life of any firefighter nearby. Steven L. Rucker, a 38-year-old firefighter and paramedic for the town of Novato, was killed working to save houses.

Elsewhere, thousands of firefighters have worked for hours on end in 95-degree heat, dressed in multiple layers of fire-resistant clothing, sometimes without enough food or water because of the long and shifting supply lines.

Given all that, it may seem churlish to suggest that firefighters might not deserve the lofty pedestal we so insistently place them on. We lionize them, regard them as unsullied by base motivations, see them as paragons of manliness (and very tough womanliness). They're easily our most-admired public servants, and in the public's eye probably outrank just about anyone except the most highly publicized war veterans. But the "hero" label is tossed around a little too often when the subject is firefighting. Here's why:

Firefighting is a cushy job

Firefighting isn't that dangerous

Firefighters are adrenalin junkies

Firefighters have excellent propaganda skills

Firefighters are just another interest group

None of this is meant to dispute that firefighters are valuable to the

communities in which they work. They are. But our society is packed with unheralded heroes—small-town physicians, teachers in poverty-stricken neighborhoods, people who work in dirty, dangerous jobs like coal-mining to support a family. A firefighter plunging into a burning house to retrieve a frightened, smoke-blinded child is a hero. But let's save the encomiums for when they are truly deserved, not when they just show up to do their job.

In each of those reasons he states, he goes on to explain himself. I'll take a few minutes to explain myself, and why I think Mr. Gantenbein is way off base.

No. As a matter of fact, I won't do that. You can go read Chuck's post on the article. You can read what I wrote here.

Excerpt:People do not become firefighters for the money. They don't do it on a whim, or to get the chicks. It takes a special kind of person to choose to do this for a living, or to choose to volunteer their time in the local firehouses.

Oh, and here, when a similar article appeared on Salon right around the first anniversary of 9/11.

How easy it must be for a guy who writes magazine articles for a living to sit there and talk about firemen having a "cushy" job. It's hard to believe that this man who wrote the article spent so much time with firefighters.

Either he didn't learn anything, or he's just looking to get people to buy his book which, interestingly, just came out two months ago.


I remember a similarly themed strip by Rall.

Let's face it, we're all jealous of guys who get asked to pose for calendars. I can't remember the last time a Chippendale's dancer dressed up like a writer or a cartoonist. I'm glad to let them get the glory as long as they're there saving my drawing fingers from burning like twigs.

Wow! That's amazing. Of all the things to rant over, he picks firefighters.

I will concede this much, there is some truth to all his "reasons". Only problem is, in those cases where it's true, those are volunteer fire departments. You know, the kind like we have here in Central NY, or we had in the tiny hamlet I lived in when I was in CT, the kind that haven't lost a foundation YET!

Anyplace where there are enough fires that the firefighters are on the payroll - that is definitely dangerous and is hardly a cushy or well paying job. That is ludicrous.

I have four family members who are Firemen. It is a dangerous job all around.

Not sure of the rest of the country, but firefighters in the NYC Tri-State region are fearless. I used to scoff when I heard, "when I put my boots on, I don't know if I'm returning." It's not hyperbole.

The wounds are to the psyche as well as physical. Can you imagine being the first to arrive where a four year old boy has all his skin sloughing off due to a barbecue fire, and before he dies, and as his father is putting him out with a garden hose, telling my brother that he doesn't want to go to a hospital? Or how about my brother-in-law, who heard, on his radio, the screams of seven trapped firemen dying in agony in a Ford Dealership with bow ceiling construction? Or my cousin who if he had not been on Montauk on 9/11 would have been dead along with 9 in his platoon? Or another cousin who was the first to arrive when a man, working on his car, went to put out a small fire with a bucket of gasoline which he had mistaken for water? Or again my brother who arrived on the scene of an accident in which an entire family was out of their car changing a tire, on a highway, when they were rear-ended by a drunk? Not a thanksgiving goes by when he doesn't think of that. Sadly these are not isolated incidents, and I've left many, many out.

No, it's not a job I would want. It is dangerous. Perhaps, the fact that it is no longer among the ten hazardous job as it had been for most of the twentieth century, is due to advances in fire science.

Sherard, whether you are paid or volunteer, you display your professionalism on the fireground. There are thousands of volunteer departments that I'd put up against paid guys any day. And there are paid departments that regularily lose foundations. Most of us, paid and volunteer, are proud to be professionals. And, I daresay, most firefighters are professionals. When you look at the volunteer departments that you discuss, most are severely underfunded and underequipped. Without the right training and equipment, which people either pay for by donation, fund raising, or tax dollars, it's tough to run a professional organization.

Volunteers do it for free, a quality that should be admired not mocked.

Yeah that cushy job kept my dad from many holidays, recitals, etc and killed two firefighters here in ST. Louis not too long ago...

It is true that the media tend to run around calling anyone who ever does anything to help someone else a "hero". I would agree with Gantenbein only in that very limited sense relating to my distaste for media hyperbole.

Firefighting is one of those jobs where you tend to have long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer chaos and terror. Those long periods of boredom don't imply that the job is easy, but rather exactly the opposite. Never knowing when you might be facing a life-or-death situation from one minute to the next is a very stressful situation to live with, and I have great admiration for anyone who accepts that responsibility.

Firefighters are of course "sullied" by base motivations in some cases - so is Mr. Gantenbein and every other human alive on this planet. Anyone who is naive enough to believe otherwise is a fool. It's always wrong to put people up on a pedestal and pretend they don't have the same frailties we all have. That doesn't mean firefighters don't deserve our thanks for the difficult work they do.

I think these guys have "issues".

My brother is a firefighter. He's been on the lines of the southern California fires for almost two weeks.

Every one of Mr. Gantenbein's points is utter bullshit. The sorry bastard can kiss my ass.

Apologies, Sherard, but there is just as much "truth" in saying that B-17 pilots had a cushy job. Hey, they weren't in foxholes, they got three squares and a warm bed, and lots of free time to spend with the ladies. What's not to like?

Jesus H. Christ, what a total ass.

My father is a firefighter. I was 12 or so and on my first night back from Boy Scout camp. My mother had to wake me up about 4-5 in the morning to go to the hospital because a wall fell on my father. Fortunately, he turned in time and caught the brunt on his airpack. It's still scary as hell to be woken up in the middle of the night because a wall fell on your dad.

Not dangerous? Cushy?!? How cushy is it to constantly run EMS calls? I'm sure he'd find it terribly cushy to throw on turnout gear and crawl through a burning attic on the lead end of the hose. It's even better in February when you come out to get relieved for five minutes and go from a fully involved blaze to soaking wet in 20-below weather. That right there is the very definition of cushy.


Look, its fine to call Firefighters heroes, but lets not ONCE AGAIN forget everyone else being just as heroic. After 9/11 all we heard were Firefighters this and Fire fighters that. No one mentioned the 26 Non-Fire Based EMS personnel that died doing heroic things. The police were hardly mentioned at all. It was all "bow down to the all knowing Firefighter."

Who do you thing is up there at the fires provided much needed medical support? Its a bunch of EMTs and Paramedics.

Who rushes into the middle of a shootout, into domestic violence, or in the case of 9/11 into a collapsing building to bring out a woman who broke her leg. It's Paramedics.

Yea, a firefighter's job is dangerous. But there aren't fires everyday that Firefighters run inside of. Generally is there is a fire they sit outside and throw water on it unless there is a chance that someone is inside. At every fire there is at least one ambulance standing by in case one of those firefighters or a bystander gets injured.

Paramedics run into more dangerous situations daily then a Firefighter runs into in an entire month, but we never hear about the brave "ambulance drivers" and I am sick of it. We deserve out recognition too.

So do the Police. More cops are killed in any one year than fire fighters even think of. Do we ever laud them? No, all we do is berate them and call the abusers, power monkeys, and crooked. Being a cop is an extremely difficult and dangerous job. Most I know do the very best they can with the information they have. They are trying to protect themselves and others in the community every time they approach some whacko who noone can tell how they are going to react.

So lets call Fire fighters heroes, but lets also make sure we include everyone else who is involved in the situation as well and not forget that for every firefighter there is an EMT or Police officer in harms way as well.

Fine, we can include every single group that ever does anything heroic. Unfortunately, that often dilutes the intent of focussing on the achievements of the first group.
If you need to highlight all groups, write an individual article on each one. Is that unreasonable?

Here in the south, firefighters are all volunteers, and they are the "first responders" to the scene of accidents or medical related 911 calls. They deal more with car accidents than fires, but that doesn't make them any less heroic. A hell of a lot more heroic than column writers.