When I read letters and articles from well-intentioned but uninformed people about firefighter and paramedic/EMT salaries at the IFPD, I get worried. Yes, worried. Before retiring I served 36 years in law enforcement. I saw first hand the necessity and the benefit for having educated and highly skilled first responders. The thought of having less than that on the hill frightens me.

The idea of paying firefighters less because they are utilized mostly for medical calls while spending hours at the station waiting, on the face of it, makes a certain amount of sense. That is, until they are needed to handle a true emergency! Emergencies cannot be scheduled. They are unplanned. When they occur, it is often at the worst time possible. When emergencies occur we need well-paid trained professionals on site and ready to respond in the correct manner with the right equipment. A large portion of the public has the false impression that a firefighter, between calls, sits around watching television waiting for the next call. The reality is that time between calls is often used to perform maintenance on equipment and conducting training and more training.

Fighting fires, no matter the type, is hard. It is not an art, it is a science. It requires knowledge of how a fire acts under different conditions and with different fuels. Effective fire suppression requires trained men and women that know how to do it. Don’t forget, these men and women place their lives on the line each time they respond to a fire and they are doing it on our behalf. Whenever any type of fire breaks out and we call 911, I want a professional who knows what he or she is doing to respond. Educated, well-trained and experienced firefighters will not work for an agency that does not pay wages and benefits comparable to other agencies. They will instead leave and find work elsewhere. If the IFPD were to ever cut firefighter pay and benefits to reflect the desires and good intentions of a well-meaning but uneducated public, we will see an exodus of dedicated and experienced professionals as they leave Idyllwild for better paying jobs off the hill. Also, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to recruit qualified men and women to work here longer than the time it takes to become trained and then leave for higher pay, again, off the hill. Nobody knows when they may need to call a firefighter/paramedic/EMT or under what circumstances. Should that time come, who do you want to see coming through your door?

Please do not forget the old adage, “You get what you pay for.” I know it doesn’t always hold true in every situation, but, in the case of first responders, I know from first-hand experience it is true. Support our men and women who wait patiently every day and every night to place their lives on the line for our safety.

Albert Bates

San Diego and Pine Cove