I managed to get out of town for a short road trip last weekend, a nice run up into the Gold Country of Sonora, Columbia and Angels Camp. But from start to finish, I was reminded of the men and women fighting the fire in Santa Cruz County.
As I left, I saw crews and fire rigs rolling in from Fresno and San Diego and Riverside counties. Wherever I stopped, newspapers had pieces about local fire districts sending personnel and equipment to fight the Lockheed Fire. Is there any better, more valuable public agency than fire departments? Is there any better use of our tax dollars? I think not.
I’ve no doubt that firefighters have their own turf wars and get caught up in small-minded political squabbles like other government agencies, and when that happens, the public good might take a back seat. But when the bell rings, there is no other group or profession as altruistic and eager to serve and protect as firefighters. Their mutual-aid mentality is far more than just an agreement between agencies — when their brothers and sisters in uniform need assistance, these folks don’t wait to be called upon, they move.
Everything about the way firefighters rush to the aid of their fellow firefighters and to help other communities seems noble. Their code seems dramatically more honorable than that of the other public agency often linked with firefighters — the police.
With cops, the internal fraternity seems all about covering one another for lies and misdeeds, conspiring against the public, which is viewed as the enemy. With fire personnel, it is clearly about aid and support of one another to protect the public.
I am one who thinks the word “hero” is thrown around all too freely, but when applied to firefighters, there is not much to argue. Yeah, these men and women are paid for the work they applied to do, but training or no, it is heart-stopping to imagine the willpower and concentration it takes to accept the risk or certainty of death and yet continue to act. It is heart-swelling to think of these folks working themselves to physical exhaustion and risking horrible death to save the meager mountain homes of people they don’t know, people not of their own community.
What we think is heroic depends largely on what we think is noble. Under any concept that includes heroism as self-sacrifice for a noble ideal, firefighters are in.
So, who is it, then, who thinks fire departments are an appropriate target for budget cuts when governments find their revenue in decline? Who among us and which of our politicians think we should cut a few positions (or engines) in favor of maintaining, say, a free methadone program for addicts? Why do our politicians insist on cuts to programs and agencies that benefit all citizens in favor of maintaining pet projects, high-profile nonprofit agencies that serve a small public segment, and other programs with important but limited public benefit?
We are ever so grateful that the recent fire did not cost any lives or even erase anyone’s homes, but gratitude is almost certainly not enough. We need to be more involved and proactive in protecting the invaluable service that firefighters render.
We really do need to lean hard on our politicians to deal with budget difficulties in an intelligent manner. We must force them to understand that they are elected to represent us, not to think for us and definitely not to act against our interests. We must force them to consult us and respond to our priorities as to how best to address budget cuts.
And, wherever and whenever possible, we should thank a firefighter for what he or she does.
• Steve Bailey of Boulder Creek has spent plenty of time in recreational activities. Contact him at [email protected].

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