Ask not...

CarolinaFireJournal - DAVE MURPHY
10/18/2009 -

"Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

Most of us have heard this famous quote, one that was actually borrowed by President John F. Kennedy during his 1961 inaugural address. Regardless of the original source, the message remains the same. As you are well aware, the national economy has taken, and continues to take, a serious hit. As consumer spending and subsequent sales tax revenue decline, state governments are being forced to eliminate all non-essential programs. Ultimately, local budgets are affected as the downturn eventually trickles to the local level. Most emergency services already operate on a lean budget. In paid departments, it is not uncommon for 90 percent or more of the total budget to be allocated for salaries alone, leaving little for fuel, station maintenance, and gear replacement, and the list goes on and on.


The Chief or his/her administrative staff is then mandated to function on what is left. In the end, there are never enough available monies for all the budget line items to go unscathed. This calls for some hard solutions to tough problems.

Although almost everyone needs and expects an annual cost of living raise, it is unlikely to happen on a widespread basis this year. Grumblings will be loudest at the station level. Shared sentiments will go along these lines: “No raises this year, that sucks!” “Insurance premiums go up and benefits go down, we are going backwards,” etc. This reminds me of another more generic quote: “Tough times never last -- tough people do.”

Firefighters routinely deal with the unknown and attempt to make it better. This is an excellent opportunity for the fire service to shine in the public eye! Even though the public already looks up to the fire service, let’s put our best face on and rise to the challenge of providing the best service ever. When someone calls 911, they pay for and expect efficient, professional service and hopefully a good overall attitude. During these hard times, let’s give them more than that: something to believe in when every other type of service is declining.

Firefighting is still the best damn job in the world! Look in the mirror -- do you really appreciate your job? What can you do to help your department in these difficult times? I maintain it is time to step up and put your best foot forward!

  • Work safe and stay healthy.
  • Consolidate trips in the rig to save fuel.
  • Turn down the A/C and switch off the lights when
  • no one is present.
  • Take good care of your equipment.
  • Share a kind word with you administrative staff; managing a shrinking budget is no fun for them either.

Be a part of the solution, not the problem: why not volunteer for extra assignments? Renew your commitment to the job, and more importantly to it and the public you are there to protect. Put on and maintain your happy face. Even if you cannot alter the eventual outcome of an actual incident, you can always speak and act intelligently, and exhibit true compassion for your fellow man.


As your mother always said, “it costs nothing to be nice.” Get on the team and together we will make it through this trying period. Better times are on the way.

The bottom line: “Ask not what your department can do for you, but what you can do for your department.”
(This article originally appeared in Fire Engineering magazine).

Dave Murphy retired as Assistant Chief of the Richmond (KY) fire department and is currently an Associate Professor in the Fire Safety Engineering Technology program located at The University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Dave is a past Eastern Director of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association.
Comments & Ratings

Daily Fire / EMS News

A collection of Fire / EMS -related news from around the web!

Get Aggregated RSS

View the full Fire - Rescue - EMS News section
for more articles

About the Carolina Fire Rescue EMS Journal

Welcome to the Carolina Fire Rescue EMS Journal! We want to provide you with timely online information and breaking news that best equips you to meet today’s emergency challenges. Among our firefighting articles, you will find the latest in firefighter technology, firefighter training, leadership development and the newest products and services presented in an “Act Now” user friendly format.  We want to be your best online source for the fire and rescue information, resources and reviews you need.
Regional Impact, National in Scope
  • Delivered free of charge to ALL fire departments, ambulance bays, rescue squads and hazmat teams in North and South Carolina
  • Quarterly circulation includes: fire academies, industry related technical schools and colleges and all major apparatus manufacturers
  • Regional & National trade show distribution
  • Largest circulated regional industry trade publication subscription base