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Perception vs. Reality

When it comes to the news surrounding the volunteer fire departments, the paid fire department and the volunteer rescue squad, the past few weeks have had few good headlines for the refrigerator.

Whether it is the ongoing investigation by state officials into former firefighters, their credentials and training or the budget battle between the city and the volunteer rescue squad, the stories have focused on anything but the quality of service they provide and the quality of the men and women serving our city.

The most recent debacle — the cancellation of the workman’s compensation insurance, which forced all volunteer firefighters to stay away from fire stations and refrain from responding to emergencies — did little to improve the situation.

The problem is not that the city has a staffing problem when it comes to the departments, or that the volunteer departments do not have qualified and dedicated members. It is the fact that there are doubts being raised — real or otherwise — that the city may not need or want volunteers any longer.

During a recent report involving the budget and funding battle between the city and the Rescue Squad, the city claimed paid city units could cover the city’s emergency needs if the rescue squad no longer existed.

Not only did the report say the city could cover the extra calls, but also it said paid firefighters could do the job without any additional personnel.

And now comes the insurance situation involving the volunteer fire departments.

The question that needs to be answered now is this: Does the city value the help and service of its volunteers? Or does Suffolk leadership really believe the state’s largest city could be covered 24 hours a day, seven days a week by the current paid firefighter staff?

If so, then simply say so. If not, say the volunteers’ service is valuable. Stand beside them at a press conference and say what they do is necessary for this city to grow and grow safely.

It has come time for city leaders to emphatically respond to the growing perception that the service of our volunteers is no longer important to them.