Emergency and fire services in the North County need a jumpstart. The pending flashover fueled by a sagging economy alongside a cluster of fast-moving accelerants — an aging population, unfunded state mandates, tax caps, environmental regulations and an unrelenting brain drain — has left local departments on life support and grasping for their defibrillator paddles.
Considering the region faces limited opportunities for expanding its tax base, there are no easy answers — only a series of creative, common sense solutions.
Be efficient. Arizona made headlines last month with a state program launched in partnership with public and private agencies to put veterans to work. New York should follow their lead and customize their plan to fit local needs, particularly when it comes to ensuring that service members can apply their extensive military training to meet state-mandated firefighting and EMT requirements. Congress actually attempted to address this with the Veteran Emergency Medical Technician Support Act of 2013, but the bill flatlined in the Senate and remains DOA.
Start ‘em young. Mandatory state training for EMTs has skyrocketed to approximately 170 hours in recent years, with firefighters seeing an increase to 130 from 80 just a generation ago. This commitment makes it difficult to attract and retain young professionals, a serious problem as Baby Boomers continue to age out. As a stop-gap, why not offer high school and college students academic credits to ignite the flames of civic pride and spark what may lead to either a promising full-time career or lifelong contributions to the community.
Get involved. Welcome! We’re glad our seasonal friends find our communities a desirable place for recreation and relaxation. How about helping us help you to protect your health, safety, homes and families, both during the off-season and prime time, by pitching in? Opportunities range from getting involved with your local fire department or EMT squad, helping local officials in crafting sustainable policies, volunteering whenever possible or by facilitating scholarships for local high school students who wish to enter into the emergency services and firefighting fields. We’re glad you’ve made the North Country your playground — now help us pay for it.
Look outward. Local officials should be doing more to attract the bushy-tailed foreign nationals flocking to America for a better life. You can either get ahead of immigration or behind it and those choosing the former are seeing their communities revitalized with fresh ideas and bustling economies. As Americans, we represent the best in nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit and recognizing the most promising attributes in our freedom-seeking friends around the world. These national values should never be overlooked and we need to continue to set a good global example by offering a series of cautious incentives to attract the best and brightest of the international community to our neighborhoods and lobby the federal government to put newcomers on the fast-track to citizenship by either engaging in civic volunteerism or state-mandated emergency services and fire training:
Welcome to America — we believe in you and we welcome you with open arms. Now suit up, get to work and experience firsthand what made our country so great.
Pay your debt. Not to tarnish a noble profession by seeding its ranks with ne’er-do-wells, but instead of giving prison inmates a college education and sending them off into a brutal domestic job market that will never hire them, anyway, instead facilitate firefighting and emergency service training programs so that when these folks are released, they have a real shot at erasing the shameful stigma of incarceration by allowing them to reintegrate back into society while contributing a skill that’s actually useful for local communities.
Get to work. It seems inherently unfair that by some metrics, the long-term unemployed (or unemployable, depending on where you stand) have better standards of living than the working poor. (Just play with SNAP’s online benefit calculator if you don’t believe us.) If residents wish to remain on public assistance, then their handouts should be tied to public service, plain and simple. This isn’t the United States of Socialism — it’s the land of pluck, elbow grease and opportunity. So suck it up and get back to work, comrade.
Three Strikes, You’re In. Lastly, instead of punishing triple-slam DWI offenders by permanently revoking their licenses, work the state-mandated EMT or firefighter training into their already-required extensive treatment and rehabilitation programs and give them a useful, marketable skill instead of condemning them to a life of booze-scented public dependency. What they choose to do with that training would, of course, be up to them. But at the very least, it’d act as a sorely-needed boost to a region that needs all hands on deck at such a crucial time in its fragile and uncertain development.