Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Unquenched consequences?

Ketchum officials made a very bad deal when they decided to cut money to train volunteer firefighters last year.

In a community that looks prosperous on the surface, it's easy to forget that the success of fire fighting rides on the shoulders of a cadre of paid, on-call volunteers.

The volunteers, directed by full-time professionals, are the ones who put out fires and back up the city of Sun Valley's department when the need arises.

Yet, in a fit of budgetary constraint, the Ketchum City Council cut funding in half, from $29,000 to $14,000, for training 38 volunteers. Unfortunately, the council couldn't reduce the number of buildings in town, nor the chances of fire.

Using on-call volunteers already saves the city piles of money in employment costs. It's a tradeoff for which the city experiences higher turnover rates for volunteers because compensation is spotty. Consequently, the volunteers need ongoing training.

By and large, volunteers are public-minded individuals with a selfless desire to serve others. They should not have to hold bake sales, as suggested by one official, to train for a dangerous and dirty job in a wealthy community full of expensive homes and buildings.

Somewhere in the job description for elected officials is the responsibility to protect the public health, safety and welfare. Letting fire training go begging is a penny-wise, pound-foolish proposition.

The money the city saved is a pittance—a fraction of 1 percent of its $13.2 million annual budget. The city needs to restore the training funds soon—or risk suffering unquenched consequences.

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