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Pension Paid for Nothing?

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There is a lot of talk these days about the cost of public employee pensions.  The latest headline I saw was about a large department having to pay into pensions for some employees because they were discriminated against and not hired at the appropriate time.  The department had to contribute to the pension fund the amount needed to equal the amount that would have been contributed if those firefighters were hired at the right time.  I don’t think we have money to waste making pension contributions for firefighters that weren’t even working.

These pension payments for nothing bring up the larger issue of discrimination in the fire department.  It doesn’t matter if it is discrimination based on age, gender, religion, or anything else.  The cost of discrimination is far greater than the cost of hiring a firefighter.  When a department is found guilty of discrimination, there is usually a good amount of evidence to show that things weren’t done the right way.  In this specific example, a group of females sued because the physical agility test included components that were not relevant to the job.

I took several agility tests a while back and found that almost every one of them included physical tests that were not anything like what I would face if hired as a firefighter.  I had to run a mile for one test, and the only running I ever did as a firefighter was playing basketball while on duty.  I had to do a flex arm hang, and I never hung like that on the job.  I never did one push up or sit up at a fire but they were both on the agility test.

No one complained back then about the content of the testing process, we just figured these things were testing our strength and ability to do hard work.  I still agree with that today.  Firefighting is hard work.  Even if I don’t do those specific things on the fire ground, I think they are fair evaluations of someone’s strength and ability to perform strenuous work.

Through my career, I have also worked with and around several firefighters that weren’t able to handle the physical requirements of the job. They have been both male and female firefighters that could pull that heavy hose, throw that heave ladder, or jump the fence.  Those tasks can be pretty physical and maybe if we were still able to have some of those strength tests, we wouldn’t have firefighters that can’t do the job.  Sometimes that person unable to do the job isn’t in the same shape as when they were hired.  Maybe they are 25 years older.  Maybe they have had an injury.  Or maybe that new 35 foot ladder is just too darn heavy to be practical.

I’m sure there have been some time when a certain group was discriminated against in the fire service, but I never saw it.  One the other hand, I have seen people allowed to work as firefighters that were obviously not capable of doing the job.   When we have someone on the crew that can’t do the job, everyone is expected to take up the slack and still get the same amount of work done.  That means those left to do the work need to work harder. When we work harder we are more likely to get hurt.

It doesn’t matter what your age, sex, or race is.  What matters is if you can perform the physical duties of the job.  Make the tests fair, hire the right people and give us all the best opportunity to do the job we are hired to perform.

By John Morse

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