The voice of the senior man is something that is not heard as much these days. Often it gets drowned out by everything that comes our way in this job. It seems to me that these days, the voice of youthful entitlement often overshadows the voice of seniority. I'm not advocating throwing around seniority by any stretch of the imagination, however there is a wealth of knowledge that can be taken from some of these senior men if you listen carefully. It's easy to hear, you just have to open your ears; sometimes it's a loud shout of reprimand over a dispute, sometimes it's in quiet reassurance to a new guy, and sometimes it's in an e-mail to the entire fire department.
The following is Sleepy's last e-mail to the fire department. For those of you that don't know him, he's that guy, the senior man, not afraid to speak up for what he believes in, not afraid to call someone's bluff, and not afraid to go against the grain to get his point across. For those that do know him, like him or not, you cannot argue with the following words. Folks, this is the voice of seniority. Enjoy.
Sleepy's Final E-mail to the Department
I’d like to start off by saying it has been a great honor to serve as a firefighter for the Charlotte Fire Dept. for 28 years. The proudest moment in my life was when I got my badge pinned at recruit graduation. I was very fortunate to come into this department at the tail end of an era that will only be remembered by the tales around the firehouse table. We rode on the tailboard of the truck and on the top of the hose beds to dress out in air-packs. This was, of course, on the long nose Seagrave fire engines that were reserve trucks. We stood up in the jump seats, we sat on the “dog house”, wind blowing in your face, and when you rode through the streets of downtown with the sirens and air horns blowing and people staring, you knew you were the envy of the town. I’M A CHARLOTTE FIREMAN! What a rush! You know, funny thing is, I still get that feeling today only from behind the wheel. What a great career it has been and will be cherished for ever!
I would like to take this opportunity to say, over the past few years, I have been somewhat outspoken. Some have even mistakenly gone as far as to say I have been disgruntled or a grumpy “ole bastard”. If that’s how you describe standing up for the rights of firefighters, then that’s what I am. The way I see it, you can’t be farther from the truth. Let me give you a little explanation. I love this job, always have. I believe in the Brotherhood of the fire service, I believe in taking care of our own even when it comes to standing strong against the super powers. Let me mention one in particular. The City does a market study on how much they should pay employees per position. Then they decide to pay 80-105% of that market value for non-public safety employees. The Public Safety Pay Plan was designed to save the City money by allowing them to hire firefighters at around 60% of market value and then “stepped” up to somewhere around 90 % of market value where ALL OTHER city employee’s are hired at. So when the steps are not funded, somebody is walking on the backs of firefighters. Why do I speak out so strongly? Because today I start to enjoy a retirement that several firemen created long before I came around. A system that failed in its first attempt, but they didn’t give up. They also didn’t get to share the same benefits as we do today, mainly because the system has strengthened over time. Point is, they built something for the guys that were to come after them, us. We have to stand together, defend our benefits, our pay, and protect what they built for us years ago. Look what we have already lost in the last several years.
I would like to say to Administration, my friends; we have fought fire together, worked shootings together, we’ve been in some situations that the police were calling for help, and it has been great to serve under you guys. I hope I have not been too much of a headache. I know you guys know my heart and my passion; I am a fireman, plain and simple. I have loved the job and always will. I ask that you support the guys that make you look good and make you proud. I know an issue has surfaced concerning off duty training. Please know that the stance that some will take, is not personal, it is to protect the firefighters. The promotional requirement that’s put on our guys is not so much the issue. We all realize the desire to have fully trained firefighters at the time of promotion is highly desirable but if a firefighter gets hurt, especially career ending, they will lose everything. They will not even be eligible for line of duty retirement. If you have their best interest at hand, why continue to put them in harms way? For the sake of what? What is the benefit? Is it worth the risk? Find a solution and protect our guys, you have an obligation. And to say “they don’t have to get promoted” is not good enough. Do you expect a person to come into this job and not try to get promoted? Do you want a person to come into this job and not get promoted? I think no one would expect that.
To all senior firefighters, keep watch over the young guys. Work as a team, it’s not me or I, it’s us. You’re a group of highly skilled, highly trained firefighters that function as a crew. Shame your Captains when they say “show me enroute”, or “show me on the scene” over the radio, that does not represent the crew, that’s what he/she’s there for. You’ve heard the old saying, “if you fail me with the small things, you’ll fail me with the important things”.
Teach the new firefighters how to clean, take out the trash, mop floors, and for crying out loud how to wash dishes. You know how many food caked on dishes I have pulled out of the cabinet since they put dish washers in the firehouse? It's the worst thing I believe I’ve seen in my career that was thought to be an upgrade. I’ll give them (youngsters) the benefit of the doubt; nobody has ever taught them how to use one. LOL!
Have fun in your career. Keep as much tradition as possible in the fire service. Keep the pranks alive, not over board, but alive. Take care of each other, protect each other, protect you careers, and be proud of who and what you are, ….A CHARLOTTE FIREFIGHTER!!!
Best of luck to you all and God speed,
Clay “Sleepy” Morris
Engine 1-C retired