“How far are we gonna take this, Da?”

Of course, with the quote above, Connor (Sean Patrick Flanery), in The Boondock Saints (1999), is questioning the lengths to which he, his brother, and his assassin father will go to systematically eliminate the evil pervading their sphere of influence.

Il Duce’s (Billy Connolly) answer is classic, and has made just about every relatively short list of memorable movie quotes found on the internet:  “The question is not how far. The question is, do you possess the constitution, the depth of faith, to go as far is as needed?”

One of the pressing “drastic changes” affecting our profession at present is the widespread effect of the untenable fiscal situations in which many bodies responsible for the provision of fire protection currently find themselves.  Federal, state, county, municipal, and private fire service agencies are being dropped into the crucible of number-crunching and having their budgets scrutinized by elected officials, city administrators, and $100,000-per-study consultants, with the usual finding being “we spend more than we take in.”  This is government at its finest, right?

Short of insinuating that government in general is “evil,” the question for both career and volunteer firefighters is akin to that posed by the Saints—how far are we going to take the inevitable fight against the whittling down of “our” money?  Volunteers, what happens when your department finds itself unable to come up with the match for the long-awaited FIRE Act equipment grant, because sales tax revenues in your district are down 25%?  Career guys, what are you going to do when the city administrator comes to you just before the 2010-2011 fiscal year budget meeting and says, “Look, we need your association to make some, um, ‘concessions,’ or we’ll be cutting line firefighter jobs in this budget.  Figure out what you’re willing to give us.”

I have no idea how long the present “economic downturn” is going to last, how deeply the cuts will be, and have very little to offer regarding a solution.  I don’t know whether your fire department’s budget crisis is its own making, or whether your city council has been flying to Tahiti on the taxpayer’s public safety dime.  I do know, however, that our organizations MUST be prepared to answer these questions.  We can’t do much thinking on our feet once the shooting starts at city hall or the tax office.  The labor association, the board of directors, the officers’ group, or whoever else speaks for the membership, must be in constant dialogue with the Chief or Director (or whatever is printed on the badge of the guy in charge), and the organization must be prepared to present a unified front to the city fathers (and the taxpayers) when the time comes.  And we must remember in making these decisions that our primary responsibility is to the customer, to the citizen that we protect.

I’m going to revisit this topic in the very near future, and, in keeping with our mission at NoAmbitionButOne, take aim at one of the sacred cows of the fire service.  But for now, dwell on the ideas that your organization’s fiscal Plan B must be in place, and that we must have the constitution to do what it takes to be absolutely certain that we’ve done the absolute best that we can for our members and, maybe more importantly, the folks paying for our stuff.

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One Response to “How far are we gonna take this, Da?”

  1. John says:

    Brother, I recently found your site and have enjoyed reading it. As for this post, I agree with you but feel that there is little that we can during this downturn but brace ourselves for a pounding. My FD’s income has dropped from $15M to 13M in 2 years. We have already lost 10 positions by attrition and another 7 by layoff. We offered up almost 2M in concessions and early retirements, and offered to take on EMS transport to make another $2M. Every offer has been turned away by politicians desperate to show how they are ready to break the unions.

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