COMMENTARY | Police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel have tough jobs that require discipline, vigor, and bravery. Historically, as government employees, they have been compensated well. Indeed, many municipalities pay their full-time first responders well and offer generous benefits packages. However, with Detroit declaring bankruptcy and many other American cities on the brink of financial collapse, how many cities are looking to find ways to slash their first responder overhead costs?
One option would be to aggressively recruit part-time or volunteer first responders, such as volunteer firefighters and reserve police officers, to increase manpower. These individuals, working part-time and receiving few of the benefits of their full-time colleagues, could arguably save stressed cities and counties a bundle. However, is it safe? And, if something tragic occurs, as happened in Arizona, will the families of part-time or volunteer first responders be justly compensated? According to ABC, legislators are considering a new law to increase the compensation offered to families of twelve of the eighteen Arizona firefighters who were killed in the Yarnell Fire on June 30. Twelve of the eighteen firefighters who perished were part-time and, as such, were not granted the benefits package that included monthly survivor benefits.
This drama, and the pending legislation, is important because it could affect many municipalities in coming years if they begin to rely heavily on part-time first responders. With more and more new jobs being part-time and offering little or no benefits there will be no shortage of young men and women looking to supplement their income or boost their resumes by becoming part-time, reserve, or volunteer first responders. And with cities buckling under the growing strain of pension and municipal salary obligations, there will be increasing demand to agree to the use of part-time, reserve, or volunteer first responders. A dilemma of tremendous proportions may quickly develop…if clear rules and regulations are not laid out first.
How will cities be allowed to use non-full-time first responders? How much training do these non-full-time first responders have to complete? Can they be used in any capacity or only in true “reservist” capacity, keeping them from dangerous or sensitive duty? If something happens to them on the job, to which benefits are they entitled? Should states put a limit on how much of a police/fire/EMS department can be staffed by part-timers? The questions are many and difficult, but they should be answered, and quickly, before cities start overstocking part-timers on the sly.