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Yvonne Abraham

I want to be a firefighter

By Yvonne Abraham
Globe Columnist / April 22, 2010

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Dear Commissioner Fraser,

I am writing to express my intense interest in becoming a Boston firefighter.

I understand you get thousands of applications, for jobs that rarely come up because nobody with the full complement of marbles would willingly leave your employ. But I hope you can find a way to squeeze me into your ranks.

Apart from my advanced age, my pathetic fitness level, and my aversion to danger of all kinds, I feel that I am perfectly suited to this position.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, sir, but the newspaper business isn’t what it used to be. Some people are saying our days are numbered. The higher-ups keep talking about that super-annoying economy thing.

Well, I don’t want to live in that world any more, Commissioner. I want to live in Firefighterland, a beautiful place with no connection to the economy whatsoever.

Elsewhere, the city is shutting libraries and giving school custodians the ax. But in Firefighterland, it’s all dollar signs and days off.

That’s because for four years, the firefighters union refused to give an inch during negotiations with the city. Instead, they attacked the mayor and tried to scare the public. It worked. That arbitrator in Albany just gave them a whopping 19 percent-plus pay increase over four years.

Outside Firefighterland, it can take a decade or more to get as much. Some people have even seen their wages go down. (Don’t ask.)

And what did my future colleagues give the city in return for all that? They agreed to let you make sure they weren’t showing up wasted for a job that can be life-threatening.

As further proof of my suitability for — and dedication to — this work, I want to make it clear that I, too, am willing to remain demonstrably sober during working hours.

I know it’s a huge concession, Commissioner, but that’s how much I want this.

I want it, even though the sick leave policy isn’t what it used to be, what with the new rule that firefighters must get a doctor’s note for every sick day after the first 10. I am ready to endure that hardship too, sir. Especially if I can find a friendly physician.

But, really, I don’t envision taking too many sick days. Because the way the job is set up, I can work one 24-hour shift every four days.

That would leave me oodles of time for my hobbies, such as eating pie, starting novels I never finish, and replicating dance moves from Beyonce videos. I could even keep my current job, which I quite enjoy, except for the recession part.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. There are people out there, and I used to be one of them, who think that even though firefighters take risks most people wouldn’t consider, they’re already well-compensated. They — OK, I — said that the pay package the city initially offered the firefighters, the same accepted by equally brave police officers, was acknowledgment enough of their great value, especially in a recession.

Forget all of that. Now that I find myself on the brink of my fantasy career, I agree with firefighters that anybody who challenges their right to hold the city up is questioning their heroism.

Now, some city officials are wondering if the arbitrator who handed this award down should be subject to a random drug test himself. Since firefighters got exactly what they wanted, these officials worry that all of the other unions will adopt their strong-arm tactics.

They’re right. A public safety union guy I talked to this week said he was disgusted with this decision, calling the raise “out of touch with reality.’’

He also told me that if the City Council approves the firefighter deal, he will have no choice but to dig in for equally unrealistic concessions.

Great. Now everybody wants to live in Firefighterland!

But, Commissioner, I asked first.

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist, for now. She can be reached at abraham@globe.com.

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