More than a year has passed since the Almeda Fire. However, the suffering continues. The physical loss was enormous. We all responded to it with donations of clothes and food and rebuilding. We even put signs up to thank the first responders.
However, we need to do more than just post signs of thanks for our firefighters. Only a very few know what it is like to do their job 150%, even at times to put one’s self at risk and yet not succeed in stopping a devastating fire. A fire that was fueled by 40-50 mph winds. A fire that couldn’t be stopped and that left thousands of homes in ashes. Our Ashland firefighters gave all that they had to stop that fire, but they could not stop it before the devastating damage was done. How must they have felt? How do they feel today?
Our firefighters know that they did all that they could do to put down the wildfire. However, the nagging second guessing that they and the community need to ask is what if they had more time, more water, and more fire fighters could they have lessened the loss of property to so many? No one will ever know the answers to these all important questions. But, we can be sure that we don’t have to ask those questions in the future when the next wildfire strikes our community.
Ashland firefighters need our support now. They need more than thank you signs. They need us to change the political will of the Ashland City Council. They need more firefighters and they need them now for their safety and for ours.
The Ashland budget committee and process has been particularly harsh on the fire department’s budget. The inability to hire three firefighters because of a hiring freeze for additional firefighters, the mandate to lessen their budget by $200k, even publicly doubting the fire chief’s own budget.
This kind of open questioning of such an essential service leaves those who serve us questioning our loyalty to them.
Right now, Ashland’s fire department is down at least three fire fighters. Even with three additional fire fighters, Ashland will not be adequately staffed for fire and ambulance services to the community. Let’s put ourselves in their shoes, we can’t fill them but we can empathize.
Ashland’s fire fighters are providing a skeleton crew for emergencies because there aren’t enough fire fighters on staff. All of them are working overtime at an enormous cost to their morale and to their families. After the Almeda fire gut punch they are now getting another one from those whom they serve. Below is a brief description of how a fire fighter’s family is trying to survive:
“As a wife of a Firefighter, I am feeling concerned for my husband, frustrated with the city council and Mayor of Ashland and am left to single parent most of the time fielding questions from my little ones such as “Where’s daddy?” And “When will daddy be home?” Since the Almeda fire, morale has been low in the fire department. If it’s hard for you to imagine why, think of how hard these firefighters fought with every fiber of their being and still lost over 2,000 structures. It weighs on the firefighters and their families every single day, and I stand witness to that grief. It’s something we continue to work through as we drive through our town each day and are reminded of that day’s horrific events. On top of that you add COVID. Our guys are running back to back calls throughout the night. They aren’t sleeping, they are run down, overwhelmed and overworked.
Your (City Council) decision to put a freeze on hiring more fighter fighters is one I just can’t wrap my head around. We expect our Firefighters to protect us and care for us when we need it but what are we doing for them? We are failing our firefighters and their families. Because of short staffing, my husband has to work 6 overtime shifts in the past few weeks, on top of his normal shift! This doesn’t allow him to rest and recover from his shift assignments. Not only that, as his family, we miss him terribly. We have 2 young kids and I work full time as an elementary school teacher. I am left to scramble for child care, do drop off pick up, play, make dinner, bathe and bedtime all by myself. I know I am not the only fire wife struggling to keep our families afloat while our husbands continue this impossible schedule, at times making them work 96 hour shifts! In short, my kids need their dad, I need my husband and these firefighters deserve better. “
Write your City Councilors and the Mayor of Ashland asking them to fully staff the Ashland’s fire department. The department went through an independent financial audit with flying colors where it was clearly stated that more fire fighters are needed to sustain a safe level of service for the fire fighters and for the community. It is up to us now – what we must do for those who put their lives on the line every day – hire more fire fighters. Let the Council know what they must do.
The Ashland Chronicle Staff