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Jan. 25, 2013
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America’s two biggest groups of scammers have got to be police officers and firefighters, whose union reps routinely tell Americans that their members put their lives on the line every day simply by slipping into their uniforms. They really use that terminology as they lobby for "donning and doffing" rules that give them extra pay for the time they spend slipping into their government-supplied garments.
But the latest data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics once again show that these groups of government employees work in relatively safe professions, with firefighters having a lower death rate than the average American worker and barely edging out cashiers in terms of putting their lives on the line. Most cashiers are killed on the job because of homicides, whereas a quarter of firefighter deaths are from truck accidents – and the numbers have declined, apparently, after concerted efforts to convince these heroes to buckle their seatbelts.
Fishermen, loggers, pilots and farmers/ranchers have the most dangerous jobs in America. Police officers and sheriffs fall below farmers, but above construction workers. About half of their deaths are because of car accidents, often the fault of their own driving habits.
This list looks at the data over a longer period and reinforces the same point. None of the top 10 dangerous jobs are in the government "public safety" area and only one category (trash collectors) is dominated by government employees.
I’ve known people who work in a number of the most-dangerous professions – taxi drivers, truck drivers, trash collectors, electrical line workers, loggers, fishermen, pilots, roofers, coal miners, farmers – and I cannot ever recall any of them insisting to me personally or publicly that they are "heroes" who "put their lives on the line." Once in a while, I’ll hear a farmer insist that it’s thanks to his kind that we have food on our table, but even that’s a rarity and it's usually part of a political campaign to keep the environmental crazies from restricting his water or property use.
I can’t recall ever telling people that, by writing this article, I am a hero of the First Amendment. As annoying as my profession may be, I don’t know any journalists who would argue such an absurdity.
By contrast, police officers and paid government firefighters – as opposed to the largely noble group of volunteers, who provide this service to the public for free, despite the harassment they receive from firefighter unions who try to put them out of business – always insist that they are heroes. They do so in their public pronouncements and especially during union negotiations. They love to have press conferences and hand out heroism awards to fellow union members. They often tell me that it's thanks to them that I am safe to enjoy my life.
During negotiations, firefighters and police routinely invoke the memory of 9/11 for their own personal gain. I remember when Laguna Beach, Calif., firefighters – who have a cushy gig on the Southern California coast – plastered photos of 9/11 all over a fire truck as they lobbied for higher pay during their dispute with the city manager.
In the California Legislature this year, Democratic leaders quietly pushed ahead legislation that would have declared that any retired cop or firefighter, no matter how old, would be presumed to have died of a work-related injury if he or she died from some common ailments such as blood disorders, heart disease or cancer. The purpose was to give huge payouts to their survivors. The bill was softened then vetoed, but it shows the lengths to which the unions will go to play the hero card for self enrichment.
A few years ago, I wrote about a bill that would have exempted firefighters from criminal negligence for on-the-job behavior. It, too, died, but there’s no special protection that these heroes won’t seek. Police unions lobby to assure that even the most abusive among them don’t have to suffer any penalties, even in instances where they shoot unarmed members of the public in the back.
Heroes are people who display great courage and selflessness to protect others. Here, we see people who are extremely well paid for services that entail only modest risk, and then rig the legal system so there is no accountability if they misbehave. They increasingly follow bureaucratic rules designed to protect "officer safety," assuring in essence that they are forced to endure virtually zero risk during their work day. Is that heroism?
In 2011, Alameda, Calif., firefighters stood around and let a man drown to death. They said they couldn’t go into the 60-degree San Francisco Bay water because they didn’t have the proper cold-water training. Many believe they were selfishly withholding "services" as a way to make a point about proposed budget cutbacks. When asked by a local TV station whether he would go into the water and save a drowning child, division chief Ricci Zombeck said: "Well, if I was off duty I would know what I would do, but I think you’re asking me my on-duty response and I would have to stay within our policies and procedures because that’s what’s required by our department to do."
Is this the answer of a hero or a bureaucrat? My first LewRockwell article was about a similar event in Philadelphia, where police and firefighters stood around eating and joking as a suicidal man jumped into the water. Despite the assembled minions of well-paid uniformed government workers, it took some unpaid bystanders to risk their lives and try to save the jumper.
Unfortunately, the public seems to buy this nonsense. When I was on the Stossel show discussing such issues, a California union spokesman, Dave Low, argued that cops and firefighters receive big pensions because they die soon after retirement. But fortunately I had already done the research. According to the union-controlled California Public Employees Retirement System, police are the longest-living public employee category followed closely by firefighters. They live well into their 80s, enjoying those millionaires’ pensions that their unions have secured for them.
Enough is enough. Police and firefighters work in professions that are not particularly dangerous and they live longer lives than most people. Most of this work can be replaced by the private sector. There are no categories of hero. Individuals in all professions and all walks of life engage in heroic acts. The truth will set us free – and might just lighten our tax burden also.
Steven Greenhut (send him mail) is a Sacramento-based writer and author of Plunder! How Public Employee Unions Are Raiding Treasuries, Controlling Our Lives And Bankrupting The Nation.
Copyright © 2013 Steven Greenhut