Saturday, June 16, 2007

Editorial on Selma Fire Department in The Smithfield Herald

It almost sounds like the editorial staff at The Herald is reading my blog or my column.

Soul-searching needed in Selma

As best we could tell, the spat in Selma was about this: Someone on the fire department was going to be a full-time, paid employee, and the town manager thought that person ought to be the chief. Some firefighters, meanwhile, thought the town could better spend its money on someone skilled in maintaining all of the equipment firefighters use.

But after an episode last week, we have to wonder whether the firefighters had an ulterior motive in preferring a paid engineer to a paid chief. (In case you missed it, some disgruntled firefighters dumped their gear at the home of Mayor Charles Hester.)

If the spat were truly about paying a chief or an engineer, would the firefighters have taken the extreme step of trying to embarrass the mayor in public? No, we suspect this is more about what the firefighters would lose if the chief were suddenly hired by the town manager and paid by Selma taxpayers.

What they would lose, of course, is power. As is the case in most volunteer fire departments, Selma firefighters have traditionally elected their chief. Intentionally or not, that has made the chief accountable not to property owners but to firefighters, who could oust any chief who raised their ire.

And that's why we think it's time for Selma firefighters to do some soul-searching. We have no doubt that all of them joined the department to protect lives and property from fires. They need to ask themselves if that's why they're still firefighters. If the answer is no, they need a change of heart, or they need to move on.

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