Opinion: Raise for firefighters too little, long overdue

Updated: Aug 9, 2021

Linn County Fire Board member and former county clerk Don Proffitt waved a piece of paper in front of the Linn County Commission members on Monday, June 7. There to support the 2022 budget request laid out by Doug Barlet, fire department director, Proffitt said that his last property tax bill of about $2,100 included taxes of $37 and some odd change for fire protection.

His point that good fire protection is cheap is well taken.

But it is not just the dollars that show up on the tax bill that make a difference. The larger win with the fire department for more than 20 years has been the effort made to keep the ISO rating for the county low by Barlet and his predecessors.

Different areas in the county are given a fire rating by the Insurance Services Office, Inc.

For the last few years, homes and businesses within five miles of a fire station have received an ISO rating of 5, according to Barlet. About 75 percent of Linn County residents live within those five miles.

Those living outside those areas likely have ISO ratings of a high as 10. Those dwellings and businesses have insurance premiums running as much as twice as high as those with the lower rating, he said.

Savings on insurance premiums have been the result of much work by both administrators and the men and women who rush to meet the challenge every time they are called out. And for little pay.

This year’s budget calls for an increase in hourly pay for fire fighters from $7.25 an hour to $10. Station chiefs will go from $10 an hour to $11.67. Hardly adequate compensation, particularly in the spring when intentional grass fires often get out of control, and firefighters’ weekends are consumed putting out those flames.

These firefighters now are a breed apart from the ill-equipped volunteers from decades ago. Their overall commitment to professionalism in responding to all manner of emergency situations from brush fires to structure fires to accidents is admirable.

And their dedication of service to the community, no matter what the pay, has helped make the local fire departments what they are today.

Don Proffitt was right: It is a bargain.

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