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Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2001

By Staff
Why shouldn't Meridian firefighters be best paid in state?
To the Editor:
I started my life as a firefighter with the Meridian Fire Department in January of 1989. I really don't know what made me want to become a firefighter. I was 21 years old when I started working there. I had two uncles who worked for MFD for over 35 years each and they both were the type of men I wanted to be when I grew up.
They were like most firefighters, family men who not only considered it a job but a service to the community. When I started I learned that many of the men who worked there felt the same way. Many could have worked other places for more money than what was being paid. We worked 24 hours on and 48 hours off  that comes to about 2,920 hours a year (compared to 2,080 for 40 hour week jobs). During these hours we were away from our wives, children and parents.
But it didn't take me long to realize I had another FAMILY. The men I worked with. I have been with them on birthdays, Easter, Christmas, even when one of our own had passed away. I have been with them on some of the coldest nights and the hottest days. I have been to a lot of things the general public doesn't realize the Fire Department does. Whether it is a house fire, car wreck, medical call, or someone with their keys locked in their car, we were always there.
We have laughed with each other over fire house pranks, and we have cried with each other over the death of a person we responded to help. Being a firefighter is not the type of job you can turn off at 7 a.m. shift change.
There are a lot of things that get taken home with you even when you don't realize you take them. I don't know how many people over the years have been in trouble and an off-duty firefighter came to their aid. I worked at several of the stations in Meridian and worked with numerous firefighters, all which would give the shirt off their back to someone in need. We were all there for each other as well as the public.
We all loved our jobs and knew the meaning of the words PRIDE, HONOR, INTEGRITY and DUTY.
Several years ago it was brought up that Meridian firefighters weren't making the salary that the rest of the firefighters in the state were making. There has always been talk of "bringing us up to the state average." But it never happened. Most people were shocked to know that the starting pay for Meridian has been less than $20,000. I know to some that is a lot, but remember these guys work about 840 hours more a year. Most people think firefighters earn lots of money, but does anyone know a firefighter that doesn't have a second job. Which causes them to be away from their families even more.
Two years ago I did something I thought I would never do. I left the Meridian Fire Department. I left part of my Family. GOD blessed me with a job at NAS Fire Department. He also blessed me with a new Family. That is why I am writing this, to let them know I may not work there any more, but they are still in my heart.
I have several questions. Why do they have to be brought up to state average, why not above? Why is it every year they are constantly trying to take benefits (holiday time off, medical coverage) away from these guys?
Why is it when one of the men speaks out for what is right he loses in the long run (promotion wise)? Why is it their insurance premiums seem to go up every year with less coverage and higher deductibles? Why is it they aren't allowed go to the bank on payday, when the higher-ups can? Why is it that these men helped build the Lauderdale County Training Facility and aren't even using it? Why is the moral of the men at the all time low? Why is the chief's pay triple what the average firefighter's pay is? Why is it more than 30 firefighters have left the city for other employment in the last several years?
When I started, the only ones that left were retiring. Why does the "Taj Mahal" Central Fire Station embarrass most of the firemen? Why is it Station 2 has been neglected for years? It was in need of a massive overhaul or replacement when I started working at MFD 13 years ago.
Why is it that now the aerial truck is being shut down because they won't hire overtime?
Recently the city's chief administrative officer stated Meridian has the best fire chief in the state. The chief has said we have the best Fire Department in the state.
So why shouldn't they be some of the best paid in the state?
I could go on and on about the situations at the MFD, but I think you get the picture. It's going to take the public being informed enough to demand that the city do something about it before there will be any changes.
I know this may not be printed before Christmas. But I want everyone to realize that those men are there for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So as you remember your Christmas dinner, also remember somebody's husband, somebody's daddy, somebody's son somebody is always at the fire station down the street.
Guys, my heart goes out to you and your families. I wish each of you a safe and merry holiday season.
Greg Riley
Bailey

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