Emergency services are labor of love

Craig Fire/Rescue won't pay firefighters to go on "medical assist" calls for heart attack vicitms anymore because the Craig Rural Fire Protection District says it can't afford it.

But the firefighters say that won't stop them from continuing to provide what they see as a vital service to the community.

The firefighters' dedication provides a rare chance for taxpayers to have their cake and eat it too. The fire board has assured the community that it won't create headlines about budget shortfalls, while firefighters are promising there will be no cuts in service.

A taxpayer's dream. But is it right?

The fire board says the $440 a month it spends sending firefighters to assist ambulance crews with heart attack calls is too much and goes beyond the scope of the fire department's obligations.

"We collect tax dollars to fight fires and that's where our focus should be," said Byron Willems, a firefighter who sits on the board.

The fire district has tabled a decision to buy a new fire truck because it hasn't figured out an affordable way to make the purchase. So cutting back on "extras" like medical assists seems prudent.

But 26 of 27 firefighters think assisting ambulance crews is so important that they're willing to do it for free. The issue has never been about money as firefighters only get paid for one hour of service whether a heart attack call lasts 15 minutes or four hours.

Firefighters just want the opportunity to showcase their training, their dedication and their level of commitment to the community, said Deputy Chief Chris Nichols.

By willing to work for free, they've proven that. And we -- the public -- are the beneficiaries of their largess.

If the fire district finds itself in better financial condition at some point down the road, we hope they'll recognize the importance of rewarding this kind of commitment.

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