Monday, November 9, 2009

We Didn't Start The Fire

Like many people in The Mahoning Valley in Ohio, I too lost my job, when the Steel Mills closed in the late 70's. Many were affected in "Satellite" businesses that were dependent on the Steel Industry for their livelihood. I worked in a steel fabrication plant as a machinist and the company I worked for closed not long after the steel plants in Youngstown began closing.

I "Joined The Club", along with thousands of others unemployed at the time. A good resume and skills didn't matter. There were very few jobs available at the time. I was married with two young children and had very strong ties to the area at the time. Moving was a last resort.

Probably one of the most traumatic events in my life was having to apply for Welfare. I thought Welfare was for losers and people who just didn't want to work. If we wanted to feed our kids, we had no other choice. The WIC Program,(Women and Infant Children), provided us with a more than enough staple items to get us through those Lean Days.

I had taken The Civil Service Test in my Hometown of Struthers for the position of Fireman,I was fortunate to come in first on the test. I had also had been a Volunteer Fireman for several years before the test for a full-time paid position. I was appointed to a Fire Engineer position in 1980. Finally! I thought I had achieved a secure position, a good job, and security for my family.

Things went well the next few years. We added another boy to our growing family in 1982. I worked 24 hours on/ 48 hours off, the typical Fireman's Schedule. This allowed me to work a part-time job on my off days, that most Firemen did. For a while, I didn't know which job I was going to on any given day. Between both jobs, I was working about 100 hours a week. "Make Hay While The Sun Shines", my Dad used to say.

One of the great things for me being a Fireman was the flexibility I had on my off days to attend school and pre-school events for my children. Even if I was on-duty at the Fire Station, another Fireman would often come and cover my position for a few hours to I could be there for my kids. I'd just give the hours back to the same guy, at another time. I was one of the few Fathers on the class field trips. On the down side of that, I was the lucky guy that got to crawl on the muddy ground to cut down the Class Christmas Tree and haul all the pumpkins from the Farm Field Trip at Halloween.

Unbelievably, due to finances, I was laid off from the Fire Department for several months. Struthers' infrastructure was sliding downhill fast. The tax base they had depended on all those years when the Steel Mills were booming, had suddenly dried up. The largest employer in town was The Board of Education, compared to several thousand that worked in Struthers in the steel industry at one time. A levy was passed and I was brought back to the Fire Department.

I became uneasy with my employment position. I figured it was only a matter of time until the axe would once again fall. The Fire Department was all ready operating at minimum manning levels. Quite often, only one Fireman was manning each of our two Fire Stations. Because of a major railroad line dividing our town, two stations were necessary. We were dependent on Volunteers and off-duty Fireman to assist if we had a Fire Call. Other area Fire Departments could not believe we operated that way. Many had a policy that required four Firemen on a truck before they could respond to an emergency. Some how,we muddled through.

Every young boy has dreams of becoming a Policeman or a Fireman. The excitement, the reward of helping others, and the respect within the community, are unmatched in Public Service. Unfortunately, in the Rust Belt, so many services that were once taken for granted, are reduced to dangerous levels. I left Struthers for "Greener Pastures in 1986. I miss my days on the fire department and the camaraderie. I just wish someone could come up with a plan to fairly tax people and provide the basic services we all need to live The American Dream.

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