I have just returned from very moving ceremonies held at Sutton Park in Palmetto. All throughout our state and nation, similar memorials are being held.
I heard a succession of speakers remembering the events of September 11, 2001. The audience was reminded of the many acts of heroism that occurred on that day. Each speaker called upon us to honor our first responders, our firefighters, police officers and emergency medical service providers.
It is important that we have these ceremonies and be reminded of the many services provided by these government workers. These men and women are part of the core function of government. Our citizens have come to depend upon the knowledge that they can call for assistance anytime of the day or night, and that help is on the way. It is easy to take for granted the risks associated with these professions, and the hardships experienced by the families of these public servants. Those who gathered in Palmetto this morning exemplify the motto; “To Protect and to Serve.”
While we depend upon the protection provided by the first responders, who is protecting them? In the decade since September 11, what have we done to compensate those we honor on this day? Have we taken adequate measures to protect their health, their future and their families? In an economic crisis when everyone is talking about “jobs,” should we undermine the employment of those we rely upon?
As an assistant public defender for twenty-three years, I became well acquainted with the many well-trained individuals who serve as our first responders in Manatee and Sarasota counties. I know how hard they work and I know that none of them are getting rich at taxpayer expense. The people I know and trust just wanted the basics; an adequate paycheck, decent health insurance, and defined earned benefits upon retirement after a full career.
It is easy for elected officials to give tribute at a memorial yet slash budgets in a backroom. The Florida Legislature has spent the past two years giving out tax breaks to corporations, while demanding “sacrifice” from our workers. Our first responders deserve better. It is right that they be given honor but it is critical that they also receive security.