Former Fire Chief Larry Clark lost his job due to the city’s budget crisis. What follows are excerpts of an open letter he wrote to members of the media and city officials.
On April 16 I was called to City Hall and told that after 16 plus years of service to Page Fire Department I was no longer needed.
I was assured I was not being terminated but “RIFfed” [Reduction In Force]. I was handed a standard letter, given words of encouragement and a thanks for my service from the mayor, a council woman and the director of Page Utilities Enterprises (or some such title).
I was assured that my job would be held open for one year and if money became available I might be reinstated.
Division heads were well aware that reductions in force were going to happen.
Word was that the state of Arizona had done “a study” and from experience had found that it was better to RIF at the top than to do any of the other common ways of reducing government costs such as everyone taking a pay cut, etc. The reasoning behind this theory allegedly was that it is better to have a few people upset and mad at top management than the whole work force mad at top management. I pass no judgment.
I told the RIFfing Group that if RIFs were to happen, I was glad that it was me instead of the brothers and sisters working the floor of the firehouse.
I was a monetary savings equal to two of my floor staff that I had recently hired.
The loss of my job would only be a change in my lifestyle as I am a retired National Park Ranger with 32 years of service to the people of the United States of America as a sworn officer and firefighter.
The loss of a job to either of my two newest firefighters would be crushing career killers and possibly even destroy their lives, marriages and hopes.
I can and will survive and remain in Page. My 51-year marriage to my childhood sweetheart is pretty much a proven bond. But those two young and eager men would be out on the street searching for work and would have to leave Page if they still wanted to be firefighters. I am not happy, but content.
I have had a long and exciting career of almost 48 years that many can only dream of.
I will always have a connection to the brotherhood of firefighters around the world. This relationship does not occur because you don turnouts, a helmet and breathing apparatus. It does not always happen instantly — it more typically transpires. It does not happen until you have done battle — it is the same brotherhood that those in the military have and let me assure you that they and we, the firefighters are one with police around the world.
I never realized what a brotherhood was until I had actually been a ranger for a few years and was stationed at Lake Mead National Recreation Area near Las Vegas, Nev.
It happened on a hot summer day when a call came in reporting a drowning.
The caller, who had to drive to a phone because this was in the ‘70s and well before cell phones, told the dispatcher that a small girl had drowned. But it looked good because her father and a friend were giving her CPR!
A brand spanking new, just out of the box, seasonal ranger and I responded about 30 miles on a paved highway and three miles down an unmaintained dirt/sand track.
Upon arrival I knew the situation was not good. The little six-year-old girl in a two-piece white with navy blue polka dot bathing suit that her mother had bought her to have fun in was turning black in the hot desert sun.
Her rescuers were totally exhausted. We took over the rescue effort.
The ambulance never came. If it did, I was unaware of it. My new partner and I worked for what seemed like forever with no relief.
After what was really about 30 minutes, my partner said “I can’t do this!”
A few minutes later I also had to stop. I glanced over my shoulder at the mother sitting in my non-air conditioned patrol vehicle. The look on her face was instantly frozen forever in my memory, for at that moment, she realized all hope was gone.
The rangers couldn’t save her precious child. Her heart broke in two and then melted away that day. The story goes on, but that is for another time and another venue.
Well, my partner of some two weeks came into my office the next morning in civilian clothing, laid his gun, badge and I.D. on my desk. With tears streaming down his face he stated through clinched teeth, “I can’t do this” and with no more explanation walked out the door. I never saw him again. I do not remember his name.
We shared a brief moment in time and destiny that will bind our souls together forever. That is the epitome of what the brotherhood is, and the price one must sometimes pay to become a member.
The saves are great, but the losses are what you remember. That little girl’s name and face have a place in this old man’s heart as real as the stars in a night sky. She visits me when the wind blows a chill in my bones. She usually comes around 0200 hours and stays for an hour or two, but sometimes, she comes in the daytime. She never speaks, but she smiles. I know she forgives my failure. I did the best I could.
Tragedies that fellow firefighters survive are what I feel create a true and everlasting brotherhood, a relationship that cannot be bought, faked or escaped.
With that thought in mind, I am glad the RIF was me and not two good men whose lives would have been ruined.
They would have been cheated from the chance to someday be a part of something usually unspoken and only felt in the heart of hearts — the brotherhood. But if someone does not speak, the outsider, the non-member, can never know why we do, what we do.
Like U. S. Army General Douglas MacArthur remarked upon his retirement, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”
I bid the service adieu, and this old fire horse will just fade into an Arizona sunset.
Larry D. Clark Sr.
U.S. N.P.S. Ranger, retired
Page City Fire Chief, RIFfed
Share on Facebook