By Jamie Thompson
FireRescue1 Senior Editor
INDIANAPOLIS — IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger has delivered a stinging attack on the media and politicians, saying the economic crisis has caused the fire service to come under unwarranted attack.
During a speech at FDIC in Indianapolis on Wednesday, Schaitberger said mindsets had changed radically from a few years ago when firefighters were "everybody's friends."
"Politicians everywhere wanted their photo taken with them — they could do no wrong and we had political support from all corners," he said. "Now they are ready to openly take us on.
"In my view, the goodwill is beginning to evaporate and where we could do no wrong a few years ago, we now find ourselves on the defensive."
Schaitberger declared at the start of the speech he wanted to offer a frank conversation over the challenges the fire service currently faces, targeting both elected officials and the mainstream media for his anger.
Newspapers across the country, he said, are distorting the truth over firefighters' salaries, pensions and benefits.
Newspapers across the country are now finding it a field day to attack the fire service on their front pages, according to Schaitberger.
"It's not enough that this economic crisis has taken us from the front lines in many cases to the unemployment lines.
"For so many of you still on the job, they are putting you in the firing line. Not only are we fighting for our jobs, defending our pensions and benefits, we are also defending our reputations now from those that want to tarnish it."
Schaitberger told the audience that while many of them have lived through recessions over the past few decades, the country has not experienced anything like the current economic crisis since the Great Depression. He criticized those mayors who are using the current climate as an excuse to cut fire department budgets.
"They didn't have the nerve to stand up and do it to our faces in normal times but they are now using this economic crisis as a tool, as a weapon against us," Schaitberger said.
"This is what we are faced with. This year I believe will be even tougher than last year."
Fire chiefs need to make clear the impacts public safety cuts will have on their communities on the safety of both firefighters and civilians, he told the conference.
Taking aim at the media again, Schaitberger said the IAFF will be campaigning aggressively in the coming months against misleading articles on firefighter wages and benefits.
"This union has had enough of that crap," he said. "We are going to mobilize, we are fighting back.
"We are going to put our money on the line, we are going to put our troops on the line, we are going to get our message across and do it more aggressively."