Tuesday, March 20 , 2018, 9:29 pm | Light Rain Fog/Mist 55º


Ron Fink: What Offers the Best Value for Our Money — Emergency Help or Entertainment?

Suppose you have a real life issue that demands help from someone. I am talking about a medical emergency, utility failure, fire, vehicle accident or some other calamity. Would you call an actor? No. Would you call a basketball, baseball or football player? No. Would you call a rapper, country western singer, rock star or some other musically inclined person? No. Well, then who would you call?

The government provides some services — police, fire, emergency medical response and utilities. Both for-profit and nonprofit hospitals provide more advanced medical care and, of course, there are all those medi-center type clinics that treat minor ailments. All of these providers are essential when we really need help.

The amount of training and practical skills needed by all these workers can be overwhelming. For example, a police officer must be able to figure out what needs to be done when he or she is called to a location. Was there a crime? Does someone just need advice? Is an arrest necessary, or does the person need some other assistance (for example, finding a warming shelter)?

Cops have to be assertive and compassionate in equal measure.

Firefighters have to figure out all sorts of solutions to problems big and small. If your child’s hand is stuck somewhere, say in the cookie jar, they have to figure out how to get it out and then assess the child for injuries. Oh, and they will try not to break your prize cookie jar in the process.

Of course, fires, chemical spills, broken fire hydrants, medical emergencies, vehicle crashes, wild land fires and a whole host of other situations large and not so large are presented to them regularly. Sometimes they’ll even help get your cat out of a tree.

Emergency medicine begins when you suffer some sort of serious injury or illness. Both police and fire personnel plus a fully equipped and competently staffed ambulance will come to your aid. Medics have a dazzling array of electronic equipment, mechanical tools and a drug box that will provide near instantaneous short-term relief for pain. They even apply band-aids.

Then there are our utilities. Rain or shine, day or night, a skilled worker will show up to restore power or take care of a water main break.

But who gets paid more?

Many who entertain us (I’ll include politicians in this grouping) command large sums of money for their efforts — many are multimillionaires living on large estates. They would argue that they “work hard,” and I am sure that creating a cinematic fantasy or must-have hip-hop video could be construed as work, but is it really worth what we pay for it? Even game show hosts and soap opera stars earn hefty sums for their efforts.

Then there are all those sports figures you see on your TV playing in billion-dollar stadiums. We pay a lot of money, sometimes hundreds of dollars a seat, to watch them play a game for a few minutes. Is the cost really worth it, and does the outcome really matter in our daily lives?

If I were responsible for compensation based on need — no one ever will be since we are a free market economy — I would set compensation based on the real needs of people. In my world, entertainment isn’t a need; it is a distraction from daily life.

The people I would pay the most are those who have a direct impact on my life in times of crisis. It is those folks who I count on most and who would respond promptly and professionally to my medical emergency, utility failure, fire, vehicle accident or some other calamity any time of the day or night.

For example, in the medical world, doctors should command very large salaries. They expend years of effort acquiring education and experience that allow them to diagnose and treat your ailments. Many have specialties that boggle the human mind as they poke around your innards to find the bug that’s biting you.

Certainly all those first responders who enforce the laws, put out the fires, provide immediate lifesaving measures, keep the water running and the lights on deserve more than a basketball player. The folks who do these things place themselves in danger at a moment’s notice so that you’ll be safe and they are deserving of more for their services than any entertainer.

But the argument is always that police officers, firefighters, medical people and all those others are “making too much money.” Rarely do I hear anyone complain about the extraordinary sums that are paid to attend a movie, ballgame or rock concert. Many who stretch their budget to attend these events are the same folks who complain about their doctor bill.

So I guess the bottom line here is, where do you get the most value for your money — for entertainment or to save your life or your home? Think about this the next time you complain about public safety officers, utility technicians and medical professionals pay levels, because you really need these folks when your life depends on it.

— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry and has been active with Lompoc municipal government commissions and committee since 1992, including 12 years on the Lompoc Planning Commission. He is also a voting member of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association. Contact him at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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