Who'ya gonna call?
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Bill Barth
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Last week in the Harangue, Mr. Carlyle — a peculiarly crotchety sort, he is — drew attention to the absurdity inherent in how America compensates its heroes.
            Carlyle’s example of baseball star Alex Rodriguez earning hundreds of times what a firefighter is paid surely is not an isolated outrage. Select movie stars pocket up to $20 million per picture. Golfer Tiger Woods and basketball standout LeBron James both are expected to become billionaires before they’re through.
            And how about those bigshot financiers and corporate CEOs, who made off with hundreds of millions of dollars as the market melted down and storied companies collapsed like dominoes, some barely surviving by picking taxpayers’ pockets.
            Like Jimmy Carter once remarked — by the way, not many smart quotes attributed to that unfortunate fellow — “life is not fair.”
            Those who contribute the most often are rewarded the least.
             I’ve always been riled by that, but the level of frustration is higher now that my youngest son is preparing himself for what he hopes will be a firefighting career. John is completing an Associate’s degree in fire science, after which he plans to get a Bachelor’s in public administration. Meanwhile, he’s in the midst of EMT (emergency medical technician) training, which is taken through a regional trauma hospital. Then, in the next year or so, he will do paramedic training and certification.
             Even as he proceeds with the classroom fire and medical preparation, John has signed up for the real deal. A ceremony this weekend will mark his transition from “proby” (for probationary) trainee to full-fledged member of a local volunteer fire department.
            Already he has answered dozens of calls ranging from traffic accidents requiring use of the “jaws of life” to residential fires to helping resuscitate an elderly victim who had stopped breathing. As a volunteer, he’ll probably average about $10 per call. Paid, by the way, once a year.
            Look, I’m not trying to make John out to be some kind of hero or lobby for his personal bottom-line, though I am very proud of his choices. He’s a rookie, training for a career that can involve heroism.
            Others who have chosen his path are out there, every day, making a difference for people in trouble.
             So are police officers. And nurses. Teachers. Home healthcare workers. Nursing home attendants. Boys and Girls Club program coordinators. Drivers for Meals on Wheels.
            American soldiers. Let’s repeat that. American soldiers. In a class by themselves.
             Most of these folks — and plenty of others; this was not intended to be a complete list — make, at best, a modest living wage. Normally, I’ll bet, they don’t think much about that. That’s because they are not driven by money. They do not measure their success by money. They have loftier goals than money.
             I’ve often thought, this is one of the more unfortunate aspects of America’s free enterprise, capitalist system. The system works magnificently for people who ring cash registers. Fill Yankee Stadium and your pockets fill up, too. Make a big sale for a company and your bank account will grow. Drive up the price of your company’s stock and you’ll soon be driving a Bentley.
            But if you save a life? You might get a thank-you card. Take a bullet for your country in Afghanistan? You’ll get government health care. Inspire the next Bill Gates in first grade? You’ll get the going union scale for teachers.
             Like Carter said, life isn’t fair.
  And, no, I am not — repeat, not — some kind of commie pinko or socialist. The free enterprise system isn’t perfect, but it sucks less than all the others.
             I’m just suggesting that, maybe, someday, we ought to find ways to keep score about what a person contributes to society besides the heft of that individual’s wallet. And we ought to reward the difference-makers, not just the ballplayers and movie stars and CEOs.
            Question: If you fall over on the street, you’re not breathing and you have no pulse, who you gonna call? Not A-Rod.