“The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens.” ― Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America.
From what I remember of my grandfather J.M., he was pretty irascible, strange as that may seem. So it is believable that, some time in the late 1920s, working in his cramped 19th Century dairy barn, likely dimly lit with low ceilings, that he cursed “I wish some one would burn this ♣℘♠ζ∑ℜ barn down!”
A tiny light bulb went off over the head of my Uncle John, then aged 4 or 5. Before long, the old barn was in flames. His older sisters later recalled it was the only time they saw their mother (my grandmother) cry. They even threw the pot roast cooking on the wood stove at the fire (for its juices) but the barn was a total loss.
Grandpa J.M. responded by conducting a fund drive among his neighbor farmers to buy a second fire truck, with the proviso that the Sun Prairie village department would thereafter respond to fires in the surrounding farm country.
Wish I had my father’s Sun Prairie volunteer fire helmet. Cousin John’s son Johnny VII is a volunteer fire fighter and for decades my great uncle Ben Blaschka (he married grandpa’s sister Elvina Blaska) was fire chief.
Volunteers saved over 100 lives
Fast forward to the month just past, when one block of historic downtown Sun Prairie exploded after a natural gas leak, killing volunteer fire captain Cory Barr.
Sun Prairie Fire & Rescue saved the lives of over 100 people by safely evacuating them after the gas leak was detected and prevented further casualties as the fire raged and explosions leveled a half-dozen buildings during the supper hour on Tuesday, July 10.
The heroic success of Sun Prairie’s mostly volunteer fire department could not dissuade liberal-progressive-socialist Emily Mills from demanding Sun Prairie spend more tax dollars and increase the size of government. Ms. Mills opines for the once-great Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, even though she is based in Madison.
Ms. Emily Mills is exercised that only 13 of the 70 members of the SP department are full-time; the remainder part-time or volunteer in a city of over 33,000 people.
“It shouldn’t take tragedy to remind us or bring into focus some of the larger issues that need addressing,” Ms. Mills scolds. Those being “budget constraints and debates over funding priorities.”
“It’s crucial that we push for better federal and state funding, in addition to local support. … The whole point of government is to provide that baseline of assistance.”
Community means pitching in, not paying to have it done
Being a good Leftist, Ms. Mills cannot leave the subject without genuflecting at the altar of identity politics. “I can’t help but notice that the vast majority of those currently working in firehouses are white men. This isn’t to say those white men haven’t and don’t continue to do excellent work, just that …” Yada, yada, yada.
No doubt, Sun Prairie likes to save money. But the Blaska Policy Werkes questions whether Ms. Mills understands the concept of “community” in its original sense, which is to say, beyond today’s divisive taxonomy of identity politics. (The “LBGT/Hmong community,” etc.)
Volunteerism is the heart and soul of what so impressed Alexis de Tocqueville about American democracy.
Volunteerism means the community has skin in the game. That you pitch in with your neighbors for the common good. That you don’t expect someone else to come along and fix your mess. Which is why Rob Schultz’s article in the WI State Journal is so welcome. (For my money, Rob the best news reporter working today in Madison.) The headline over his July 23 article says it all:
“Volunteer aspect of Sun Prairie’s fire department is a source of pride.”