Tuesday, Sept. 11, while many New York firefighters lost their lives in the rubble of the World Trade Center, 17 Payson area firefighters cast a vote to unite with their "brothers and sisters" across the nation.
Their sense of unity led to the formation of the Northern Gila County Firefighter's Association. The newly formed association will now apply for membership in the International Association of Firefighters, and the Professional Firefighters of Arizona, both of which are AFL-CIO.
The majority of the members are from the Payson Fire Department, however, the local association will represent interested full-time employees from Diamond Star and Pine/ Strawberry fire departments.
The word "union" can often leave a nasty taste in the mouths of those who control the purse strings in town government. However, newly elected NGCFA vice-president Garrett Ward was adamant about clearing up any rumors of discontent with their town leaders.
"We certainly did not form the association because we were unhappy with our relationship with the town," he said. "We have a good relationship and hope to continue it."
Ward cited advantages for joining a union which included occupational health and safety issues as well as legislative and congressional representation.
Jon Cline, secretary of NGCFA, said the decision to become a part of a firefighter union which is over 250,000 strong in the USA and Canada was finally set into motion following the death of Phoenix firefighter Brett Tarver. Cline said the IAFF and PFFA came in and relieved Tarver's family of the stress involved in planning the funeral. They paid for the services and picked up the living expenses of Tarver's family for three months following his death. Additionally the firemen's union will provide college scholarships for his children.
Monthly dues for members of the NGCFA is $25.
"This is cheap insurance for me to protect my family," Cline said.
Cline said that the state and national associations are active in lobbying for stricter health and safety guidelines on behalf of all firefighters.
The IAFF has been the leading force behind numerous advances for fire and emergency services including: passing heart, lung and other disability laws to protect firefighters who become ill from on-the-job hazards; enacting federal benefits for the survivors of firefighters killed or totally disabled in the line of duty and establishing minimum staffing requirements for firefighting.
Ward said that through the union they are also given the opportunity to network with other firefighters throughout the state and nation.
"Locally, we are committed to increasing our relationship with the community through service projects," Ward said.
"Our monthly dues will allow us to have the money to do these projects."
Cline agreed, stating that if someone in the community is in need of assistance whether it be painting a fence or weed control, the association will step in and help.
"We are not making demands for more money or equipment, we want to be an asset to the community through service," Cline said.
This sense of community service is mentored nationally as the IAFF is the largest national sponsor of the Muscular Dystrophy Association and supports research into the treatment of and rehabilitation from burn injuries through the IAFF Burn Foundation.
IAFF representatives are currently assisting members from the New York Fire Department with their funeral arrangements.
Richard Underkofler, Payson town manager, could not be reached for comment regarding the formation of the union.
Mayor Ray Schum declined to comment as he did not know if recognition of the firefighters union would come before the town council at some point.
For more information on the International Association of Firefighters (www.iaff.org) or the Professional Firefighters of Arizona (www.pffa.org), check out their websites.