Editor’s Note: This post is another viewpoint on Speech Pathology Australia’s recent proposal and does not necessarily reflect the views or position of ASHA.
Volunteer firefighters are not presently supported by government funding; instead they rely on local fundraising and private donations. Everyone values their work, and all agree that firefighters should be compensated.
The professional association for volunteer firefighters proposes to the government that payment be provided for their services. Due to demands on legislators’ time and attention, the association selects one method for putting out fires – water – and suggests that firefighters should be compensated when they use water to put out fires.
Many firefighters ask, “What do we do when water is not the best way to fight a particular fire?” They point out that other methods for fighting fires have been shown to work just as well as water. They are told that water has more data, and they don’t want to confuse the legislators with multiple options.
Some firefighters express concern that their input was not solicited before the proposal was submitted. They further worry that their options will be limited by such legislation. The association says, “You will not be limited in what you do—only in what you get paid for.” The firefighters ask, “Will we get paid if we use another method?” The answer: “You don’t get paid for anything now, so this will definitely be better.”
The firefighters persist, “Why not seek payment for the service of putting out fires, rather than a particular method?” The association says, “When other methods have as much data as water, we can consider approaching the legislators again, telling them that the issue was not as straightforward as we first suggested. We can ask then them to consider other methods…That would be simpler.”
The firefighters collect numerous comments from specialty firefighters and support organizations in opposition to the proposal. Despite the grass-roots opposition, the proposal proceeds as originally written and is accepted. Volunteer firefighters start to receive government payment for one approach to fighting fires. Those who favor that approach are delighted. Others weren’t being paid before anyway, so nothing changes for them, at least not at first.
Soon, homeowners start to call the fire department to ask, “Does your department use water? I heard that you get paid for water. I want you to get paid, but I don’t want to pay myself. Plus, I read on a professional association’s website that water is ‘best!’” Thus, market forces drive firefighters to use water exclusively, although many know that there are other helpful approaches.
One day, a water-using firefighter finds himself working a fire against which water does not appear to help. He wonders if he should use some other approach in conjunction with—or instead of—water. Other firefighters have long used the method of changing the draft pattern in the house, but that method is not approved for payment. If he does it, his services will no longer be covered. He hesitates.
What is better for the homeowner? For the firefighter? Should he do what he knows is right for the house or what he gets paid for?
Ultimately, he decides that he should only respond to fires that can be put out with water. Other firefighters can deal with more complicated fires. It’s up to them if they don’t want to get paid?
Why has the firefighter been put in this ethical dilemma?
It all could have been avoided if only the professional association had pursued coverage for the service of fighting fires, not the specific treatment that they favored.
But that would evidently have been too complicated…
J. Scott Yaruss, PhD, CCC-SLP, is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 4, Fluency and Fluency Disorders. He is also associate professor and director of graduate programs in speech-language pathology at the University of Pittsburgh, coordinator of clinical research in audiology and speech-language pathology at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, and director of the Stuttering Center of Western Pennsylvania. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.