Dear Mayor Turner

Dear Mayor Turner,

I hope and trust that you had a great July 4th celebrating our country’s independence.  I am making the assumption that you enjoyed a fireworks display with your family.  It is my oldest son’s favorite holiday for that reason. 

Today is July 6th (well now the 7th as the clock has gone past midnight), and I am writing this a day later than I had hoped, but that is life with four little boys that I am responsible for raising into respectable young men, and an exhausted husband who came off of rough shift with no sleep the night of July 4th.

You see my husband is Fire Fighter/Paramedic for HFD, and he was on shift the day of July 4th.  He is back at it today. He is our hero for sure, but we miss him greatly on holiday’s that he often has to work!!!  Even if he is not working for HFD (which he was this July 4th), he is often working holidays at his side job, which he must work to afford me the ability to stay home and raise our  four boys.  Even if I did choose to work, my entire salary would go to childcare.

Copied from Facebook page of Anja Storms

I know you are under no allusion that I support what you have done to the fire department as of late.  The fact that you had fire fighters go out and campaign for you on the promise that you were not going to go after their pension, and then turn around and do exactly that as soon as you secure the office is despicable in my opinion.  You took advantage of some of the hardest working men and women on the planet, many of whom work two and three jobs to support their family, but have stuck it out with the hope they could rest in retirement.

The fire department has tried to hold onto their pension for the simple fact that they want it managed well, even if under funded by the city, and it stark contrast to the way the city has managed all other financial endeavors.  They have been portrayed in the media as the reason for the city’s financial struggles, but as you know that is false.  They are only guilty of having a well managed pension that made others see dollar signs. I am not writing this to hash all of that out though.

The reason I am writing this is to put  faces to at least one family that you continue to toy with!

Just a couple of days before July 4th we found out that you snuck in taking away holiday pay for those fire fighters who work federal holidays. What your reasoning is behind this appears to be nothing more than spite, but I can’t say for sure. 

When my fire fighter works on holidays I worry about him more than normal, because I know he will be put in harms way more than an average night due to those who have been celebrating all day, and make poor decisions late into the evening. (This July 4th he had to shut down a freeway because of a scene that was unsafe.)  I also know he will likely get no sleep at all compared to the normal two hours he gets.  I sometimes call him on his cell when I know he will be driving home just to talk to him and make sure he stays awake. The emergency call volume seems to go up on holidays, so besides just the fact that he has to miss so many of them with his family, in my opinion he earns that holiday pay which you have now taken away.

There are also many rumors going around that you plan on switching the shift schedule to three days a week instead of the current two days a week along with other changes.  That would further cut pay for many firefighters by affecting their side jobs as well.  There is a very small minority of fire fighters that don’t work a second job.  Some even work a third job. It would be devastating to our family because my husband would be forced to walk away from the money necessary to keep us afloat.

You have already made your decisions and set in motion many things that directly affect these hard working men and women.  You and the city council have celebrated yourselves while families that sacrifice so much are gravely concerned for their futures.  (The day on which you chose to do so was in extremely poor taste as well, but I don’t think any of you have considered that fire fighters have huge hearts that actually feel.)  The lack of integrity with which you did so is hard to stomach, but it is done.  

I just want you to consider these four boys as you make your decisions from this point forward, as well as the dedicated fire fighter you have serving under you.

My husband is an amazing man!  I am insanely blessed to know him, much less be married to him.  He works a 24 hour shift every other day between HFD and another department to provide for our family. He gets off of shifts without sleep and pushes to stay up to spend time with his boys who beg for more of him.  There is nothing quite like the squeal these boys make when daddy gets home in the morning!

There are very few places that we drive in Houston that my husband does not have a story of someone he worked on.  Passing a street corner takes him right back to the scene of the accident. There are nights he calls me at 2 a.m., apologizing for waking me, but needing comfort because  he is devastated about having to call time of death on a baby the age of our own.  I will never know how he manages to see the things he sees, and then come home and live a normal life.

Like most fire fighters my husband does not consider himself a hero, but let me assure you that he is!  Sometimes I have struggled to accept the fact that he is.    You see I don’t like that he runs into fires.  I don’t like the times that he puts himself in harms way in order to help someone else.  We need him! Hearing that a roof gave out from under him, and knowing he would have been seriously hurt if not for one of his guys grabbing him and lifting him out as it did so, is not easy for me. 

When we first married I thought I didn’t have to worry about him as much because he was riding on a paramedic unit at the time.  The call I received that woke me in the middle of the night telling me that he had been stuck with a needle in a moving ambulance after a patient with hepatitis, assured me that  was not the case.  We went through a year of testing to make sure he had not contracted the disease, which by the grace of God he had not, but it opened this newlywed’s eyes to the extent of the hazards of the job.

When our first born was about two, and he cried to me that he wanted his daddy,  I tried to explain to him daddy was at work, and there were people who needed daddy to help them.  He looked at me with his tear stained cheeks, and told me that he needed his daddy to help him. 

Now our oldest son is 9 and has come to accept that his daddy is a fire fighter, but there are times I notice he doesn’t really want to talk about it.  Seeing images of the May 31st fire, and hearing that four fire fighters had died and daddy’s friend, Bill Dowling, who sat next to him in fire school, had been seriously injured, made my son realize that could happen to his daddy.  I saw my son forever change on that day.  He is extremely proud of his daddy, but I know he worries at times too. Each night when I tuck my boys in alone, we pray for their daddy to make it home safe in the morning.

We went as a family to give our support and watch as my husband stood in the rain at attention in the Wall of Honor as Bill Dowling’s body was brought to the funeral home.  I know each one was extremely proud of their daddy that night.  Only one of my boys wanted to go with me to the Dowling funeral because the others thought it would be too much for them.  My 7 year old who did attend with me told me he was very glad he went, but it was hard for him to hear Forrest and Foster speak about their dad.  He told me that part made him tear up.  He continues to talk about Bill and says he is a bigger super hero than all of the Justice League and Marvel characters combined.  I have to agree! 

As a fire fighter wife there is not one of us that doesn’t ache for Jacki Dowling, and know it could happen to us.  If it does, we only hope we can walk through it with as much grace and love as she did.  We are grateful for each day that our fire fighter comes home, and as they leave for their shift, we cover them in prayer.  I have come to terms with the fact that God created my husband to serve people as a fire fighter.  I am forever grateful for the opportunity God gave me to be his wife and serve alongside him, although it is not always easy.

Mayor Turner, I know God has allowed you into role as the mayor of the great City of Houston.  Romans 13:1 says, “All authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.” I praise my God for doing so because I know, “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28) I know my family was purposed by God to be one of the many families of the Houston Fire Department, and He will work it all for our good. 

What I ask of you, Mayor Turner, is to search yourself and your motives especially as you make decisions for the city and the fire department, and as you do remember my sons’ faces.  Think about how you will explain to them the decisions you are making that directly affect their future and the safety of their daddy as he goes to work.  Walk in integrity holding yourself to your word and the promises you made to our families as you used us to campaign. 

My husband is a man of great honor and he serves his city proudly without thanks.  Despite what is being taken from him and how it affects his family, he goes to work each day and serves the people of Houston with excellence and heart of love.  He would without hesitation sacrifice his safety for your family.   I am asking you to simply consider his family.

The members of the fire department are not asking for, nor expecting, free Super Bowl tickets and a salary that matches yours, which you use to provide for your family.  They are simply asking for what was promised and is owed them to provide for theirs.  Please stop stripping it away!

Please make their safety and their a equipment a priority so that they can serve the people of Houston, and still make it home to their families.  When I set my budget each month I have to choose what is a priority and what is excess.  The safety of these men and women, as well as the citizens of Houston, is a priority over parks.

Within my budget I also have to pay my debts, which I have in the form of student loans, and I can not steal from someone else to do so.  Please stop unfairly using the hard working men and women of the Houston Fire Department to right the city’s wrongs.

Mayor Turner, I remember you in my prayers.  I pray that God will move in your heart, and you will be touched by His amazing love for you.  You are His child, and He loves you beyond words.  God can do so much more than we can ever hope for or dream of.  He can balance the city’s budget when we give to Him.  I pray He will fill you with His wisdom.  May your service to the city be to His glory. Choose what is right. 

Sincerely,

Sarah Brown

20 comments

  1. Morris Bryant says:

    Well written Sarah. I am old school and still believe that a man’s word is his bond. As a retired police officer with 33 years of service I can relate to the necessity of working two/three extra jobs. I regret missing the time with my family but, I chose to be an officer and working extra jobs was the only way to provide a decent lifestyle for my family. When I accepted ths job I considered the retirement benefits and that balanced the scales. I am now enjoying those benefits but still feel guilty about the time away from my wifs and children. I feel the Mayor needs to honor those promises he made to the Houston firefighters and place a degree of priority to those who place their lives on the line for the city.

  2. Robin Humphrey says:

    I agree!!!!The Mayor needs to step up to the plate and make good on those promises he made to the Houston firefighters praying he will made the right decision for all these precious families.

  3. Ryan says:

    Any chance you can edit this line?:
    “The fire department has tried to hold onto their pension for the simple fact that they want it managed well even under funded, unlike the way the city has managed all other financial endeavors.”
    That “managed well even under funded” part does read the way I think it was intended to be read.

  4. Nita Schnitzer says:

    Dear Sarah, My son is a Safety Officer for HFD, I stand behind every word spoken so. I could say so much, but I leave you with this…Thank you for being the voice of so many. Allowing God to speak His peace, His truth and His grace through you.

    I can only pray that God will move Mayor Turners heart and that Gods favor will fall upon our fire fighters and this community. For if they go to the 3 day shift, Mayor Turner will be jeopardizing not only the safety of the fire fighters but the community as well.

    God bless you

  5. Oletha Smith says:

    My heart goes out to you and your family Sarah. Thank you so much for the incredible sacrifice you and your precious babies make for the city that I was raised in. My son is also a Houston firefighter and I can’t begin to tell you all the emotions I’m feeling over this horrible situation. One thing that I feel most people don’t realize is that these men and women work two 24 shifts. That’s 48 hours in one week. How many other people can say they work 48 hours per week? Or that they put their lives on the line for total strangers every time they go out on a call. Or that they sometimes have to work on Christmas or Thanksgiving or miss other important events? My son had never missed a family Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas Day with his family until he became a Houston firefighter. The pay, their pensions the fact that most firefighters need a second or third job in order to provide for their family is sad indeed. But, you and so many others have said everything so much better than I can so I’m just going to say that you are so right Sarah. God can fix the problems with Houston’s budget if HE is allowed to. I pray that Mayor Turner will humble himself and pray and seek God’s will in the important decisions that he must make that will affect the lives of so many.

  6. Candy Romeo says:

    Very well written, Sarah. I am the mother of a young (21 years old) HFD firefighter. He went straight from high school to EMT and Fire school with a dream of serving the city of Houston. He said that his dream was not ‘just to be a firefighter’, but to be a firefighter for HFD. He worked hard to make that dream come true and started with the department at just 20 years old. As his mother, I am unbelievably proud of him for following his dreams and the calling that he had to serve others, however I too spend sleepless nights worrying for him and the other first responders out there. He lives to serve others and is truly doing what he was called to do. Soon, he will propose to his girlfriend and will be not only my son, a firefighter, but also a husband and someday a father. I can only imagine that my worry for him will grow when he has a family to support and take care of. Thank you for supporting our guys the way you have by writing this letter. May God bless and watch over you, your husband and those precious boys of yours. May He also watch over and keep safe all of the men and women of HFD and all departments.

  7. Melissa says:

    Beautifully said sister! I am so sorry this is happening to our Houston families. Thank you for your vision of this matter and sharing the wisdom in faith of Christ to restore this department.
    -Cfd wife & homeschooling mom

  8. Deanna says:

    Inspired me to write a letter also and include pictures of my kids and to add to yours. My husband works 3 jobs for us.
    Love yoke letter

  9. M. Atkinson says:

    Wow!!! This is all the absolute TRUTH!!! Thursday we buried my husband, a retired Houston firefighter. He died of CANCER at age 73… the last man to die in just that way of a group of 12 firefighters that made the Redwood Chemical fire years ago… where they walked in chemicals up to their knees and into their boots!!

    Sarah Brown’s story is so much like ours was… even down to the four boys and all the side jobs. My husband worked CONSTANTLY… just to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads as the pay was so bad!!! I can remember many times that we received promises of future retirement benefits instead of scheduled raises because the city said they didn’t have the money for raises.

    PLEASE REMEMBER… the City of Houston has run everything it has managed into the ground financially … They are HORRIBLE managers of money!!! And they have been trying to get their hands on the well managed Firefighters Pension Fund for DECADES!!! George Lowdermilk personally built and protected our pension during his long lifetime. I remember one time he told a Houston mayor that the night before she was to legally take over our pension money… he would write every firefighter a check for over a million dollars and put them in the mail! She backed down from her plan of theft… because she knew he meant business and WOULD DO IT!!!

    After George Lowdermilk’s death we knew that the “wolves would be watching the hen house” and the ‘hens’ would soon be in the cities’ pot!!! Sadly, it has now happened.

  10. James Reaves says:

    I worked every Christmas for 7 years before I could have one with my girls. I worked two jobs for 22 1/2 years to provide for my family

  11. Lenzy Chapa says:

    If any Houstonians get the chance please please if your a registered voter sign our petition that will allow HFD to receive equal pay as HPD.

    HFD cadets make 28,000 starting out
    HPD cadets make 42,000 starting out

    This pay raise would be such a blessing for so many fire families. We need 21,000 signatures in 2 weeks to make November Ballot. Help us make it happen.

    Thank you and God Bless

    https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/local341/pages/221/attachments/original/1499464476/Houston_Fire_Fighters_Charter_Amendment_Letter_Final.pdf?1499464476

  12. Jessica says:

    As the wife of a HFD firefighter also, who raised three children, one who is disabled. It never crossed my mind that he should work multiple jobs so I could stay home. I worked full time, as did he. We were partners, equally handling everything. Our kids are now grown but I would not change how we did anything.
    I understand that some people feel the need to stay home. But that is your choice just like it was mine to work and help provide for my family and not work my husband to death.
    Life is all about choices.

    Although I do not support what is happening with HFD, it was a long time coming and everyone knew that. The union has had 3 years to get a contract in place but they failed. I equally put the blame on the union for not doing their job and bringing us to this point.

    After 13 years in the fire service, we have known that the pension would become a thing of the past. We planned and prepared for that ourselves. We also understood that HFD’s pay was slightly less annually than other departments but the trade-off of working 8 days a month versus 10 days a month made the pay difference worth it. It gave us more family time.

    The current pay parity issue is one that is faced all over the world and its not going to change. There is an endless supply of guys and girls who want to be firefighters. The schools put them out at high rates. Unlike law enforcement, every fire dept has a waiting list….a list of people who are waiting to get called to start working. Police depts don’t have that. People don’t want to be LEOs, esp in todays climate. So the pay has to be enticing to get people to apply. Its basic economics unfortunately.

    My husband chose to be a firefighter/paramedic years ago because he wanted to help people, he knew the pay sucked and the hours were long. He didn’t do it to be called a hero and in fact he despises hearing anyone say that. To him and our family, he does his job just like everyone else out there does. It was the job he chose and we chose to live within our financial means and to not over indulge.
    Maybe we are just old or old-school but the days of having multiple kids with a stay at home mom is great of you can afford it. We never have owned a new car or a boat or jet skis or any of that. We own our house, pretty basic but it is home. Our kids never went without anything they needed, however they know the difference between wanting and needing something and thankfully they will carry those values with them forever.

    • Pablo says:

      I am sorry Jessica for my confusion. It seems that you are implying that since you saw it coming you then prepared financially to make up for the abuse the city government would dole out. That ‘you’ are prepared and so therefore the deceitfulness of the administration is now palatable to ‘you’. Then you make lifestyle judgements. It sounds like a bit of martyrdom especially with references to you are ‘old school’.
      Oversimplifying my impression of what you wrote, it seems you mean,”You should have seen it coming like I did, now deal with less because we did.”

      That is not helpful or reflective of reality. I understand economics well. My family is blessed to have other incomes that will make the city’s deceitful actions survivable, BUT none of what the mayor is doing (under the GHPs thumb) should go unchallenged! It is immoral, unethical, manipulative, insulting, etc..
      Everyone has their own ‘home economics’ and you should not judge theirs, now that you are okay to deal with less income. Finger shaking has no place here.
      Reform was needed, sure. But the city is overstepping past simple reform …but this is preaching to the choir.
      Despite the realities of supply and demand that you pointed out, firefighters signed up for a job for an X amount of compensation and benefits and now those are diminishing greatly. It’s time to reassess and affect change, and shed “shoulda seen it coming” attitudes.

  13. Paula says:

    Beautifully written. I am the mother of a Houston firefighter. He loves his job, he had a calling to be a firefighter from a very early age. It’s heartbreaking to see the way they are being treated. Thank you for speaking up for them!

  14. Shirley Clark says:

    Sarah, thank you for expressing so beautifully what we firefighter families feel. My son is a firefighter / paramedic and of course has always had to work a second and sometimes third job to make up for the low HFD pay but never complained. For many years I was a supporter of Sylvester Turner and never would have expected him to make a campaign promise that he obviously had no intention of keeping. I hope and pray he read your letter. I have emailed him several times and have yet to receive a response. He is the only Houston mayor whom I’ve contacted that has not responded to my emails. My prayers are with you and your family as well as all HFD families, past, present, and future and yes, especially you Mayor Turner.

  15. Lauren Dauzat says:

    As a fellow Houston firefighter’s wife, I commend you! Wonderfully written and I thank you for writing it. May Turner read this and have a change of heart! Praying for all HFD members and family.

  16. Rosalie Beckwith says:

    Yes, firefighters are our heroes. I’m nurse so I understand not being around for the holidays, let’s take holiday pay off of the firefighters? In nursing, you get time and a half for some of the holidays. Give these heroes back their money and more I mean, how many people will run into a burning building to save others?

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