This is my little bitty skinny kid, in the blue smock, with her friend Chloe and another little girl, visiting a local firehouse with their Girl Scouts group.
The simple, goofy joy the girls obviously felt around the big red firetruck stands in stark contrast to the bitter politics of fire departments and fire districts in St. Louis.
I covered in great detail the politics in the St. Louis Fire Department surrounding the public harassment and eventual demotion of Fire Chief Sherman George. I had lunch with Sherman yesterday and saw him again later in the evening. As always, he had people lovingly mobbing him and picking his brain for insight into local politics. He learned that stuff the hard way.
You aught to see Sherman around people who support St. Louis Mayor Francis G. Slay, who signed off on the career hit job against the chief. He really doesn't want to be bothered with them. Sherman and Slay supporter Jeff Smith (the state senator) were both in The Royale at the same time last night. I didn't see Jeff get anywhere near him, though I kept waiting to see if it would become an awkward moment. I can't bear to be around Jeff Smith myself since he started arguing on the mayor's behalf one day. It all has a bad odor, to me.
It's hard to accept that firehouse politics are so rancorous, when you consider the people who do this job for the most part make a living saving lives. That awareness - and these childish visits to the big red firetruck - help to explain why it is so difficult to get any political traction out of the public regarding fire department politics. I've seen a lot of white people dismiss it all with a shrug.
One guy even said to me, "Yeah, when the bell rings, they have to be ready to risk their lives. But the bell mostly doesn't ring. These guys have way too much time to scheme and plot and connive. And it's not like police politics, where you are talking about men with guns." I had to admit he had a point.
But any time you are talking about decent-paying, well-respected jobs with pensions, you are talking about life and death, opportunity vs. deprivation. With the cronyism and nepotism at play - and the racism, though I think it's the less potent of these three corrupting influences, nowadays - firehouse politics in St. Louis are going to stink for a long time to come. Certainly they will stink as long as Slay and his cronies have any say in the city.