Related story: Cause for alarm? How Menlo Park fire district pays its employees.
Firefighters, says Menlo Park Fire Protection District Chief Harold Schapelhouman, deserve to be well paid.
"We see the best and the worst circumstances that happen to people," said the chief, a former firefighter.
When kids come in to tour a fire station, "those are great days," he said.
On other days, though, firefighters must respond to situations such as the one in February 2105, when a woman was killed when her car was hit by a train.
"The firefighters are the ones who have to extricate those victims," Chief Schapelhouman said. "It's a huge responsibility."
"We get paid to do the dirty work," he said.
Firefighters have a risky job, the chief said, even when what they are doing isn't responding to a fire. Firefighters get called when a car goes into a ditch, when a tree falls or, even, when a cat is stuck in a tree. Several years ago, he said, a firefighter was injured when a cat being rescued jumped on the firefighter's face and he fell off a 14-foot ladder.
The district serves Menlo Park, Atherton, East Palo Alto and some adjacent unincorporated areas with about 100,000 residents. Statistics from 2016 aren't in, the chief said, but in 2015 the district received 8457 emergency calls, with 187 of them for fires, and 5,532 for medical assistance.
Every firefighter also has medical training of at least emergency medical technician level.
The district, fire board president Peter Carpenter said, "protects lives and property and it does it 24/7 without regard to the economic circumstances of the citizens we're serving," he said. "We don't ask questions; we provide service."
The district also works to prevent fires. "We'd much rather prevent a fire than put one out," Mr. Carpenter said.
He said the district has three firefighters who could retire at 90 percent of their current pay, but choose to keep working because they enjoy their jobs, making only 10 percent more than if retired.
Some of them might even be eligible for disability, he said, meaning "they may actually make more money if they retire than if they continue to work."