Hitting the nail on the head

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By Optic Editorial Board

Katie Houdek, a sophomore at Robertson High School, had a great idea for her confirmation class service project. Last week she hosted a “Heroes Welcome Lunch” for Las Vegas police officers, firefighters and support personnel as a way to express appreciation for their hard work and dedication to our community.

“Police and firemen do a lot for us,” she said, “and they don’t get paid very much.”

That’s hitting the nail on the head. Indeed, they put their lives on the line for our protection, and yet — like so many service professionals in our community and around the nation — they’re underpaid for what they do.

The fact is, police and fire personnel must have a passion for what they do, or else it’s hardly worth doing. Christian Montaño called it “a calling” when he became police chief in January — and he wasn’t just talking about the leadership position he was being named to. He was talking about the calling to serve and protect.

Another fact is that small towns and cities have a hard time paying these emergency workers what they’re worth, so they sometimes lose the best and brightest to larger metropolitan departments that can afford higher salaries. And who can blame those local officers and firefighters from applying for jobs that offer better pay and benefits?

However, money isn’t everything, and that’s why we’ve been able to retain some outstanding talent in our police and fire departments. Small towns, after all, can offer intangibles that big cities simply can’t. Here in Las Vegas, where “everybody knows everybody,” police and firefighters are not only familiar with their surroundings, but they are known at a personal level. Family, friends and familiar acquaintances — these are the people they are serving.

So, in lieu of our city’s ability to pay them what they’re worth (which is much more than they earn now), we need to show them our appreciation. And that’s where Katie Houdek again hit the nail on the head. Her appreciation lunch, held at the city’s recreation center, included nothing fancy — some hamburgers and hot dogs and cake, thank-you notes and heartfelt poems celebrating the PD and FD’s good work — but we trust it was enough to make these professionals feel appreciated.

“It means a lot to them to know that people appreciate what they do,” city Fire Chief Phillip Mares said.

We hope so, for some things just can’t be adequately expressed. The importance to their work, and the better part of their passion for doing it right, is something we should never forget.