Rob Douglas: Comment out of bounds


Rob Douglas

Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at

Find more columns by Douglas here.

If we’ve reached the point where a former firefighter from the most esteemed fire department in the world feels it’s appropriate to publicly proclaim his hope that the homes of elected representatives in his adopted hometown will burn to the ground — because those part-time citizen legislators dared to question the local fire department budget — then perhaps we are past the point of no return as a civil society.

That is not a hypothetical statement. That is an accurate description of a comment placed on the Steamboat Today Web forum by Kevin Nerney, a former New York City Fire Department firefighter who lives in Steamboat Springs.

Nerney’s comment was in response to the newspaper’s article, “Steamboat Springs City Council receptive to pay raises for firefighters,” recounting discussions Tuesday evening by the City Council concerning salaries and other costs associated with the Steamboat Springs Fire Department. After providing the context of the discussion, salary information and the fact that several council members favored providing raises for Steamboat firefighters as a means to prevent turnover, the article contained the following two paragraphs summarizing questions raised about the approximately four-fold increase in overall costs to taxpayers for fire and emergency medical services throughout the past 10 years.

“But other council members were concerned by how expensive funding fire and ambulance services has become since the department transitioned from a volunteer service in 2001 to a city-funded professional force in 2002.

Council members Cari Hermacinski and Bart Kounovsky questioned what was being done to address the ‘exploding cost’ of the fire department over the last decade.”

Evidently, the fact that Kounovsky and Hermacinski asked questions designed to obtain an understanding of why fire and emergency medical services costs have grown so quickly and what might be done to prevent future unsustainable increases — questions that any competent elected representative should ask — set Nerney off, as reflected by the following comment he placed on the newspaper’s forum:

“44 thousand? shoot that was starting salary back in NY in the middle 90’s. Time to get with the program Steamboat. Council members Cari Hermacinski and Bart Kounovsky questioned what was being done to address the ‘exploding cost’ of the fire department over the last decade. I hope if either of your houses catch on fire the boys are busy trying to (save) costs by not putting fuel in the trucks and can’t make it to put it out. 23 full time Firefighters is not nearly enough protection for 30,000 residents when ski season is in full swing. Sept. 11 is quickly approaching — take a moment to reflect and remember.”

Nerney’s irresponsible statement about his “hope” that our local firefighters would make an excuse to not respond to a fire at the homes of two elected representatives, who both have children, is beyond the bounds of decency.

Nerney is not just any reader making an inflammatory statement on a newspaper Web forum. He is a former professional firefighter from the world’s premier fire department — a department that Steamboat Springs firefighters probably revere. Nerney has been quoted repeatedly in the Steamboat Today based on his experience as a New York City firefighter. For Nerney to suggest, even in jest, to our local firefighters that it is appropriate to consider whether to respond to a call for emergency services from a public official based upon how that public official has conducted oversight of the fire department is reprehensible. While those types of not-so-thinly veiled threats against elected officials trying to deal with difficult budgets are on the rise across the country, they have no place in Steamboat Springs.

Hopefully, this was a one-off rash statement by Nerney that he will find the maturity and grace to apologize for so that it does not cast a shadow on himself and his former department. We all make intemperate statements when it comes to issues we care about deeply. But, if we want citizens in small communities like Steamboat to step forward and grapple with increasingly difficult issues, we must never use the safety of their families’ lives as leverage as they perform their official duties.

Since 1998, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Douglas, email


Dan Hill 2 years, 12 months ago

Not to mention the shameless use of the memory of 9/11. Because of 9/11 we shouldn't scrutinize the cost of fire services? There's an appeal to emotion rather than reason if I've ever seen it.


Scott Wedel 2 years, 12 months ago

Seriously, the topic of the week is a stupid comment supported by no one on the forums?


Bret Marx 2 years, 12 months ago

You totally missed Kevins point Rob. Quit trying to twist his comments into something it is not. Kevin has probably put more on the line than most people on this forum, myself included. That's just like the media. Why is everyone having such a problem with giving some firefighters a raise? It shouldn't even be a problem of trying to find money for people who save lives and others personal property daily. You want them there when you need them, pay them. Instead firefighters have to line up on Lincoln on Labor day weekend begging people to put money in a boot.


Kevin Nerney 2 years, 12 months ago

First off Mr. Douglas, a man with your prowess of the English language should know what the word Threat means and in no way shape or form can what I said be misconstrued to be such. I could have used any of a dozen different scenarios to express how the existing fire dept. would be unable to respond in a timely manner to a major structural fire at either of these two residences. Had the blog police thought it an inappropriate comment it would not have gotten published or perhaps someone would have pushed the suggest removal button. 36,000 dollars isn't very far removed from the poverty line. I have no dog in this fight as I don’t work for the Steamboat Springs Fire Dept. but I will always go to bat for them and any other firefighter in this country when it comes to salary.


Brian Kotowski 2 years, 12 months ago

The remark was ill-advised. Malevolent at worst, careless at best.


Robert Dippold 2 years, 12 months ago

Rob, I understand your frustration with the specific comment. The statement Kevin made was poor form; no doubt. Obviously, he has a lot of emotion about the subject and I believe he is equating money with respect and appreciation, which is the root of the problem in my opinion.
I have 2 observations. First, in general, our society has lost the ability to discuss differences of opinions in a civil manner. The city council are public servants. If they are paid at all, I would suspect that it is much less than the firemen. They deserve every bit as much respect as firemen and I applaud the council members volunteerism, whether I agree with a decision or not. Secondly, I can appreciate the service of someone as a civil servant or a private person and pay them a competitive wage. Appreciation and wages are separate issues. Wages are based on supply and demand. As long as there are enough competent firemen willing to do the job for "X" amount of money that will be the wage. It is no different than the private world. I can respect my administrative assistant and treat her well and show her appreciation but she is going to be compensated based on supply and demand (how replaceable is she?) Kevin, I appreciate what you have done in the past and your desire to see your brethren make more money. Connecting wages to respect and suggesting that public service could be rationed out based on popularity does harm to the image of Steamboat firemen and all public servants, which is the opposite of what you are trying to accomplish. I realize your heart is in the right place. In closing, I have great admiration and appreciation for all public servants and I wished society would show them the respect they deserve. Public servants need to realize that their jobs are similar to the private sectors in that they are paid on a supply and demand basis and to not equate their paycheck with the respect that society has for their contribution. We have the same issues in the private world.


kathy foos 2 years, 12 months ago

As long as you are clearing the air about extreme opinions,here is one more.....A new picture for Rob is needed,he looks so hot and scratchy!(I've wanted to say that all summer)Please give the firefighters enough money to live on.Pilot,if the comment poster must put up with Robs policing and attacking post's,how about paying money to the few comment writers that are left ,as you will pay Rob for his writing?Bring back the anonymous writers ,please.One of these days you will have no comments to publish at all.Who want's to be attacked by Rob(the pot calling the kettle black?) for a composing a comment,and the Pilot pays him for it?


Robert Huron 2 years, 12 months ago

In Steamboat and across the country public service employees like fire fighters, police and teachers have been accused of causing most of our budget problems. The problem is their salaries come from taxes and in the last decade paying taxes has become a dirty word. No one likes paying taxes including me however if you want top notch people and good service you have to pay for it. Unfortunately Steamboat is a high cost area to live and what we pay our first responders and teachers is pretty poor which is why many have 2 jobs. If you want a strong military, good teachers and highly qualified first responders someone has to pay for it. There is no free lunch and you get what you pay for.. We have been told that the way to prosperity is to cut taxes even more. I believe the last decade has proven that to be a joke.


Scott Wedel 2 years, 12 months ago

And the background of Niernry's comment is the poor journalism of taking statements from two city council members expressing concern of explosive fire dept costs that could be construed as implied threats to the fire dept funding without that article or any subsequent article describing why the costs have been increasing.


Scott Wedel 2 years, 12 months ago

It was completely inappropriate to take an online post and make it the centerpiece of a Rob Douglas column. He does not attempt to engage the person making the comment in the place where the comment is made. Nor is Mr Nierney a public official whose policy thoughts have direct impacts upon firefighters.

Rob Douglas has previously violated the policy of these forums and personally attacked me and the post was not pulled.

Rob's column could be considered bullying of an online poster and obviously sends a message that everyone ever writing a post should not say anything that bothers Rob. Since now Rob has shown that he is allowed to rip into anyone in a printed column for what is said in an online post.

To the extent this paper has standards, it is now clear that they do not apply to Rob whom is now shown to be free to use his column to attack private citizens as he pleases for whatever offends him.

I can't wait until next week where Rob rips into the city's mechanics after overhearing a conversation in a bar


Brian Kotowski 2 years, 11 months ago

Calling someone on the carpet for stupid remarks posted here is entirely appropriate - whether it's you, me, Rob Douglas or anyone else who chooses to. You have in the past characterized me as “vile”, I have in turn dubbed you the Serial Whiner. Your hand-wringing about “bullying” is laughable. You have an axe to grind where Rob Douglas is concerned and you trash him every chance you get. You could at least be honest about it.

I also recall this impassioned post: “If anyone cares, I am done posting at this site except to point out the stupidity of this [anti-anonymity] policy.”

Not a man to be taken at your word, evidently.


rhys jones 2 years, 11 months ago

Two comments:

The forums HAVE deteriorated in recent months, gotten rather bitter, cheap insults flying fast and free, now with names attached; the removal of anonymous posting accomplished little to prevent petty sniping. Kathy's right in that it IS disgusting that the Pilot is now subsidizing rebuttals herein, in this instant article.

I counted at least sixteen pieces of quality emergency equipment at the 4th of July parade -- ambulances, pumper trucks, ladder trucks (TWO huge ones) equipment trucks et cetera -- for when the Al Queda start their evil plot, probably by blowing up the James Brown Soul Center of the Universe Bridge, onward from there. $44K is not unreasonable to clean up the carnage; Steamboat ain't Manhattan. Thank you, Council, for reining in THAT money train, or trying to!! Thank you firemen too; that's a good gig.


Robert Dippold 2 years, 11 months ago

Steamboat Today is not required to offer the individuals of the community an opportunity to write whatever they want. It is our privilege not our right. I can anticipate a time when Steamboat Today finally says that certain individuals are abusing this forum because they don't know "the bounds of decency" as Rob would call it and stop the forums/comment sections all together. Rob called out an individual who stated that it was his wish that firemen would not respond to a home fire of a specific individual because of a disagreement on a policy issue (actually the councilman was just asking a question). The result of his wish coming true, could be a home fire which would result in the loss of life and property. As much as I respect what the fireman has done for his community in New York, the comment is unacceptable and requires an apology. I think Rob had a bigger purpose with his article. I think he was challenging each of us to ask what the bounds of decency are for speaking with each other or discussing subjects on this forum. If someone is allowed to imply that "I hope the firemen don't come to your house when it is burning and your family dies in flames", then what is out of bounds? Can it get worse than that? "Bounds of decency" can be a collective term on what society thinks is decent. It has evolved to making personal attacks on public figures, such as Rob in this post. I don't have any delusions that I can influence the world to be a more civil place, but I do hope that Steamboat can become more civil be establishing the "bounds of decency" to mean that we don't attack each other personally on these forums. Was Rob right to challenge the fireman's comments through the paper? I think he was challenging all of us by asking what is wrong with all of us that there is not a public outcry for the threat that was implied against our government official.


John St Pierre 2 years, 11 months ago

I was under the impression that Steamboat was in review of dept consolidations with some of the surronding depts.... as a cost savings... what happened with that and the report was due to the city??? With some 24yrs in fire service both paid and volunteer I have mixed feelings on the subject.... By removing the everyday volunteer from the equation the Fire Dept here essentialy removed the everyday community involvement .....setting themselves apart and behind the curtain as "city employees" which in this age of less govenment carries its own baggage.

While NYFD may make lots of money I know that in St.Louis a full time 10yr fireman makes $48K ( entry is $35K)..... Steamboat is an Expensive place to live.... I would hate to see what has happened in Summit County where 90% of the Lake Dillon Fire Protection full time fireman live East of the tunnel and commute for their 24hr shifts.... thus being basically disingaged from the community they are paid to protect.

If the council should decide to go ahead w the raises.... I would have serious issues with spreading to other depts. based on the widespread unemployment in the area not to mention the to die for benefit package that full time employees receive.....

I would suggest that our local Fire Dept be more engaged in the community & present their case in a public way.... It is a branch of our city services, but like the Police Dept dedicated to serving the community 24 hours a day 7 days a week with possibbility of not coming home at the end of their shift.


Matt Helm 2 years, 11 months ago

I think Rob is digging for stories in the wrong place. It's funny how only one other comment followed Mr. Nerney's. I'd say none of us make what we should here. My salary has been frozen with the county for more than 4 years. Low salaries will cost more in the long run because when people quit for better jobs, we pay more to hire and train others. Mr. Nerney's comment was not threatening, but merely hypothetical. The comment was pretty harsh, but he was just trying to make an emotionally driven point!


Kevin Nerney 2 years, 11 months ago

(Robert Dippold) Let me address some of the issues from your first comment as the second comment doesn't warrant a reply. I understand your position on supply and demand in reference to pay scale, however unlike private business public service isn't about making a profit. I'm sure if your business suddenly doubled in gross revenue your administrative assistant would certainly want a piece of the action, although you wouldn't give her one since supply and demand says assistants are a dime a dozen. Fire Depts. on the other hand are a necessary evil, an insurance plan if you will. We don't generate income like the PD can just by writing out tickets. Insurance companies make money by playing the odds, they figure if 100 people buy life insurance not all will die at the same time and therefore can parley the premiums into a profit . City's across the nation play the same game with Firefighters and the lives of its citizens. They bank on disasters coming at evenly spaced intervals so that the services don't get spread beyond it's limits. There are no guarantees however. As far as doing the job of firefighting expecting respect and appreciation are so far down of the list of why we do it that it would be included in an addendum at the back of the book. We don't do it for the money obviously, but we certainly don't do it looking for an Attaboy. OK forget it, let me say this about your second comment. Several days after the Aurora movie theater shooting Mayor Bloomberg when commenting about gun control suggested that all Cops in the country should go on strike since authorities weren't doing enough to protect them from bad guys with guns. Was that comment outside "the bounds of decency" as Rob would call it since everyone's life would be in danger without police protection?


Robert Dippold 2 years, 11 months ago

Kevin, I'm going to stick to the particular issue of fireman wages to start. I have a friend who was a firefighter in Summit County and moved to KC because they needed to make more money to raise a family. My son was interested in being a fire fighter but could not pass the physical test. As my friend told him, the mountain jobs are among the most coveted jobs in the country and the departments only take the best of the best because they can. They don't pay the best because they don't have to. If one firefighter decides to leave, there are 10 qualified firefighters standing in line to take the jobs. If this is true and the supply of firefighters wanting to come to the mountains for "X" amount of money is greater than the demand for qualified firefighters then there is no economic need to pay more money to the current fire fighters. As far as how many firemen are needed to service the area, it is a different subject that I am clearly not qualified to comment upon. Your point about Mayor Bloomberg is a good one. I think there is significant difference between the two comments, but I understand your point. I hope you are not justifying your comments because of Mayor Bloomberg's comments. I also do not think the comment you made means that you are a bad person or that you can't make the situation right and become a positive leader on this issue. If you wish to talk with me directly I can be reached at I am happy to give you my phone number from there. All the best. Peace.


Ken Collins 2 years, 11 months ago

I had the priviledge of working with Kevin and his wife when they were building their home and they were great to work with. I don't know exactly what Kevin wrote, but I have a thought about the situation. While working with them, 9/11 happened and Kevin was on a plane the next day. I don't know how many of his "brothers" he lost but it was many. The closest I can imagine to firemen are soldiers in combat. There a very few jobs where your life and your coworkers' are on the line, possibly everytime the phone rings. And when your buddies die in the numbers they did that day, we civilians cannot comprehend. And it never leaves you, I'm sure. So, I imagine Kevin has a different connection to his past job other than a "supply and demand" reference. As far as we know, every time he hears a fire alarm, he might revisit the tragedy. I personally, will cut him a great amount of slack.


Scott Wedel 2 years, 11 months ago

Kevin, Just because something is in the public sector does not mean there is no longer supply and demand. The supply of people qualified to work as firefighters willing to work at a particular salary in a particular city most certainly is a supply and demand dynamic.


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