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Nels Johnson

By Nels Johnson

Marin Independent Journal

I’ve done lots of stories on generous public employee pay and pension benefits, unfunded liability and related matters. The firefighter report started out last spring as an effort to look at another side of the pay issue: the county’s most dangerous public employment jobs.

I was aware of a few of the firefighter deaths, and soon focused on them as research turned up a number of on-duty fatalities over the years that even firehouse veterans were unaware of.

The deaths of 19 firefighters in Arizona in June added urgency to the effort, but it is difficult in a run-and-gun newsroom to devote blocks of time to long-range enterprise, so I worked the story in odd hours over the summer.

I spent lots of time in the library reading microfilm of old newspapers, talked to more than three dozen firefighters in 14 agencies, historians and others as well as local, regional, state and national firefighter union representatives.

Although plaques and related memorials at several agencies honor some of the fallen, there is now talk of a memorial honoring them all at the county Civic Center.

Although the presentation included tweets and a Tout, one big lesson learned was that thought must be given to the various social media opportunities at the beginning of a project, rather than at the end.

In that regard, after a reporter has spent lots of time to nail down a good read, all others on the team must focus tightly on seamless execution of even basic presentation opportunities.

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