An intelligence test. Which is better: to lower the already lower-than-average pay of firefighters and increase their departures, and have to continually train new ones to replace them (at high cost while paying overtime to fill constant vacancies), or leave things alone and find other ways to reduce our county budget deficits?

Another intelligence test: When you start taking money out of the hides of our first responders, you lose them. And you cannot find new ones who once trained will not set their sights on other departments where the pay is more commensurate with the risks firefighters daily face to keep their communities from going up in flames - literally. Is taking money out of those hides a good way to balance a budget? (Full disclosure: my son is one of those first responders.)

Sure, some firefighters have found ways to jigger things to increase their annual pay. They’re the ones who’re going to stay and keep their training, knowledge, skills, and experience in our local stations. Remove those ways and you will lose them to inexperienced youngsters who will come on board solely for the training then split for greener – higher paying - pastures before the ink is dry on their diplomas. Remove incentives to achieve higher levels of physical fitness and education, you discourage maintaining fitness and obtaining higher education.

What makes a fire department work to and stay at its best? A highly trained, seasoned, and stable corps of response-ready veterans, or a cadre of revolving-door newbies itching to get to better-paying jurisdictions and departments elsewhere? Which costs more? A department filled with never-ending vacancies to be filled on overtime while constantly training newbies in never-ending high-cost training academies, or a department filled with committed veterans who know how to do the job twice as fast and efficiently, all the while lowering response cost? Who does the public want responding to their calls? Someone for whom this is their first bull ride, or someone whose been there, done that?

Consider also: Do we really need a fleet of high-end high-maintenance choppers with pricey on-call pilots waiting at the ready to ambulance some remotely living someone to medical aid? Or should someone deciding to live remotely accept the hazards of doing so in terms of getting to emergency aid? Why should the county bear the burden of getting that someone to emergency care when that someone made their own decision to settle themselves remotely?

Remove that fleet and, bingo, the KCFD budget deficit nearly disappears. Keep your rescue rolling stock on wheels, and let the public know it before their move to far-flung locations, and you don’t have to bear the costs of keeping expensive things in the air. Sure, wilderness living has its charms. But with those charms come inherent risks that the county shouldn’t be expected to bear.

Sad irony for those who prefer out-of- the-way living and eschew big government: they want big government to be there at times of trouble. Can’t have it both ways. Like one bumper sticker said in the Age of Aquarius (the 1970s) “Don’t like cops? Next emergency, call a hippie.”

When better to assert that principle, and be clear about it, than at budget times. In times of fire or flooding, as we’ve seen, responders announce mandatory evacuations. They make it abundantly clear that for those who choose to stay they cannot and will not be rescued. They stay at their peril.

Why not do the same for those with frontier blood in their veins: you live off-the- beaten-path, you do so at your peril. Our fleet on wheels will come, but maybe too late. Take your chances. The choice where you live is yours. An emergency set up by a choice of yours does not constitute an emergency for the county.

Sound harsh? It’s called reality. It applies to us all.

Brik McDill of Bakersfield is a retired psychologist. The opinions expressed are his own.