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“I’ve driven an ambulance after 24 straight hours on-shift. I’ve worked 48 hours consecutively. It’s not safe. But I need the work.”

We meet first responders on the trail every night. People like David say that their favorite part of the job is finding ways to help people outside of just medicine. “Some of our older patients, we’re the closest things they have to family.”

David makes $11 an hour. Some EMT’s make less. We still have volunteer emergency management services in many towns and counties. David moonlights for one. When he and his co-workers are on call, they use their own cars.

But when we asked him the first thing he would do if he were governor, he didn’t mention pay or benefits.

“Number 1: we have to help homeless veterans. Why should I be able to buy myself a nice lunch, when someone who has served our country has no place to go?”

Inequality isn’t only about money. It’s about pain. The people in West Virginia who work the hardest get paid the least. They also carry the most pain.

First responders (and child care workers, and law enforcement officers, and social workers, and everyone else on the frontlines of our drug epidemic) deserve better pay. They also deserve free mental health care and more power in the policy making process.

The only way we get that government is if we take it.

(David’s name has been changed for this story, and he is not pictured.)

See some of our plans to address this issue: