A Reckoning

By Jim Vannucchi, Director

A few short weeks ago, while on a detail to a downtown company, a full box was struck. As I ran to the rig, a “probie” who was by my side as we approached the engine said, “I can’t wait to go! Is this your first fire too?” For the briefest of moments, my near 20 years of memories within the SFFD came crashing back. I looked at the “probie”, smiled, and said, with the greatest of envy, “I only wish it was.”


Duty. Honor. Loyalty. Three words that have resonated for over 150 years within that world we call the San Francisco Fire Department. Yet their meaning has lost much as they coursed through our history.

Several days ago, quite by chance, a senior administrator asked me what I felt would be the single most effective tool to restore the sagging morale of the SFFD. My initial thoughts reflected back to the day when I became a San Francisco Firefighter, when I raised my right hand, swore to an oath, and assumed a public trust. I knew then that I had entered a telluric of courage and sacrifice, where uncommon bravery is commonly displayed, where ordinary people perform extraordinary deeds, and where the unique bond of trust between firefighters is never violated.

Nevertheless, the answer I was seeking went beyond these 20 short years. I regressed back even further. To a time of Camelot and an idealistic young President who envisioned fairness, equity and freedom. Out of this tragic life came the framework for the 1964 Civil Rights Act. A law that guaranteed equal rights, not special rights. A law that provided for a level playing field, not a slanted one. Yet a law that was ill applied to the SFFD and ultimately turned brother against brother and where betrayal of one’s integrity and friendship was condoned.

With this, I turned to the administrator and said, “ Its’ quite simple. When you administer an examination, whether it be entrance or promotional, be honest. Allow for review of the test, the answer key, and the scoring method. Re-establish physical and academic standards. Hire in rank order. Hire based on merit.”


It has been approximately six months since Chief Tobacco assumed the leadership of the SFFD. His short tenure has taken a positive and pivotal direction that has far out-distanced his predecessor:

• RIT – For over 3 years, Local 798 had petitioned the Demmons Administration to institute RIT. Our requests went unheeded. Within days of assuming office, unlike previous management, it was evident to Chief Tobacco that the safety of firefighters was paramount. He initiated protocols that activated RIT when a report of “smoke showing” was reported at a full box.
• PPE – In the relatively short past, it was not uncommon to arrive at a full box to see the uniforms and personal protection equipment of fellow firefighters threadbare. It became abundantly clear by the inane budget of the former administration, that the safety of the rank & file was not a priority. Due to the efforts of the current administration and Dorothy Teupel, firefighters now enjoy a level of availability of PPE almost unknown in the last 4 years.
• TRAINING – To aid us in returning to a sorely lacking level of proficiency in suppression, Chief Tobacco & Chief Cercos have designed an enhanced and effective drill schedule. We are an institution seeped in tradition and fundamentals. Somewhere along the way, somebody forgot that these are the very tools that put the fires out. These drills are here to remind us of just that.
• OPENESS – To date, Chief Tobacco has appeared at Local 798 Union meetings on 3 separate occasions. Each instance provided an insight to the needs of management, yet allowed the membership a forum for a question and answer period. Honesty from management. What an unusual approach.


The surveys’ from the membership have been tallied and will be prioritized as they pertain to the upcoming contract negotiations. Due to stipulation, once we enter negotiations, the contents of these dialogs cannot be divulged. When the negotiating parties agree on the document, it will be presented, in its’ entirety, to the membership for ratification. With this in mind, I ask that you please be patient while contract negotiations are underway. I can assure you, the Local 798 negotiating team has your best interests at the forefront.


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