Report From The Treasurer
By Tom O'Connor, Treasurer
It seems as if Local 798 has been suddenly cast as the villain in this whole “merger of equals” between the SFFD and the DPH. Well, its time to dispel some of the current myths floating around the Department about the Union and show some of our malcontents that the “black hat” belongs squarely on those Chiefs who are in charge of this merger and who continue to do everything in their power to further destroy the morale and integrity of this department.

Myth #1 “The Union is negotiating a higher raise for firefighters in order to close the gap with medic wages.”

This is a complete falsehood. The Union seeks to raise the wages of all of its members equally. If firefighters get a 5% raise, so too do the medics. This has always been, and always will be, the practice of

this Union. In fact, this belief is one of the core values that this Union holds, namely that all workers are equal.

Myth #2 “The Union doesn’t adequately represent the paramedics.”

There is nothing that could be further from the truth. Local 798 has fought doggedly for the rights of it’s paramedic brother and sisters since our firefighters became medics, and after former DPH medics became H-3’s. What has hampered us from the start, is that the “paramedic community” does not have any sort of consensus on how it envisions its role in the Department, and how to ultimately achieve that role. While a petition was floated around recently in favor of the “1 + 1” ambulance program, signed by nearly 150 medics, it still was just an attempt to get on engines in order to get some relief from what is really the central dilemma facing the EMS division...workload.

Myth #3 “The Union has hampered the efforts of the EMS division and is responsible for the demise of the EMS program and the entire merger.”

This Union has done absolutely nothing to impede the “progress” of our EMS leaders. All this Union has done is tell the Presidio “cabal” that their plans were fatally flawed and were doomed to fail. At no point in time did Local 798 delay any facet of the EMS merger, not for one second. The only issue we fought was the BLS “pilot program” and that was eventually dropped because all of our members loved the overtime. This Union even looked the other way when laterals were hired, for the “good of the Department.” Workload issues were so critical that the Union felt it was important to get more staffing immediately and ignore the fact that a promotional opportunity was being given to firefighters from outside the department because of training failures and broken promises at the Presidio.

Myth #4 “The Mainline is anti-medic.”

Untrue. The Mainline publishes the opinions of its members who submit articles. We have been begging medics to write, and in fact there was supposed to be a monthly column from the H-3 committee, but the articles eventually just dried up. In fact, the committee itself seems to have dried up, with NOT A SINGLE PERSON attending the last meeting.

Some people also have issues with last month’s Mainline and the comments about the PIO’s bungling of the south of Market blaze. Perhaps it should not have been personalized, but rescues like that are the fire departments bread and butter. We save lives in a big, dramatic fashion. The fire department, that we are ALL a part of, is a giant public relations machine ...our success is based upon the dangers we all face TOGETHER, and the promotion of those dangers. Risking our lives for the benefit of others is our chief political currency. This is what is used to make us “bullet proof” in the political process. When any talk of firehouse closures or layoffs arise, we remind people of just how important it is to keep us around. When our PIO misses opportunities, we all suffer in the long run.

Myth #5 “Local 798 is against having paramedics on engines.”

Paramedics are needed on fire engines for the future survival of the department. As soon as everyone realizes that, the better off we all are. Medical runs are an increasingly important aspect of our job, and we need to be better suited to handle them. However, having said all that, we still need to gradually integrate medics, properly trained medics, into the fire service. The latest “plan” put out by our EMS leaders calls for 25 ALS engines and 20 “1+1” ambulances, effective July 1. There is simply no way this can be accomplished. Our engines are not equipped for this, our infrastructure cannot handle the number of daily details it will require, and our suppression force is still too “congested” with probies to have any room for medics. Unless the department plans to run engines with medics and probies together...a situation which can only end in disaster.

There is also a rumor circulating that a certain EMS chief is once again showing medics “drafts” of their plans for the “1+1” system which includes “double detailing” of medics and firefighters as a team. For instance, a “team” of one medic and one firefighter would be detailed to Medic 7 on one watch, and then to Engine 7 and Engine 11 on consecutive watches, in a constant rotation. Essentially, misplacing two engine members on a daily basis and leaving 25 of the City’s engines with a completely inexperienced crew...this does not bode well for firefighting in San Francisco.

Now that most of these myths have been, hopefully, dispelled, it is time for everyone out there to realize that our EMS leaders, and not Local 798, are responsible for:

  • an overwhelming run volume that is resulting in a disastrous attrition rate amongst our paramedics
  • cost overruns that continue to plague the SFFD
  • broken promises resulting in low morale
  • discretionary promotions to the rank of H-33...based on a “provisional test” ruled invalid by Civil Service
  • outside hiring of medics
  • a bloated management structure (see cost overruns above)
  • constant schedule changes (see low morale above)
  • the failed BLS program

And now we are faced with the “Rapid Paramedic Response System” (AKA “1+1” ambulances) brought to us by none other than our EMS leaders.

Do you really think they can pull it off? I didn’t think so.


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