Open Forum

The MAIN LINE is the official publication of the San Francisco Fire Fighters’ Local 798. Opinions expressed in this publication are not necessarily those of Local 798 or the San Francisco Fire Department. Members are welcome to submit Letters or Articles for publication; however the Editorial Board reserves the right to review/edit any submitted material.

Self-Righteous Rambling and Constant Complaining
(Two things we are experts in)

By Mark Sikora

We began this article with lofty notions of expounding on some deep meaning philosophical ideals regarding the goings on of the SFFD. Luckily for us, a more powerful force (Budweiser) took charge and we decided to do what we do best. Bitch, moan, whine and complain. Oh, and try to show how things can and/or are getting better. With that in mind, and a cold one in hand, here we go. We’ll try to be brief..

Traditional Fire Department

Sometime soon Chief Trevino is set to give a speech at a Fire convention in the San Jose area. The topic of this speech is allegedly: “How to effect change in a traditional fire department”. Since he has said in the past that the SFFD is basically an East Coast fire department located on the West Coast, we can assume he is planning on some changes here.

We, of course, will hold our tongues until we actually hear or read the speech. One thing we would like to say is that the tradition of the SFFD is one of a hard working, hard playing, well respected, aggressive, prideful, kick-butt fire department. We are desperately clinging to the reputation that has been built for us. This is a tradition that should be encouraged, not changed. Chief Trevino can go a long way towards continuing this tradition by using the CPAT as the entrance and exit test from our training tower, having some fair promotional tests, and basically just hiring and promoting people who are ready, willing, and able to do the job both physically and mentally.

Firefighters Still Second Class Employees

Harken back to the days of yore. Remember when the EMS fiasco began? Firefighters who voluntarily trained to become paramedics ran their home companies short, many ff’s did not cross train for this reason, the EMS authorities said it was a fiscal impossibility to backfill those spots with WDO’s, etc etc. It seems that the Lords of Emergency Medicine have hit the lotto.

Paramedics are finally getting the Engine and Truck training that they need. Guess what? Their spots are filled daily with paramedic WDO’s when necessary. In fact, there are mandatory paramedic WDO lists.

Sources at Second and Townsend also tell us that the medic spots on those engines and trucks must be filled daily with a paramedic. That means that if the City is over firefighters on a particular day, and a paramedic on, say, Truck 11 is off sick, a paramedic WDO will be hired instead of placing a firefighter, who is already making the City fat, on that rig. Not only is this totally illogical, it is fiscally irresponsible, especially considering the Mayor wants budget cuts in every City department.

(Late addendum: on Jan. 22 the City was over ff’s. An announcement was made in the a.m. for ff’s to go off. Several medic WDO’s were hired that day and at least two of them were hired for spots on fire rigs not ambulances. That is what the computer showed, how it panned out is anyone’s guess. The Department ends up paying time and a half to the medic on the truck or engine, plus straight time to the ff who took a vacation day. Wow, and we wonder where all the money goes.)

What Does the Presidio Have Against 2532’s?

More nonsense from the Medical Mavens. The 2532’s (paramedics who choose not to cross train, and, instead work 10-12 hour shifts outside of the Firehouse) are still being treated like lepers. (No offense to lepers). How many times has the ambulance pulled up to a medical call, you look up, and three paramedics get out? This happens when a 2532 medic is without a partner for whatever reason. The partnerless medic is made a third wheel on another 2532 rig.

While this is great for patient care, it is not the best way to handle the situation. We all are aware that an H-3 medic (cross trained) can’t work on an ambulance with a 2532 for some reason. Aha, you shout, that would be putting a 24 hour medic with a 10-12 hour shift medic, it can’t be done even with our tremendous computer system. Hmm, you scream, next you’ll want to give an H-3 a 12 hour WDO to work with the 2532. Not a bad idea, we retort. But we have something even better. A plan that will cost the City no extra money! A plan where the players are already at work (and don’t have to be called at 8 a.m. at their home an hour away to be informed that they have a WDO that day), a plan that puts that extra ambulance on the street instead of putting an extra medic in an ambulance.

Tell us, tell us, you moan, what’s your miracle plan? Simple: on days when there is a single 2532 out on the street, take a Rescue Captain out of their rig and partner them up with the 2532 in the ambulance. This way, the ambulance is on the street, patient care is improved (remember those lofty ideals that we used to hear from EMS all the time, remember when they said people would be dying in the streets without more ambulances?), and the Rescue Captain can go back to his rig at the end of the 2532’s shift. The City will survive the few times that this plan will be needed. Three Rescue Captains will be able to handle the load.

This is a simple plan that puts an extra ambulance on the street for no extra money. Let’s see if the powers that be do the right thing.

Let’s Not Forget the Battalion Chiefs

While we haven’t seen this act for awhile, it still should be mentioned. When BC’s have to go to a class etc. why is it they pull a Captain from the firehouse to ride the buggy? This leaves a firefighter in charge of a rig that is running short. Remember, the Captains bump up, and the firefighters bump up are not paid positions, otherwise this would be a moot point.

What is the point you ask? Well, wouldn’t it make more sense to let the BC go, and send the operator to the engine or truck for a few hours? It makes more sense to us to have a rig run fat for a couple of hours and have one BC out of service for that time, than to have a rig run short just so the BC can stay in service. Not to mention the fact that there are many newer Operators out there that could use the engine and truck experience. Just a thought.


Rumors (as usual) are flying that Chief Trevino would like to see the rank and file show more respect to the Officers and Chiefs. We whole heartedly agree. Officers and Chiefs earned their positions by being good firefighters, learning the job, studying hard, doing extra work, going to fires, and passing high on promotional exams. Man, we almost got through that with a straight face.

Seriously, we have enormous respect for many, if not most, of the Officers and Chiefs of the SFFD. (Especially the ones who were and are good firefighters and did pass high on promotional tests.) It is hard, though, to show respect to some of our ranking officers. Respect is something that needs to be earned, not demanded. Giving someone a pair of bugles or a gold badge does not give them the knowledge or skills to do the job.

Fair promotional tests, with answers that can be reviewed, along with promotions in rank order will go a long way towards alleviating the problems with respect, or lack thereof, in the SFFD.

Overused Phrases

Our nominee for most overused phrase of 2001: “Hostile Work Environment”. As in “I can’t take the detail to Station (fill in Station of your choice), it’s a hostile work environment.” (Most often said by someone who has never set foot inside that particular firehouse.) Also often invoked after another firefighter points out a mistake that you made. As in “Don’t tell me I screwed up by charging the hosebed, this place is a hostile work environment.”

While we can all use some help in how to best give constructive criticism, some of us need to lighten up when receiving criticism also. We all make mistakes, and if someone points ours out so we don’t repeat it, that’s a lesson learned. We need to learn how to communicate better so that we don’t offend someone, and that we aren’t offended so easily. What a noble goal for 2002.

By the way, there are times when you can invoke “hostile working environment” and be taken seriously: 1) when crawling over vomit and urine soaked carpet through dense smoke and tremendous heat at 3 a.m., 2) when flames are licking up your hands and wrists as you ventilate a roof, and for our medic brothers and sisters 3) when attempting to intubate a patient while bodily fluids are oozing out of every possible orifice, to name just a few.

We Thought We Were the Biggest Complainers

Recently many SFFD young guns have gotten upset at the newly proposed 3% at 55 retirement plan. We’ll keep it short: you guys are mistaken.

You are correct that not everyone will reach the top step. Everyone will, however, take home more than they would under the current plan. The Union guys have to worry about doing the most good for the most people, they don’t have the luxury of only worrying about themselves.

Ask around the firehouse, see how many “old timers” put in time to improve the Tier 2 pension that does not help them at all. To hear you guys complain that you will not help out with this new pension that benefits everyone is ludicrous. If you have valid complaints, by all means, voice them and be heard. Just remember, we need to help each other to get ahead.

All that rhetoric about having to work more to get the same benefits because you came in at a young age is just that, rhetoric. Using your logic, most of us should send part of our paychecks to Engine One every two weeks, because they work more for the same pay that we do. Remember, you will get more, you just might not get the most. Most of us have a long way to go and can continue to improve on our pensions. We need to work together now so that we can get this passed. As we said before, it does the most good for the most people. We should always be so lucky.

Contract Stuff

We would like to thank the Executive Board of Local 798 for another very nice contract. Thanks for all the hours you put in to help us all out.

If you are not in the Union yet, please join soon. Everyone receives the benefits that Local 798 has fought for over the years, so everyone should be a dues paying member and become part of the process. Only together can we continue to improve working conditions.

Late Breaking Complaints

Somebody recently handed us the Lotus Notes from the latest Chiefs meeting. Reading them made us wish we were all Chiefs. What a party these meetings must be with all the bon mots, glad handing, back slapping and sycophantic drivel. We never knew, until reading the minutes, that everything in the Department is working so perfectly. Come on!!

While we are the first to admit that the Department is making great strides and improvements in many areas (Radio, in service training, etc.), not everything is going so great.

What for example? Well, let’s start, as usual, with EMS. First, budget analyst Harvey Rose points out that response time has increased. Secondly, why are we prematurely wearing out half million dollar pieces of machinery on medical calls? We refer to the fact that front line Truck companies are dispatched to medicals if they are training a medic. We are not mechanics but it seems to us that the biggest rigs we have (hence the most dangerous to drive code 3) were not meant to take continual pounding up and down hills etc. unnecessarily. (This in no way is meant to imply that trucks should not be sent to medical calls if they happen to be the closest unit, as in when the engine is out. They just should not be sent first.)

The medics do need truck training to be fully cross trained. The medics that are put on trucks to train should be acting as firefighters not medics. In other words, the medics should be on the trucks to learn truck work, not to teach the truck crew paramedic work.

Here is another way the new system breaks down. On Jan. 22, a medical call (altered mental status) came in for the 100 block of Sutter Street. Units sent were: Truck 1 was the closest BLS unit so they went, then the two ALS units sent were Engine 17 and Medic 17! How does sending two units from Station 17 to the financial district on a medical make sense? Talk all you want about computer aided dispatch, available units etc. There is still no way this should happen. How about sending an RC to that call? Remember they are paramedics too, not just mid level administrators whose job Harvey Rose is after. How about those privates?

Luckily for us everything turned out well. Engine 17 was had no medic that day so they did not make the trip, and another ambulance with conscientious medics jumped on the call.

Anyhow, all is not perfect in the SFFD, no matter what the Lotus notes say.

Good Stuff

We tried to end by thanking the Union for the good things they have done. (Someone told us it’s good to end on a positive note). Unfortunately, we found that extra bad stuff at the last minute and had to add it in. That, and the fact we don’t know how to edit stuff on the computer, made us find some more good stuff to point out.

We mentioned the improvements at Radio (by the way, Chief Goodin came to the last Blood Drive (unlike most of you) and answered any and all questions for about an hour. He was very forthright and accessible, and believe us, he was getting grilled.), and what looks to be improvements in in-service training.

We would also like to single out Chief Corporandy. He continually gives his time and effort to write training articles for the Main Line and to attempt to bring more knowledge and professionalism to the field. Thanks Chief.

(We don’t want to ruffle the feathers of other Chiefs out there: most of you are doing a good to great job and we appreciate it. You know who you are, thanks also to you.)

Until next time, rant on. Keep safe. Enjoy the fact that we have the greatest job in the world, and, no matter how much we complain, we are working at the best place in the world to be a firefighter. See you all at the next Regulators meeting.

Mark the next Blood Drive in your calendars early and show up!!!


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