|By Tom O'Connor, Treasurer|
| The San Francisco Fire Department is now finding itself at an important crossroad, and once again, finding that the decisions to be made are not entirely without outside influence
As the SFFD enters the 21st century, and Advanced Life Saving (ALS) Engines gain popularity for all progressive fire departments, the department finds it must expand its ALS coverage of the city. However, due to mismanagement and poor employee relations over the past few years, the department finds itself woefully short of the necessary number of paramedics needed to expand the program. So, in order to expand, the SFFD must split up its paramedics, putting one on an engine and leaving one on an ambulance. But even by splitting up the paramedics, (which shortchanges patient care, jeopardizes suppression coverage and creates a dispatch system that wastes our resources) the department needs more paramedics desperately.
|But no San Francisco firefighter will take the paramedic training course offered, for it will only result in deplorable work conditions on an ambulance, and lead to career stagnation if a firefighter wishes to stay in suppression.
With this situation occurring, the only answer then is to hire from the outside, meaning more lateral paramedic/firefighters from other departments. However, the SFFD is already overstaffed, and now is committed to hiring more firefighters from the last group of cadets off of the previous entrance list, perhaps as soon as June or July. Which boils down to one sad fact, no more paramedics any time soon unless the department finds a way to hire above the number of employees that it is allocated.
Even the next list of eligible employees taken from the most recent entrance exam has only 50 paramedics on it, and that is before these candidates take the physical agility test and go through the oral interviews
Unless something gives soon, the department wont be expanding the ALS program in a truly meaningful fashion anytime soon. The department can expand what it currently has now, but to expand it any greater means no truck training, and if there is no truck training there will be no promotional opportunities, for both DPH medics and lateral medics. Without promotional opportunities, and with no clear career path in the SFFD except perhaps a grand total of 50% of their time on an engine, the department will certainly not attract any more lateral hires.
What the department needs RIGHT NOW, is a complete restart of the entire merger, with the current class of paramedics finishing their entire truck and engine probation, followed by a rapid training schedule for the rest of the medics (laterals included). The department needs to show that it can follow through on just one of its many merger plans for the medics. Once this group of medics finish their suppression probation, another bigger class should go through suppression, until each and every single medic in this department is fully cross-trained, just as every firefighter has been for over 150 years. No one in their right mind would put a paramedic out on the street after receiving only half of their training, but why it is okay to half-train a medic as a firefighter?
When an H-2 leaves the Division of Training, he/she knows what to expect concerning their job one year of probation, followed by some time at radio or now, on an ambulance, and then back to suppression. When a paramedic goes to work, they dont know if their shift is going to change, if they will be on an ambulance or an engine, if they will ever be fully cross-trained, and if they ever complete training, when they will ever spend a meaningful amount of time on an engine or truck improving at their new-found craft firefighting.
Only one thing out of this whole merger mess is certain, virtually no one wants to be involved in transport and nearly everyone wants to be a medic on a fire apparatus.
Maybe the time has come to get rid of, or at least minimize, the SFFDs role in transporting patients. Perhaps the department should load up its rigs with medics, leave only 10 ambulance staffed for true code 3/trauma calls, and farm out some of our workload to the private ambulance providers. If transport was removed from the current equation, there would be no problem attracting San Francisco firefighters to become paramedics. Nor would there be a problem attracting lateral hires (actually, the department wouldnt need to hire laterals).
Perhaps it is time for the Presidio, or rather the Administration to redraw the entire program and start fresh, for both the good of the department, and for the good of the taxpaying citizens we serve. The current state of affairs cannot continue for much longer before the entire program fails entirely and if that happens, you can bet that San Francisco residents will fail us at the ballot box.