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.
ALS Engines
By Mark Sikora
“The second Vice is lying, the first is running in Debt.” - Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richards Almanac 1758

If Franklin were alive today, we would have to wonder if he was speaking of the Presidio’s takeover of the SFFD when he spoke those words. We will keep this short and simple today, as we are all aware of the totality of lies, deceit, manipulation of stats, etc. that has gone on from day-one of the takeover. We don’t have time today to discuss all of this mess. Today’s topic is a simple one: ALS (advanced life support) engines in downtown companies are an unneeded waste of resources and fiscally irresponsible.

The overwhelming majority of downtown medical calls are BLS (basic life support) in nature. Engines and medics downtown spend most of their medical time waking up urban campers, or picking up public inebriates. Changing dispatch protocols so that a call for SOB (short of breath, one of our most abundant non-emergency dispatches) is now dispatched as ‘severe respiratory distress’ does not change the nature of the call. It is still the same guy on Ellis St. walking down four flights of stairs to meet us in the lobby. The same guy that tells us in complete sentences what his chief complaint is.

Downtown Engine companies are surrounded by both hospitals (staffed with ER Doctors) and ambulances staffed with paramedics both at the firehouses and the H-1/2532’s roving around in ambulances. (The H-1/2532’s are a valuable resource who continue to be “shat” upon by the Administration and Presidio.) By and large they are the most competent group of medics in the City. They have years of experience, much of it DPH time (remember back when the system worked?) and are worried only about being good paramedics, not just biding time until they can get on an engine or truck.) Displacing a firefighter on the downtown engines and placing a medic in the back seat would not increase patient care one iota. The medics would be better used on an ambulance or an engine company where ALS care or hospitals are a distance away.

We are under severe budget constraints right now. Local 798 members voted overwhelmingly to pay back into our retirement fund earlier this year. Rumors abound about staff cuts, rigs closing, firehouses being shut down etc. Why then, would anyone advocate taking the lowest paid employee (H-2 firefighter) off the engine and replacing them with someone making what amounts to lieutenants salary (H-3 medic/ff)? This may be advantageous at some places, we conceded to that in the past. It is NOT advantageous or fiscally prudent at the downtown engine companies.

Many firefighters will lose their spots if this occurs. We sincerely expect all firefighters, especially those at downtown companies to back us in stopping this from occurring. We also expect all operators, Chiefs, and others in tenuous positions during budget talks to back us wholeheartedly. Remember who shows up to the Board of Supervisor meetings and Fire Commission meetings. During the last contract negotiations we packed rooms to help save operator jobs and speak out against closing any companies. We need to stick together and help each other.

The powers that be need to look at the allocation of resources. They also need to put a freeze on hiring laterals until we can fix the mess the department is in and mend the budget crisis. We have capitulated to your wants since the beginning, we now ask that you throw us a bone. Use your heads, be fiscally responsible, and keep the downtown engines ALS free. Ask the medics who have spent time at the downtown companies about the ratio of BLS calls. Talk to people who are actually on the street, not in some office. You will find that we are right, and that ALS engines downtown are a waste of money and resources.

(On a side note, stay tuned in coming months for different plans that will save the City money, allocate resources better, and boost morale out of the pit it is in currently.)

We need help from the top down on this one. ALS engines may be the buzz word across the country, and may work great in rural areas. San Francisco is far from rural, and downtown companies are so close to ALS care and Emergency rooms that ALS engines are not needed. Keep downtown companies ALS free, save money, and use the resources where they will be most valuable. If we lose on this one, what is left? You will turn us into the proverbial rat in the corner. We may go down, but we will go down swinging and take a pound of flesh with us.

We gave a lot, we are asking for a little back. Do the right thing.


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