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.
The Promotional Process
By Michael Bonnel
What has happened to the San Francisco Fire Department? If you’re like me, you’ve probably observed recent promotional events with some dismay and shock. I, like so many others, have tried over the years to determine what the criteria is for promotion in the ranks. The seemingly obvious answer is that there is no criteria for promotions; it is whatever the Chief of the Department decides in his office. I, and five others who have held temporary Battalion Chief‘s spots, met with Chief Trevino. The purpose of our meeting was to inquire what his plans were for promotionals. With great pride, he laid out for us his idea - a new ten-point plan that would include everything he believed to be essential qualifications for those seeking promotions. Chief Trevino assured us that as the new chief, he would be implementing a new system that would improve the quality of the SFFD.

As we all know, there is no promotional system in place. There have been no promotional tests for some time and none are scheduled for the near future. To fill those vacant spots, fire personnel have been sent out according to their positions on the last expired test list. Chief Trevino didn’t like that process and decided that he needed to implement a different system. But to give that perspective, we must look at a brief history of the SFFD promotional system. Up to 1988, this testing system seemed adequate - you were placed on the list in order of how well you scored and promotions were offered accordingly. A system that seemed as objective as any testing can be.

Affirmative action provided a new testing process. We were now exposed to a new term - banding. What did that term mean and how did it work? We would soon find out. Banding would no longer allow the assumption that those who scored the highest on promotionals were usually the most qualified to do the job. It meant that after taking a job-related test that was supposed to be fair, everyone within a specific point span would be considered equal. For example, on the last Battalion Chief’s test everyone within a range of 120 points was considered equal. Unfortunately, this expanded version of the point system for listing qualified people, did not sufficiently provide for the Chief’s affirmative action agenda. Now, an additional and new term was thrust upon us - PQF, a form that would list all our qualifications so the Chief could make a more equitable decision regarding promotions and who would be best qualified. So, the testing system with banding wasn’t adequate and PQF’s had to be added. Sounds very complex and subjective.

Additionally, the tests were secret and there was no provision for those who took the tests to find out the areas that he/she may have scored low in with the purpose of improvement. We were told that it was the law and we didn’t have a choice. This new and improved testing process began with most everyone understanding that it was a license for the Chief of the Department to do what he wanted within the “legal” confines of the band. As a white male, I knew that as long as I was at the top of a list I would get a job. I also knew that once the band opened up that I, as a white male, would no longer be qualified. How strange that all the men in front of you were all qualified with no exceptions, but once the band opened up you who were next were no longer qualified!

Now, let’s return to our new Chief who is going to implement his new ten-point plan. Like the five of us at our meeting with the Chief, I am sure most of you have thought that this is not going to be any better than the previous equitable plans. But, Chief Trevino assured us that this would be different. Following are a couple of items we discussed. One, what was his position on waivers? He stated that he didn’t believe in them and would not promote anyone who had a waiver in. Wrong! I know at least 4 people who had waivers in who were promoted. Secondly, would he consider those who were already working in temporary positions of Lieutenant, Captain, and Battalion Chief? He assured us that he would. Well, as it has turned out, it seems that he considered the five of us for as long as we sat across the table from him. This does not bode well for anyone sitting in any of these temporary positions.

I am deeply disappointed in this new system and Chief Trevino who is implementing it on the basis of equity. I am also disappointed in the Fire Commission. They are supposed to be the overseers of the SFFD. My understanding of Prop 209 was that it was to put an end to unfair promotionals based on ethnicity, allowing promotions to go to those who know the job and are qualified to be in positions of leadership. Unfortunately, recent promotions indicate that they have been based on ethnicity. Some of those promoted have nothing listed in their PQF’s which would seem to make that form unnecessary for promotional purposes. When I came into the SFFD, 28 years ago, I was so proud to be a part of this department. I knew that I had become part of a department that projected a proud tradition of being a firefighter. I was trained by men who were fearless when it came to doing the job and giving orders, whether it be in the firehouse or the fire ground. Officers were not afraid to say what they thought needed to be said. They were not controlled by “political correctness”. Sadly, with the exception of a few, that is no longer true. It is difficult to get anyone to verbally commit himself to any thing that seems politically incorrect, probably under the fear of no future promotions.

Another area of concern I have is the positioning of people in jobs that they are inexperienced and/or unqualified to perform. I am amazed that there has not been more verbal outrage at what is taking place in the Department regarding hirings and promotions. From my perspective of 28 years, the SFFD has far too many firefighters whom I believe cannot do the job, beginning at the entrance level and throughout the promotional ranks. I have been involved with High Rise drills for 13 years and am totally shocked at those officers who show up totally unprepared to do their jobs. Procedures that have been in place for so long are not carried out. Why? My reason is that there is no reason to study anymore. There is no need to know anything about the job to get promoted; all one needs to do is talk his/her way through the exam.

My purpose for writing this is to state that the Department will never change until all of us stand up for what is right. It is the easier way to keep quiet when you want something for yourself. Voicing opposition to what is going on would most likely ensure that you won’t get that promotion, but it does ensure that you would be able to hold your head up with dignity within the SFFD knowing that you have done what is right. It would probably even let you sleep better at night. I once told someone in the Depart-ment, “Either you stand for something or you will fall for everything.” Well, members of the SFFD, that is my question to you - what are you going to do?


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