Letter From The Treasurer

Around The Department

By Tom O'Connor
There seems to be a pervasive sense of unease around the department, focusing mainly on the fact that so many things are going so very wrong. And if things are going wrong, why isn’t anyone held accountable at a higher level for these mistakes? If a firefighter goes through a red light, he/she will get days off along with their officer. If a firefighter is late or fails to report to duty, they are likewise suspended.

However, if a Captains promotional exam has to be taken over, is anyone held accountable? If new EMS spots are created in a vacancy list, why is it okay for these spots to arrive nearly three weeks after the personnel move to their new position?

How are so many “bread and butter” fire department issues being neglected? Read on for a breakdown of the issues at hand …

EMS Reconfiguration

The EMS Reconfiguration keeps moving forward, in spite of the mistakes being made in the day to day planning/operations of the plan. Station-based ambulances are being shut down as more and more dynamically-deployed rigs are being utilized. In fact, almost 50% of the call volume is being handled by our newest medics. Not too bad for only 45 people …

However, on the Fire/EMS side things continue to be neglected. Most recently, the Reconfiguration plan changed which engines are ALS, which houses had ambulances, and which stations housed rescue captains. All of which was done in the spirit of providing better patient care and better career satisfaction for our co-workers.

There was one problem, though. No one thought to set up these new spots until after people moved into them. What does this mean? It means that on January 3rd, medics moved to their new spot at Medic 22 … but there wasn’t an ambulance in the station! In fact, an ambulance wouldn’t arrive until January 31st. The same happened at Medic 19, Engine 24, Medic 11, etc, etc, etc.

How can these sorts of things be overlooked? Isn’t this an operational matter of great concern? Isn’t this entire reconfiguration based on response times and patient care? How can the department forget to move an ambulance or medical supplies to a new house?


The Captains promotional exam, the only exam in the last nine years, was just recently retaken. Retaken as in “do-over”? Yes, everyone had to retake the exam. And just in case you were out of the country, the reason for this “reexamination” was twofold; there were a great number of complaints about the audiotape used for the fire scenarios, and there was a breach of security on the test.

Apparently, the tapes used for the fire scenario portion of the exam were made at home by a member of the exam unit. The tapes were recorded on a dolby system, and played on tape recorders made before dolby sound existed. Many exam participants could not hear the fire problem on the tape. Some people were given headsets, others were not. Some test takers were told to read the problem handout, others were told they could not read off of the hard copy. Several lieutenants were allowed to come back and retake the test, others were denied the opportunity to retest.

These problems alone resulted in the Department of Human Resources allowing members to retake the exam. But a far graver problem was revealed at the town hall style meeting held by the administration in order to explain why the retake was mandatory.

Apparently, there was a breach of security during the development of a scoring key for the exam. At what point and to whom any information was passed is unknown at this point. What is known though, is that an investigator from the city attorney’s office was conducting interviews, and that the department will not tell who is culpable because “the report involves a disciplinary matter.”

This situation, coupled with the EMS snafu, should be a giant warning flag that more attention needs to be paid to the details that matter so much to our profession. But if you read on, you will find that other things are also being forgotten …


At the recent module at the Division of Training, all members had their turnouts inspected and any safety gear found to be deficient was confiscated. Fantastic. The administration is “sweating the small stuff,” doing all the little things necessary to take care of it’s employees.

One problem, though. In a recently released copy of the minutes from the CD-2 weekly meeting, we find that the department does not have the funds to replace nearly 400 sets of turnouts. Four hundred sets of turnouts. Big problem.

In a recent meeting with the administration this issue was addressed and funds were being sought to cover this shortfall. Perhaps it is time for a supplemental budget request for safety gear. Perhaps it is time to properly fund public safety on something as important as personal protective equipment.

But that is not the only thing that is underfunded …


It was recently revealed that the fire department has roughly $22 million dollars in outstanding deferred maintenance. Now, this should not come as a surprise to most of you … there are firehouses without heat, there are firehouses with only one shower, there are some firehouses where showers are scheduled so that men and women can share the women’s bathroom, there are still broken diesel extractors, leaking roofs … the list goes on and on. The administration has stated that the department will ask for $8 million next year, not including the $4.5 million necessary for the fire boat.

Again, the infrastructure of the fire department is a critical “bread and butter” issue that cannot be neglected. The brave men and women of this department are the front line for public safety in this City and deserve adequate, and safe, facilities.


Recent discipline cases brought before the Fire Commission have resulted in significant “victories” for those charged. The Commission has rightly reversed several critical cases, lowered the penalties incurred for others, and in general, have ruled in favor of common sense regarding discipline in the workplace. Perhaps it is time for the fire department attorneys to have less influence in the discipline process and allow the department to take care of itself. Perhaps the Captains exam and the resulting permanent Captains will result in more in-house discipline. This will allow the Fire Commission to focus on more important matters … like the next promotional exam.

Empty Spots

Currently, there are several critical positions that need to be filled, and again, these positions are critical for the “bread and butter” operations of our department. The Captain position at the Bureau of Equipment has been empty for some time now, and it is becoming more than apparent as facility repairs and fleet maintenance burdens grow on the short-staffed BOE. The staff down at the BOE is doing an exceptional job, but a Captain is needed in order to stay ahead of the curve with repairs and maintenance.

Another critical position that needs to be filled sooner rather than later is the H-39 Captain position at the Division of Training. Just recently vacated by Jim Conners, who leaves big shoes to fill, the position is critical to continuing the good work done by the D.O.T.

These positions will probably be filled when the results of the Captain’s exam is released, but the sooner the better for these highly critical jobs.

Upcoming MOU Negotiations

The MOU surveys have been returned, and the Executive Board is ready for some bruising negotiations. While wages and working conditions are always the focus of your union, there was a disturbing warning signal from the last vacancy list that signals some difficulties ahead. There were no EMT positions advertised on the last vacancy list. This would seem to signal that the administration is going to eliminate the EMT premium pay in the next contract.


This Union will not tolerate any reduction in pay to our members, moreover, the administration should firmly support continued EMT pay. The EMT pay is especially critical in light of the EMS reconfiguration and the emphasis being placed on EMS in the fire service. What message is being sent if an EMS premium is being taking away during an EMS reconfiguration? What message will be sent to the new EMT’s to be hired to drive the dynamically deployed ambulances? Is the department going to cut their pay?

Cancer Prevention Foundation

The initial results are being tabulated and things do not look too good. Out of roughly 1406 surveys returned, over 238 active and retired members have contracted some form of cancer. Again, these are just very crude, preliminary results and have yet to be tabulated by our epidemiologist, but it does not bode well. Worse yet, we have not factored in all of our brothers and sisters that have died of cancer …

On this note, the administration is focusing on the “bread and butter” issues, with testing occurring department-wide for kidney and bladder cancer. Here too, the results are not too promising … there have already been two positive tests out of 120 participants. Let’s hope this test, pushed by retired Cpt. Tony Stefani, will result in lives saved. And let’s congratulate the department on a job well done in this matter.

Moving Forward

When the department focuses on issues of critical importance, like cancer screening, the results are commendable. There is nothing more important than protecting the well-being of the men and women who labor each and every day in order to keep San Francisco safe. However, all of the issues mentioned above are critical and need to be focused on. Each and every aspect of the firefighter’s job is critically important to their safety.

Promotions, infrastructure, the EMS reconfiguration, turnout equipment, etc … all of these topics are critical “bread and butter” matters that are important. If ignored long enough, or taken for granted, the compounding affect of these issues result in not only lower morale, but an unsafe workplace.

It is time to “sweat the small stuff”, because the “small stuff” is the foundation of all that we build upon in the fire service.


Main Menu