Letter From The Treasurer

The Fire Commission and the Fire Department

By Tom O'Connor
Last issue, this magazine published some rather “forward leaning” articles concerning issues facing both firefighters and the fire department. We heard, in no uncertain terms, that the administration was displeased with the tone of our writings. This month, in order to show that we are interested in letting various points of view be heard, we will print the “highlights” from the Fire Commission Meeting on March 8, 2007.

(It should also be noted that the publication date of this “Main Line” also coincides with a critical meeting of the Fire Commission. Today, April 12th, the Fire Commission will meet and discuss the status of the H-30 Captains examination. All members should attend, as the results of this exam will serve as a harbinger of things to come for promotions in the Fire Department.)

Firehouse Conditions

The first quotes from the Fire Commission will be related to a letter written to the Commission regarding the deteriorating conditions at Station 1. (At the time of the letter there had been no heat for months and a crumbling apparatus floor.)

Commissioners Conroy and Nakajo had dinner with the men and women of Station 1 and had this to report:

Commissioner President Paul Conroy: “Let me chip in for just a second, to say just that I found it personally embarrassing to sit there and have members talk about how they were cold and having to bundle up during the winter. And maybe that was unavoidable, I don’t know. But I felt responsible. And I am responsible. The Commission is responsible for that.”

Commissioner Stephen Nakajo: “I think communication and letting the members know what priorities are is important. For me, particularly, if someone tells me they have no heat or something occurred between the months for sure of November, December, January and February—I was at my house, and I’ve got heat, and I was still freezing at my house. So in terms of operations and responsibility of the members, its hard for me … I get upset …Because basically for me, it’s our frontline men and women that we’re asking to do the job. And yet, if these are the kinds of conditions, it makes it pretty tough.

Commissioner Victor Makras : “If I can suggest to the Chief and to my colleagues, you’ve got a place with no heat. That does not meet health and safety standards. If we were on TV, I think we would be embarrassed, the discussion we’ve had in last ten minutes. The last ten minutes shared nothing but words like embarrassment and disturbing, versus solutions to a problem that the firefighters are due – timely. So I would suggest is not telling us we want heat, but figuring out how we’re going to do it. To me, I’m not saying it’s a simple answer, but if we don’t have the money in the budget, then the first Commission meeting we have, the Chief should come to us and ask for a supplemental, to submit the supplemental to the mayor, and the Board of Supervisors.”

Captains Exam

When the Fire Commission and the Chief addressed the H-30 Captains exam, there seemed to be elements of confusion concerning both the legal status of the posting of results and the width of the “band” for scoring. Perhaps most importantly though, no one in the administration seemed to know if there would be a cutoff or “failure” point for any participants in the exam. The Commission had this to say:

Commissioner Stephen Nakajo: “Okay. You made some reference to 1,000 to 700 (points), so my question was if somebody failed—is that 700 a failure minimum?”

Manager of Human Resources Division Jesusa Bushong: “I’m not exactly sure how minimum competencies will be addressed. Dr. Topp is actually scheduled to present before this body on March 22, so at that time he will describe the scoring process.”

(It has been ten years without an examination, Dr. Topp made a presentation as to “minimum competencies” in October, and yet there is still confusion regarding the process)

Commissioner Stephen Nakajo: “Well, this Commissioner is sure hoping that he gets some verification of knowledge. To be quite frank, it’s nice to use the semantics of ‘expert’. Expert is nice, but if the common person like myself can’t understand what the expert is talking about, it’s hard for me to comprehend the understanding as to what the process is. So again, I’m concerned, just in the sense that the candidates who went through this process—are we still talking about 120?...

I guess my point is that we have some comprehension and understanding, at least the candidates to be fair, have the understanding and comprehension … If the process is still ongoing, I think that some communication — (I don’t know if it wants to be official or not) — to let the folks know that the process is still occurring accordingly, depending upon what might be on the grapevine that some things are (stopped or not).

(It should be noted that there is still no communication from the administration regarding the examination, nor has there been a list of eligible candidates posted yet.)

Drug and Alcohol Testing

Recently, the crew of an entire station in Battalion 10 was tested for drugs and alcohol without any probable cause. It was done voluntarily, but it was still outside of the department’s protocols and could easily be construed as a violation of our members privacy rights.

The Commission and the Commission received a letter from your union, and had this to say:

Chief Hayes-White: “So we’ve acknowledged that with 798, and we have some work to do on clarifying, and we will do that. I think there was some sort of an impetus for some of the members maybe to think that—they were somewhat dismayed to think that someone from the public thought that they had alcohol on their breath. That ‘test me, I’m clean’ type of thing is sort of what came out. Like I said, I probably would have been opposed to having them tested that afternoon, based on the fact that there was no evidence to believe that they had consumed alcohol or had alcohol in their system at the time.”

Commissioner Clem Clarke: “That’s good to hear, from a political standpoint, because it would be challenging, to say the least, if every time someone from the public would make accusations in reference to a firefighter or several firefighters that there would be a testing process going outside of protocol. So I would just always be concerned, from a litigation standpoint, if we’re opening ourselves up for some challenges.”

The Role of the Commission

The Fire Commission and its members should be commended for serving both the public and the department so well. The Commission walks a very fine line between its commitment to the taxpaying citizens of San Francisco, and the very brave men and women who protect this beautiful City each and every day.

As demonstrated from the transcript segments above, they are doing a fantastic job. Their commitment to the rank and file is exemplary, as is their dedication to ensuring public safety.

The members of Local 798 thank you for your service…


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