Open Forum

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.

Sikora's View

By Mark Sikora

The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.” - Henry David Thoureau.

While we realize that the San Francisco Fire Department is not Walden Pond, we can’t help but appreciate the poignancy of that quote. With the real new millennium now upon us, we believe the time is right for the reestablishment of pride, respect and honor in the SFFD.

How do we hope to regain our rightful place among America’s best fire departments? One step at a time, that’s how. It has taken years to degenerate into the less than stellar department we now are, and it may take years to claw our way out of this quagmire.

We do not profess to have any quick fixes. We do, however, challenge everyone to participate in our new Cult of Integrity. It’s easier than it sounds. In a nutshell: merit, period. If need be, seniority (which eventually benefits everyone) and/or veterans point. End of story. Merit tests, promotions based on merit. A simple beginning.

Let’s digress for a moment. For this plan to work, certain truths must be exposed. Among those truths are: 1) past discrepancies, whether real or imagined can never be made whole. (For instance; if my grandfather was denied employment in the SFFD in the 1940’s for whatever reason, giving me a lieutenants job that belongs to someone better qualified can not make up for that. In fact, I think my grandfather would be insulted by the idea that his slight could be made up for by my free ride. The same would hold true for a Captain who was passed over for a Chiefs job two years ago. Will giving him a Chiefs job now make him whole? No. The time, anger, resentment etc. can never be made up for, although allowing people the promotions they earned would be a good start.) 2) The entrance exam for the SFFD is out of our hands. It is a Civil Service test, therefore, who gets hired, why they get hired, or how they get hired is not a problem the fire department can fix right now. 3) The entire SFFD and the citizens of San Francisco benefit if we hire and promote the best and brightest people. 4) Employees who know that merit, and merit alone, will determine their fate in promoting are employees motivated to work their hardest and perform at their peak.

Alright then, where do we go from here? Well, we just had an H-33 paramedic captains exam, we are scheduled for an H-30 fire captains exam early in 2001 and there is supposed to be an H-20 fire lieutenants exam following that. The tests are coming, now all we have to do is promote from those tests in rank order, i.e.: by merit.

The most important step (after personal responsibility) is to have every recognized labor organization in the SFFD sign off on merit. That means that Local 798, Local 790, The Black Firefighters Assn., the Asian Firefighters Assn., Los Bomberos, the United Fire Service Women, the Chief’s Assn., and any other labor group we left out needs to sign off on and fight for merit only.

Every labor group and every employee should back this idea. It is a fair and equitable system. The entrance ‘requirements’ assure that the diversity goals of the Fire Department are met for new hires. Once we are in the department, we all have equal access to study manuals, drills, training sessions, etc. We all start on even ground. Logic and Darwinism dictate that all other things being equal, we will promote through the ranks in roughly the same percentages as we were hired in. Diversity and equality are built into the system on the ground floor, therefore promotions should be by merit only, with no regards to race, sex, religion, creed, color etc.

The SFFD is finally forging ahead with promotional tests (we hope). If we all start at the same level and are promoted solely on merit, all the arguments, anger, and frustration about someone ‘earning’ or ‘deserving’ their job will become obsolete. If you score number one, you get the first job, number two gets the second job etc. Simple, fair and effective. Promotions, after all, should be a privilege to be earned, not a birthright.

This is only the first step in our plan for the SFFD to regain its prominence. All we need now is for all the labor groups to agree that tests based on merit are the most fair and equitable way to go. After all, by promoting the best, most qualified, people, we insure the safety of the SFFD and the citizens of San Francisco. (Not to mention the fact that if the best people get promoted, they will, in turn, be responsible for training new members, thus ensuring that new firefighters and paramedics are trained by the most qualified individuals. It is a no lose situation.)

Promotions based on merit are the right thing to do. The question is: will all the labor groups have the courage to sign off on such a deal? Are the labor groups and associations ready to step up to the challenge? Are we ready to come together on something that will benefit the entire SFFD and the citizens of San Francisco, or will we continue to look out for out own self-interests?

We look forward to everybody’s cooperation in ensuring the betterment of the SFFD.

Happy New Year.

(Authors note: The ‘we’ used in this and other articles is in no way meant to imply the support or cooperation of the Executive Board of Local 798. The ‘we’ is either intended as the royal ‘we’ and/or meant to acknowledge the other author(s)/contributor(s) to the article.)


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