A New Year, A New Fire Department ...

By Tom O'Connor, Director

Two Thousand and One is the year that the SFFD can finally turn itself around…or continue to plod forward towards a very uncertain, and in all likelihood, dangerous future. Here is what the SFFD, both management and rank and file, need to do in the coming year…

Budget Problems

First and foremost, the SFFD must cure its budgetary ailments. City Hall has given the department a full fiscal year to get our financial house in order.

Gone are the days of piecemeal budgets where money was taken from safety gear allocations to cover spiraling overtime costs. Gone are the days where monies for apparatus would be hijacked for “forgotten items.” Gone are the days when segments of the budget would be “frozen” because the previous administration just assumed that the money would be needed to cover other “unanticipated” expenses, like salaries.

In 2001, the SFFD has been given the opportunity to rebuild the budget from the bottom up…from every “probies” salary on up to the paper clips on the Chief’s desk. With a full and fair review, the department can very easily analyze its current, and future, spending needs. Let’s see the department show the City just how much the SFFD needs to get back up to speed:

  • More firefighters trained to be paramedics
  • More firefighters hired to avoid ugly overtime scandals in the press
  • A full exposure of the debacle at the Comm Center and the actual dollar amounts it is costing the department on a daily basis
  • More readily available safety equipment kept in stock
  • More reserve rigs and OES equipped engines

There are no excuses this year; the SFFD can lay down a solid financial foundation for years to come if, and only if, the budget is done correctly.

EMS Program

Along with curing its budgetary woes, the SFFD must also fix the FD/DPH merger. What is needed most of all to fix the EMS program is a better dispatch system, one that keeps our Emergency medical providers from acting as taxi drivers for the intoxicated and indigent and instead puts them back in the business of providing top notch emergency medical care. Genuine medical emergencies should not be put on hold for Code 2 runs, especially when it only appears to be the result of a turf battle between public and private ambulances.

Perhaps it is time to “farm out” some of the SFFD’s Code 2 calls to the private ambulances and keep our medics ready for genuine medical and fire emergencies.

Along these same lines, if and when the BLS ambulances are taken off the street, the SFFD needs to train more firefighters to become paramedics in order to maintain our current daily ambulance numbers. Once this situation is finally addressed, then the department can look forward to a more rapid integration of paramedics onto engines. Advanced Life Saving (ALS) engines are the wave of the future, and the SFFD needs to get on board. “One and One” ambulances, however, are not the way to solve our current ambulance crisis. If your Cadillac is using up too much overpriced fuel, you don’t cut it in half to increase your mileage. By the same token, our “Cadillac” EMS system should not be diluted simply because it is grossly understaffed.


The SFFD must continue on its current hiring “blitz” in order to avoid splashy overtime scandals that the local press just seem to eat up. Once the department backfills for all of its retiring veterans, then overtime can no longer be an issue. While many firefighters will miss all of those WDO’s, just remember that overtime eats into the City budget and reduces the amount of money left over for raises. Less available resources in the City’s coffer means less money left for salary increases, which subsequently leads to lower pensions. Big overtime checks are great, but they don’t last forever, pensions do however.

Publicity and Public Relations

While rescues like that performed by Truck 3 in December at 410 Eddy are great for publicity, all too often the hard work of the SFFD goes unnoticed. That is why we need to maintain our high stature in the public eye, both on duty and off.

More public relations work by both the administration and by your Union is necessary to avoid fiscal bloodletting in the event of an economic downturn, or impending budget analysis. The department needs to provide fire and EMS film footage from its video unit to the local media for increased publicity. Videographer Jeff Wong’s fine work shouldn’t be used simply for training films and Main Line centerfolds, it should also be used as free advertising for the SFFD to let the City know just how hard we work.

By the same token, Local 798 also needs its member’s help in developing stronger political ties in the City. While 798’s involvement in the last two campaigns was respectable, the Union really needs to step it up a notch. Our sole strength in this City is the number of men and women we can put on the street to help out during campaigns. Hanging leaflets, putting up signs, working a phone bank, and being a precinct captain are all terrible jobs, especially if you hate politic and politicians. But just a few hours a month during the campaign season really helps to make your Union a much more formidable force in the local political arena. The Residential Builders Association (RBA) packs the streets and campaign headquarters every election, and that volunteerism has paid off handsomely with more building permits issued over the last 3 years than ever before.

We have the fortunate advantage of not needing permits, just raises, pensions and better working conditions…most of which can be negotiated for if, and only if, you have contacts in the right places. Please help your Union this year to increase our public and political clout.


We have saved the best for last. The overarching feeling of the last few years has been that the front line firefighters and medics were expendable. Under the previous administration we had to fight for paychecks, raises, daily staffing, shoes, helmets…a series of battles that would have been unheard of when a lot of us started with the SFFD. The old motto in the department was, “We take care of our own.”

Somewhere along the way it was determined that promises could be broken, vacation and sick days taken away, personal lives investigated…the list of demoralizing actions taken by the previous administration could go on and on.

In 2001 it is time for the SFFD to heal all of these wounds and rebuild the department. Rebuild the department on two of its most important foundations; trust and cooperation. Working together, Labor and management, we can very easily revive that old camaraderie that made this fire department great.


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