By Tom OConnor, Treasurer
|The more things change, the more they stay the same
The SFFD continues
to be plagued by the same old problems; overtime, sick leave policies,
staffing, EMS issues, hiring and an ever-present budget crisis.
It appears that the noose of the upcoming fiscal audit is beginning
Overtime is becoming a more and more critical issue, with rumors of firehouse closures swirling through the ranks of the SFFD. Apparently the department is over budget, and if the overtime continues at this pace, closures have been threatened.
With the hiring of the latest batch of lateral paramedics, 48 new recruits, the overtime crisis seems to have abated for now. However, if the SFFD cannot continue to hire at this pace, and if the department does not get compensated for the 62 people at the Comm Center, then we are almost certain to have a continuous overtime crisis.
Nearly 21 of our front line firefighters and medics are working at the Comm Center every watch. While the Emergency Communications Department (ECD) pays their salaries, the ECD does not pay for our resulting overtime needs. If every firefighter and medic drafted to the ECD were returned to their positions in the field, the department would be sending firefighters home everyday.
The SFFD also has a new truck and engine company on Treasure Island, requiring an additional 9 firefighters and officers every watch, once again guaranteeing more overtime, unless more firefighters are hired. So, between the ECD and Treasure Island the SFFD starts the day down 30 employees every watch. Quite frankly, its a miracle that we dont have more overtime.
The departments sick leave and holiday policies also need to be reexamined in order to avoid even more overtime. There is virtually no incentive for firefighters and medics to keep their sick days and save the city money. Previously, the City allowed firefighters to vest their sick days, essentially banking them for payoff upon retirement sort of a gold watch for the retiring civil servant. On our most recent paycheck, there was a new column showing the vested sick days accumulated during the years 1993-1996, the last time the City allowed days to be saved. The results? Firefighters didnt use any sick days, and the City saved a ton of money.
Onto other problems the once maligned, then favored BLS ambulance program is now officially a thing of the past. Too many Code 3 upgrades got the Emergency Medical Services Agency (EMSA) to shut down the program. However, the 48 new laterals should be able to staff enough ambulances to maintain our current levels just enough ambulances so that the Presidio makes sure every medic is worked into the ground. In fact, our medic brothers and sisters are still dealing with a faulty dispatch system that sends an ambulance out to every caller. This is not the fault of our fellow firefighters at radio, who are doing a great job under the most deplorable of work conditions. Rather it is the fault of poor leadership over at the EMS Division. So eager to wrestle control of the SFFD, this leadership grabs for all the red ink they can get, then screams to the City for help. Once complaints about the workload reach crisis level, the Presidio either produces a set of numbers that claims that medics only work an average of 8 hours every watch, or the EMS leaders blame the EMSA for forcing them to use the current dispatch system. True leadership would force the EMSA to review their policies and see how the dispatch system hurts SFFD employees, and hurts San Francisco citizens in true need of emergency medical care.
Speaking of hurting paramedic/ firefighters, the Presidio just recently went back on yet more promises to the medics. A seniority list, vacancy list and training schedule were requested by our medics, just for a one year basis until the SFFD decides how they are going to deal with the integration of medics into our workforce. They were eventually denied on all three counts. The seniority list, developed by the H-3 Committee, was determined to be faulty. The vacancy list was changed around, in order to keep control of all details in the Presidio and not at the Assignment office. And training, with all of the probies the department currently has, there just isnt any room left for paramedics to ride engines, let alone trucks. It appears that the Presidio is just trying to bide time until they come up with yet another master plan or fall back to the disastrous idea of one and one ambulances.
On a lighter note, the Union is hosting a tryout of the Candidate Physical Agility Test (CPAT) out on Treasure Island on February 13, 14, and 15. What the Union needs is firefighter endorsement of a real physical agility test, so we can get firefighters who are actually physically capable of doing the job.
And lastly, a sad farewell to Hadley Roff, who just resigned from President of the Fire Commission. Hadley was a true ally of the firefighter who served on the Commission during politically difficult times. He will be sorely missed.