Palo Alto Weekly

News - July 1, 2011

City, fire union deadlocked over minimum staffing

Grand Jury calls minimum-staffing clauses 'a disadvantage' to cities

by Gennady Sheyner

The tense negotiations between Palo Alto and its largest firefighters union remain deadlocked because of a dispute over the minimal-staffing provision in the firefighters' contract, both sides told the Weekly this week.

City Manager James Keene and Tony Spitaleri, president of Palo Alto Professional Firefighters, Local 1319, both said minimum staffing — a guarantee that at least 29 fire employees will be on duty at all times — remains the great divider in the contract negotiations, which have dragged on since May 2010.

In recent weeks, the union upped its offer to the city, agreeing to a wage decrease, revisions to the pension formula and a proposal to share health care costs with the city — measures similar to those undertaken by other employee groups over the past two years. Spitaleri also said the union proposed bringing down the minimal staffing level from 29 to 25, even though he characterized the proposed staffing level as "the bare minimum."

The city declined the offer.

Instead, management is focusing on scrapping the minimum-staffing requirement altogether. Keene called the provision, which requires the same staffing levels around the clock regardless of how many calls are received, "an archaic approach to providing services."

"I think minimum staffing is absolute key (in negotiations) and has been from day one from the city's perspective," Keene told the Weekly. "It's really difficult otherwise to get a handle on controlling overtime costs and to look at how staff can be deployed most effectively."

Spitaleri countered that minimum staffing is critical to maintaining the department's ability to provide adequate service. It is there to ensure the safety of both the community and the firefighters, Spitaleri said. He added that the department's staffing level of three firefighters per engine is already low, by county standards.

"Every time there's a call, we're relying on other cities for additional resources because we don't have the staffing on our engines that we need, whether on medical calls, fires or in a major catastrophe," Spitaleri said.

The minimum-staffing clause has become a target for the City Council over the past two years, as city revenues have declined while Fire Department costs continued to escalate. In February, the council heard a report from two consultants, ICMA (International City/County Management Association) and TriData, who reviewed the department and recommended a long list of reforms, including abolishing the minimum-staffing provision. The consultants wrote in their report that the city "should never agree to a minimum staffing requirement that establishes the total force as this equates to establishing the level of service provided."

A recent report from the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury, which reviewed all 15 fire departments in the county, made a similar finding. The report criticizes fire unions for relying on outdated service models and for resisting change even as this model is no longer sustainable, particularly now that the majority of calls are medical emergencies.

"Logic would dictate that SCC fire departments' continued insistence on clinging to a 100-year-old response model designed to fight structure fires makes no sense given the modern reality that structure fires are the exception and medical emergencies are the norm," the report stated.

The Grand Jury report takes particular aim at departments with minimum-staffing provisions. The requirement, the report argues, takes away the fire departments' ability to adjust service levels based on service demand.

"Those cities with fire contracts mandating minimum-staffing levels and crew size are at a disadvantage compared to those with the discretion to staff as needed," the report stated. "In minimum-staffing jurisdictions, fire chiefs have no flexibility to adapt crew composition, equipment assignments, or the form of response in the most efficient and effective manner."

The report also takes a swipe at firefighter unions, claiming that union leaders are doing a good job supporting union members but not enough when it comes to making the necessary changes. In Palo Alto, the union tried to permanently freeze staffing levels last year, when it put a measure on the November ballot that would have required the city to hold an election any time it wanted to reduce staff or close fire stations. City voters overwhelmingly shot down the proposal, with 75 percent voting "no."

The Grand Jury report claims the firefighters' resistance to change has diminished their reputation in the public eye.

"But unions must see that firefighter reputation is tarnished by a public perception of union greed, particularly in an economic environment where such greed — manifested by negotiations intractability — is forcing other necessary and popular city services, such as parks, libraries and recreation, to be cut," the report states. "The result is a clear impression of firefighters as self-serving rather than community serving."

Spitaleri, a retired Palo Alto fire captain, called the Grand Jury report "biased" and inaccurate in its characterization of firefighters. The union, he said, has more than stepped up to meet the city's financial challenges, offering concessions that he said would have saved the city about $3.1 million.

If the two sides don't reach an agreement on minimum staffing, the issue could end up getting settled by an arbitration panel, which is scheduled to resolve the contract dispute in the fall.

The discussion over minimum staffing is one of two long-standing issues of disagreement between city management and firefighters. Even as negotiations are preparing to go to binding arbitration, the council is considering scrapping or repealing the arbitration requirement, which is currently encoded in the City Charter. Any change to this provision would have to be approved by the voters.

The council's Policy and Services Committee discussed the issue Tuesday night and considered a long list of changes that could be implemented, including limiting the arbitrators' input to wages and benefits and requiring them to consider the city's overall financial picture and the impacts of their rulings on other city services.

The council will consider in late July whether to place these changes, or a repeal of binding arbitration, on the November ballot.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by John, a resident of Stanford
on Jun 30, 2011 at 10:37 am

Minimum staffing is not something that should be be decided in Binding Arbitration. There has to be a minimum level of manpower that provides a reasonable level of safety for PA residents. The number may not be 29 (proposed by the FF's) but it is certainly closer to 29 than zero. Why is it so difficult to the City Manager to propose a number?


Posted by danos, a resident of another community
on Jun 30, 2011 at 11:18 am

Spitaleri "added that the department's staffing level of three firefighters per engine is already low, by county standards."

Completely false: With the exception of San Jose, all fire agencies in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties staff engine companies with 3 firefighters. And even SJ may need to follow suit.

This guy is completely full of it. Why would he may such a statement when he must know that it's completely inaccurate?


Posted by Mark, a resident of University South
on Jun 30, 2011 at 12:38 pm

I wonder if they could work this out by an compromise situation. Reduced minimum staffing of maybe 26 FF/shift (which, to think about it, is a reduction of one entire fire apparatus) on 80% of days in a year, but staffing at 29 FFs 20% for days of high risk (example: summer season when fire danger is high, days that are around high-profile events/holidays). Probably a bit of a nightmare to schedule but there has to be some compromise the city can provide to make this work other than "all or nothing".


Posted by Corey Levens, a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 30, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Let me get this straight: The union offered wage decreases, revisions to the pension formula, sharing health care costs, and a minimum staffing level of 25, all of which is estimated to save $3.1 million. And the City declined the offer outright. As an attorney, I certainly understand the art of negotiation, but based on this report it sure sounds like the union is trying to be reasonable. I now understand the City's move to do away with binding arbitration--when your negotiating strategy is to go for the jugular, no reasonable arbitrator will rule in your favor.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Jun 30, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Minimum staffing should be a management decision nit a negotiated or arbitrated decision. Elected and appointed officials are the people who have been selected to decide service levels for public services not union leaders.


Posted by DDee, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 30, 2011 at 2:50 pm

Quality of care, safe labor conditions, avoidance of overt exploitation of labor and the accompanying under serving the needs of recipients, has long been not only a key component of union grievances, but of late, one of THE central issues at strike actions whether it be nurses, miners or – fire fighters.

Anyone who makes the conscious choice to believe that public administrations are any less prone to engage in unfair labor practices than private companies is delusional. I'd invite them to show me examples in history of municipalities, counties or states that of their own volition broke with prevailing common wisdom of the private labor market re treatment of its employees in order to improve working conditions, safety standards, salary and essentially do the right thing by them.

Could it be that the recommendations of such corporate "experts" as TriData and others vary not with the science and the tested collective experience of the trade in question, but rather with the political climate?

If I look at past recommendations by this same organization elsewhere, albeit during a period in which the country was not yet scapegoating its first responders, I'd have to say that their recommendations to Palo Alto are a prime case of giving the person paying the hefty consultancy fee what they want to hear.

In 2002, just days before short-staffing fire engines (cutting back from the National Fire Protection Association and OSHA regulated 4 crew per truck to 3) contributed to Houston fire captain Jay Paul Jahnke being killed while responding to a fire, district chiefs presented a report to the mayor and City Council in which they laid bare their concerns about staffing shortages.

Municipalities are not bound by these standards but that does not save them from paying the consequences when failure to observe them results in lawsuit and/or death.

In 2000, The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health investigated the deaths of 2 firemen whose three- person engine was the first to respond to a fire at a McDonalds. In its recommendations, the institute cited the National Fire Protection Association's standard of four as a "minimum acceptable" staffing level for a fire company. Those recommended levels increase to five per engine and six per ladder for fires in "high-risk areas."
To compensate for understaffing, departments have to dispatch more trucks to individual blazes, which may be a quick fix, but actually slows the overall response times and leaves other neighborhoods with a temporary shortage of emergency personnel.

I urge each of us to consider how this would play out in the event of a major earthquake or plane crash that causes multiple fires.

Now, back to TriData Corporation, in the case of the Houston study, they concluded that while all the factors that led to the increases in response time and associated fatalities could not be pinpointed "they may be caused at least in part by lower unit availability that results when the closest unit or units are often out on calls when the next call comes in… Anytime you have reduced staffing… you're going to have a lack of efficient operations."
The TriData report, commissioned by the city at a cost of $350,000, recommended staffing all engine, ladder and heavy rescue units with a minimum of four personnel.

So, what has changed since 2002?

Fires are still fires. Deadly and destructive.

Population density, if anything, has gone up, not down.

The likelihood of major earthquake and climate related natural disaster has increased.

The population is aging and will have increasing needs of emergency first responders.

Nope. No reasons to slack off on fire personnel in any of that.

So, what motivates TriData, the city council and others in our country who like the language of scapegoating fire personnel and creating hazard for them and for the communities they serve?

The political climate.

Unfortunately, we have spawned two self-absorbed generations that have given us an ethic and a time in which instead of seriously analyzing pay charts across government offices and services - cutting back on the sheer numbers of top management, reducing their overall compensation packages to rates and concepts that are closer to the pre-bubble era, and simultaneously raising revenue by getting a more realistic and fair share of our budget from large businesses and those who get the most use out of our commons in the form of roads, infrastructure, legal system, etc., the blame and the burden get put on what is left of the holy remnant of the formerly strong middle class of government employees.

Their crime? They were the ones who traded quick high incomes -- that for so many led to bust and poverty in their golden years and who still have not figured out that they were snookered into believing that they were in the same boat as management and did not need a good union --, in exchange for lower but steady pay, good health and retirement benefits that would allow them to remain solidly middle class in retirement.

Oh, and for those who say "lazy"… next time you have a chance, grab 2 bags of cement and truck up 4 flights of stairs. Do it on a day that averages 102 degrees in the shade. Oh, and don't forget to add the crying baby stuck on that 4th floor who will die unless you get there with your 2 bags of cement in under 3 minutes.
Lazy my aardvark!


Posted by Council Watcher, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 30, 2011 at 3:00 pm

To PA Weekly. Nearly everything that Mr. Spitleri says is suspect. I respectfully ask you, in the future, to fact check his quotes and comment on the truthfulness of them in your reports. Otherwise, the report gives a wrong impression of what is going on. Generally speaking, this is good practise for all quotes. Just because someone says something doesn't make it so.

To Mr. Levens. The primary issue is long-term reductions in retirement benefits. A short-term reduction of even $3.1 is completely inadequate to address the HUGE looming structural deficit. Read the city's budget.


Posted by Bill, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 30, 2011 at 3:02 pm

"Go for the jugular". Always use hyperbole or fear when you have a weak case. Peter Carpenter has said it correctly and succinctly. Unelected employees, most of whom do not live in Palo Alto, are not the ones to make management decisions.

The two consultants and the SJ Grand Jury came to the same conclusions independently: the present method of fighting fires is based on 100 year old models. When the large majority of calls are for medical emergencies, not fires, something is out of whack.


Posted by Bill, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 30, 2011 at 3:02 pm

"Go for the jugular". Always use hyperbole or fear when you have a weak case. Peter Carpenter has said it correctly and succinctly. Unelected employees, most of whom do not live in Palo Alto, are not the ones to make management decisions.

The two consultants and the SJ Grand Jury came to the same conclusions independently: the present method of fighting fires is based on 100 year old models. When the large majority of calls are for medical emergencies, not fires, something is out of whack.


Posted by Taypayer, a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 30, 2011 at 3:07 pm

For years PA has been overstaffed with by 10-15 ff's, at a cost of $200K per year or $2-$3M cash out the door $'s. Then when you factor in their future pension and health care, we are talking about another $2-$3M of costs that need to be accrued for. All this for a group of folks who spend more time sleeping than working.

Short term objectives include:
1.) remove binding arbitration from the charter
2.) remove Price and other politicians who are ignore the needs of PA citizens in favor of the labor unions who fund their election campaigns

Longer term goals include:
1.) finding a more efficient model for delivering safety services
2.) cut the cost of PA safety services by 50% while improving the quality of the service delivered


Posted by Mark, a resident of University South
on Jun 30, 2011 at 4:13 pm

I'm curious if the city has assessed the impact of reduced staffing on the ISO rating (Web Link). As it stands, Palo Alto is an ISO Class 2 rating. My understanding is that if reduced staffing affects the ISO rating, causing it to be downgraded to become Class 3, it won't affect the city's budget but it may translate to higher costs to homeowners/businesses who would have to pay more for insurance after carriers re-adjust premiums to reflect this. (Which I think if this actually the case, it would be a little unfair for the city to push for reduced staffing without considering how it might affect homeowner's insurance premiums.)


Posted by Hector, a resident of Ventura
on Jun 30, 2011 at 4:30 pm

A grand jury has no financial bias. Spitaleri, however, who cares only about enlarging the publicly funded trough at which he and his overpaid charges eat, has the nerve to accuse the grand jury of bias?

This guy is representative of what our Firefighters have degenerated into; a self-serving, fear-mongering (remember measure R), money-grubbing bureaucracy-- a giant special interest out to take the public for as much as they can.

The public finally appears to have a pretty good understanding of the magnitude of the overpayment and public sector waste. (The funny thing is the FF's might still be getting away with it if they didn't take such an arrogant path through the recession with Measure R and refusing any real concessions.) The council members already bought and paid for by the public unions need to go (Price, Yeh, Klein...)

We need to take back our City from Spitaleri, the unions, and the politicians they have bought. They would happily turn this city into Bell, CA if left unchecked.


Posted by DeAngelo, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 30, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Alternatively, we could maintain the same staffing level but use a private contractor to do the same job for millions less.

The private sector can staff up a department at high five-figure salaries (a small savings), without the bloated pensions (a huge savings). A lot of my Army friends took such jobs when they got out and were happy to do them and do them well.

The private sector also can fire its lazy workers, promote its good ones, and operate with a general efficiency that the union-beholden public sector is no longer capable of. Privatize it and let the current FF's compete for the new jobs. At the very minimum take a very hard line with Spitaleri and the union. Binding arbitration should go as soon as possible, too.


Posted by WilliamR, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 30, 2011 at 5:37 pm

@ DeAngelo and other 'privatizers'--

Please identify 3 cities with population comparable to Palo Alto, or larger, preferably in California, who have privatized their fire departments, and describe the results in terms of performance and economics over the past 5 years.


Posted by Mark, a resident of University South
on Jun 30, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Regarding "firing lazy workers" from private companies - that's a little misguided to think that a private company could do that easily. I've seen some of those guys hired by the "private" 911 ambulance company in the surrounding areas that should have been fired years ago for their terrible attitude and unprofessional work ethic (including taking photos of dead people on their phones).


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Jun 30, 2011 at 6:07 pm

Privatization is not the answer. Consolidation of all local fire and emergency services into a special purpose district with elected directors and starting with market rate salaries and benefits would yield a more cost effective and citizen responsive organization.


Posted by DeAngelo, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 30, 2011 at 7:50 pm

WilliamR, the three cities you should really be studying are Bell, Vallejo, and Costa Mesa. Two went bankrupt, Vallejo largely on the tip of its fire department's greed, while the third blew out the majority of its overpaid bureaucrats and stayed solvent.

But to humor you:

Here's a city that saved a ton of money

Web Link

And to see that its scalable:

Web Link



Mark, your single, anecdotal observation of one lazy private sector worker does nothing to disprove the fact that the private sector, on the back of decades of improve-or-survive productivity gains, leads the world in productivity per worker. The Public sector, in contrast, has moved the opposite direction, yet seen its average pay and compensation increase. Can you imagine the cries from the unions if an effective, Jack Welch type leader ran the place:

"Each year, Welch would fire the bottom 10% of his managers. He earned a reputation for brutal candor in his meetings with executives. He would push his managers to perform, but he would reward those in the top 20% with bonuses and stock options. He also expanded the broadness of the stock options program at GE from just top executives to nearly one third of all employees."

Consolidation is a step in the right direction, but privitization can't be overlooked if the savings are significant. Even if the solution isn't full privitization, the union should be marginalized and the department run like something looking a whole lot more like a private entity. Employees get paid market rate; if there are 10 unemployed qualified workers happy to take your job at 30% lower comp., then you're overpaid.


Posted by Mark, a resident of University South
on Jun 30, 2011 at 8:06 pm

That's certainly true DeAngelo, I just wanted to point out that private companies can have some pretty protectionist unions as well.


Posted by ann, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jul 1, 2011 at 8:56 am

simple... government employees...whether firemen, police, dmv, building depts etc are given guaranteed pensions..on top of their inflated salaries and medical benefits...WHY....there are no guarantees for the rest of us....it is completely and totally unfair..if the markets go down so should their pensions...just like the value of our 401's etc. And why do we allow them to retire at 50...nonsense...work till at least 65 like the rest of us....if they want to retire at 50 and can afford to do so on their own dime...let em....but they should not collect any pension benefits until at least 65...we have created a royal governing class of people and i hope and pray that we are finally going to do something about it....


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Jul 1, 2011 at 10:20 am

"ann"

Your kidding right? "we have created a royal governing class of people"?
You live in Los Altos Hills and your lumping yourself it seems in with the working class? In general I don't think most people in Los Altos Hills would be classified as middle class, lower middle class or working stiff. I am quite sure there are not too many if any local goverment workers living in Los Altos Hills.
You can blame the real elite on Wall Street and in the corporate world for the current economic situation. Executive and CEO pay and perks are the highest they have ever been in history. It's actualy sad that so many people are to ill informed to see that the rich are just getting richer while the middle class continues to shrink.
Corporate America can afford to pay their workers better and take part in health and retirement plans. They have instead chosen to shift that burden to the workers and the tax payers.
When times were good in the 1990's nobody though anything about a cop or firefighter making $100,000 a year. They were not the ones getting bonuses or stock options.
I love the current mentality many people have, they lost benefits or have no job security now so they automaticly want to see others have theirs taken away.
People make choices, if somebody made the choice to go into the corporate world and get rich and reaped the benefits for many years than good for them. They made a choice, so did the goverment worker. But instead of perks, bonuses and stock options they chose a decent salary and good benefits.


Posted by no such luck, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 1, 2011 at 10:30 am

Jake, Palo Alto can't afford the benefits. No city can.
You said it yourself, when the times were good, the city could afford to pay $100,000. Now the times aren't good and the cannot afford to pay it.
That's the way the cookie crumbles. It's not about "taking away" it's about paying going rates under the current climate for the services. You can't declare yourself immune to the prevailing economic situation.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 1, 2011 at 11:44 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

A city that still gives out $250,000 contracts to study topics unrelated to governance needs to trim the effluvia before it cuts the bone.


Posted by Steven, a resident of Southgate
on Jul 1, 2011 at 11:48 am

Ann is right. And portraying public workers as middle class stalwarts is misleading. The seven private sector tax-payers who are writing the oversized checks (and pension checks) to their one public sector counterpart are going to find it harder and harder to maintain their own middle class existence, just so one entitled public worker can have a bloated pension. Wasting taxpayer money by overpaying for public services is what is bad for the middle class.


Posted by amazed by politics, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 1, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Why has City leadership not cut nor reduced city community services? could not one or two libraries close and move staff to other locations and expand hours gently to still serve the public AND reduce costs???

And how much are the leaders getting paid? oh yeah, it's the politics. Just like the SJ City Manager who stated "it was a tough decision. we had to either lay off those 60+ officers or close libraries." LOL yeah, i'm still shaking my head on that one.

Please folks, PRIORITIES BEFORE POLITICS.


Posted by brilliant!, a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 1, 2011 at 5:37 pm

Yes, Amazed! We should close all the libraries and cut all the services so we can meet the city staff payroll!


Posted by bill reller, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 1, 2011 at 5:55 pm

let the community vote on the arbitration matter. We voted it in almost two generations ago, is it not time to take another look?


Posted by PAT, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jul 1, 2011 at 10:23 pm

to Ann...Work until 65, are you out of your mind? The physical toll on officers and firefighters in unlike the private sector. It is not uncommon for injuries because it is pain staking work. You try carrying or wrestling a 250 lb guy and see how your body reacts. Actually, just try carrying equipment everyday for 11-12 hour shifts. Do you really want a 65 year old fighting a 20 year old criminal?

In regards to pensions. FF and PD do not contribute to social security like the private sector (not that it is a great retirement plan for anyone). They do not have a 401k. Government investing in 401k options could be a conflict of interest and maybe that is why they do not have that option. Honestly, if it is not a conflict I could see researching 401k instead of pensions. ON the other hand these men and women have jobs that make them risk their lives everyday. They are willing to protect us and put themselves in harms way...don't we owe them something for their willingness to risk their lives?

Min staffing is wrong. Cities change and with it so do the services. If the city population decreases then less men and women are needed. FF need to stop pushing for min staffing and accept defeat on the issue.

The city council should be ashamed of itself. They are all to willing to find scapegoats for their mistakes. Own it and offer some cuts to your won damn salary before you attack hard working en and women. If you still need more after you take cuts then starting looking at other areas. STOP WASTING TAX PAYER DOLLARS FOR YOUR POLITICAL GREED!!!


Posted by Resident, a resident of Community Center
on Jul 2, 2011 at 2:20 pm

PAT types "Work until 65, are you out of your mind? "

FF's life span is the same as average worker. The biggest risk to their health is their sedentary life style and their long commutes because they usually prefer not to don't live in their local community. You are out of your mind if you think we are going to saddle future generations with the pensions of folks who choose to opt out at 50 and collect 90% pensions. I don't care when they decide to quit working as an ff, but they should not receive any pension till the age when the rest of us receive our pension ie about 65. I'm guessing most ff's don't have many transferable skills, but they will need to find work. They can be security guards, janitors, groundskeeper, etc.

"ON the other hand these men and women have jobs that make them risk their lives everyday. They are willing to protect us and put themselves in harms way...don't we owe them something for their willingness to risk their lives?

I'm so tired of hearing a few of you fawn over ff's. They spend most of their time sleeping, shopping, hanging out. There was a time when it was a high risk occupation and folks respected ff's. Now they are viewed as confronational union militants who constantly battle local government to take more taxpayer funds for themselves. Measure R was a classic example of ff union greed. But the good news is that folks became aware of how manipulative and self centered the ff's are.

Next step - repeal binding arbitration!



Posted by Jim, a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 2, 2011 at 4:18 pm

To Resident,

I got news for you, firefighting is STILL a high risk job. Don't be so bitter- sounds like you really wanted to be a firefighter. What happen?


Posted by Resident, a resident of Community Center
on Jul 2, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Jim - I did want to be an ff once upon a time. I thought the shiny red trucks and sirens were exciting. Then I turned nine and I realized it would be boring to spend most of my time hanging out with folks who barely made it thru high school. I decided going to college and getting a job where I had to use my brain would be a lot more rewarding. Sounds like you decided to go the ff way. Not a problem but we need to get the pay/benefits/staffing corrected.


Posted by John, a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 2, 2011 at 7:37 pm

We are overpaying for the services we are receiving by a large margin.
The fire department has degenerated into a self interested bureaucracy that is pillaging the public coffers. I don't want my grandkids paying the bill because we tolerated a city council that cow-towed to these self-serving bureaucrats.

Lower their pay, switch them to defined contribution retirement, and let them leave if they don't like it. We're overstaffed as is, and plenty of qualified candidates would still jump at the job.


Posted by Pat, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jul 2, 2011 at 11:33 pm

Resident: So you think firefighters are uneducated? What about police? Why don't you do some research before you make blanket statements about their education. Most ff and police I know have college degrees. Especially in small cities like Palo Alto. It is difficult to move up in rank without a degree. One of the hardest things about their jobs are the hours. You trying working 12 hour nights or 24 hour shifts for 20 years. Not to mention the toll it must have on the family. I also was replying to an earlier post were the person included PD in their statement. My reply was stating both PD and FF have difficult jobs. You also seemed to miss my criticism of min staffing issue. Keep in mind the city is trying to push their agenda and so the information citizens get is completely one sided. Can I ask why are people not mad at the politicians for screwing up? Why are you not asking for them to own up to their mistakes? Can some one please give me a good reason why FF are getting all the bad publicity but not politicians. They both are at fault in the issue!


Posted by Jim, a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 3, 2011 at 5:58 am

To Resident,

WOW! That last post just confirmed it all.


Posted by Alphonso, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jul 3, 2011 at 7:17 am

As people complain about FF compensation (which certainly seems high) you might also look at all of the other muni jobs - most could be filled with very competent people at 50%-60% of the currrent compensation. Why do City Managers make more than CEO's of medium sized companies? In LAH we could cut the staff in half and reduce compensation by 75% without any change in "service". Consultants are brought in every time important analysis is needed and town fees are a function of compensation rather than service provided.


Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 3, 2011 at 7:52 am

One simple way to judge whether a job category is "overpaid" or not is to see what happens when there are job openings. Even in these tough times, some police departments have had a tough time filling openings with qualified officers. Do highly compensated municipal fire departments such as Palo Alto ever have trouble filling openings?


Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 3, 2011 at 7:57 am

Retirement Age issue:

Although I do think PA firemen are likely overpaid, I don't agree with those who think that it is realistic to work until age 65. I work out at the gym and am well aware of what my body can do. No question that upper body strength potential starts fading after age 50. Fireman have to be able to carry victims of smoke inhalation out of buildings and wrestle high fire hoses. It is unrealistic to expect the same performance from a fireman at age 65 that they had at age 25-45.


Posted by DeAngelo, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 3, 2011 at 12:05 pm

Alphonso you are absolutely correct. Overcompensation is rampant throughout the entire public sector, with some definite exceptions (technical specialists in wastewater treatment, IT, non-administrative police, good front-line teachers, etc.)

In Palo Alto's case, firefighters are among the worst culprits, and with the current situation with the fire union trying to write its own self-serving minimum staffing rules, on the heels of a fire union sponsored ballot initiative to do the same that was voted down 3-1, they are rightly catching a lot of flak.

The public is finally informed about how much of our tax money we are wasting on overpayment of civil "servants." The firefighters are simply the most egregious offenders.


Posted by Timothy, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 3, 2011 at 10:07 pm

There is so much hate here. Few of you seem capable of making rational decisions. It's very, very sad.


Posted by wrong, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 3, 2011 at 11:09 pm

No hate here except rational considerations


Posted by DeAngelo, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 4, 2011 at 11:36 am

wrong is right. We are all stakeholders in this city. If there is hatred its only for inefficiency, corruption, conflict of interest, or anything we as stakeholders should not suffer lightly.


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Jul 4, 2011 at 5:04 pm

"Resident"
I hate to break it to you but most firefighters did not "barely make it through high school" as you proclaim. Many graduated from UC system, State colleges, private colleges etc. The last chief of the PAFD is a Stanford grad who started out as a firefighter.
It sounds like at nine years of age you knew everything a firefighter/paramedic does and their education levels? I guess you did some sort of educational survey and detailed activity study?
Resident, you don't think paramedics and firefighters use their brain?
You said you wanted a career that was more rewarding? what do you do? I'm just curious.
Getting a young child breathing and their heart working again, as their panic stricken mother is pleading to save their childs life is as rewarding as it gets in my opinion. The saving of a human life takes away some of the hurt of the ones who couldnt be saved.
Have you ever had to tell a mother, wife, father, son, sister, etc that their loved one is dead? do you know how long a fathers scream for his dead wife stays burned in your memory?
Saving a human life, saving a persons property/home, getting them out of a wrecked vehicle, providing medical care to a 90 y/o after they have been on the bathroom floor with a broken hip, after laying in their own waste for a day is rewarding. Seeing that smile after cleaning them up and restoring their dignity is a good reward.
You are now an adult it seems and are making statements about an entire profession on conclusions you came to at the ripe old age of 9 it seems.
Childrens books and TV programs are not the best sources to draw conclusions about any profession or job. No more than Boston Legal and lawyer jokes are sources to form opinions on what lawyers do or don't do at work.


Posted by painful, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 4, 2011 at 6:08 pm

We need rational considerations desperately


Posted by Local, a resident of Southgate
on Jul 5, 2011 at 5:55 pm

It's good that the job is rewarding. But the fact remains we're paying our fire department wages and benefits that are grossly beyond market rate. When the jobs would be filled in an instant at much lower salary and defined contribution pensions, we're overpaying.

As a taxpayer I have no issue paying a soldier 50% of his or her (rather low) salary for life upon retirement. I have a huge problem paying a firefighter six figures guaranteed for life after 30 years on the job, especially when the market is ignored in favor of political payback to the fire union.


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