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Alameda firefighters making ‘robo’ calls

By epearlman
Thursday, January 22nd, 2009 at 9:10 am in Alameda firefighters, IAFF, Island Life, Print columns, Prop. 13, the economy.

I got a phone call yesterday with a recorded message from an Alameda firefighter. The message was so fast that I did not catch the name of the firefighter who was speaking, though I think it was Mike or Mark. The core of the message was that cuts to the fire department (on January 26 the department has been mandated to reduce overtime) will impact response time for some Alameda neighborhoods. The message mentioned the Gold Coast, Bay Farm and Alameda’s West End and then urged the listener to lobby City Hall to prevent cuts. How much does it cost to auto-dial every Alameda household? Who funds these efforts?

I can’t help but think of the line from Obama’s speech Tuesday, in which he honored the hard work and sacrifices Americans are making to make things better for all of us. He referenced employees who allow their own hours to be cut so others may keep their jobs. That is bravery, no? To say, I will make do with a little less so others don’t lose everything entirely.

In a time when so many are losing jobs, losing retirement security, having their pay cut and otherwise struggling economically, I can not find legitimacy in the stance being taken by Alameda firefighters. There is not an infinite pot of money. Times are bad. Everyone should be impacted as budgets shrink…not everyone with the exception of some. Of course I wish it weren’t so…of course everyone wishes it weren’t so. But it is. So, it’s time to move away from the adversarial stance, an I-me-my orientation, and it’s time for the firefighters to work with the city to maintain emergency services as well as all the other services that make for a vital community.

As I have mentioned previously, Alameda firefighters make over $100,000 a year, with many earning 10 and 20 and 40 thousand additional dollars a year in over time. Alameda firefighters receive full, life-time medical benefits for themselves and a spouse after just five years of service. They are eligible to retire at 50, with 3 percent of their highest salary in pension for each year of service. Meanwhile, Alameda’s non-public safety employees receive only a tiny stipend (something around $100 a month) toward health care in retirement, and they are eligible to retire at 55, with 2 percent of their highest salary per year of service in pension. I am not, of course, saying that I don’t think firefighters should be well-compensated and have security in retirement…I just think that taking a hard bargain stance when the current system is so out of balance (so many employees now have no pensions, no health care on retirement…heck, no health care even while they are working) and when the economy is such a disaster is really perplexing.

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  • http://Yahoo Blueeyes

    To:Eve Pearlman

    The next time there is a fire I would like you to be the first responder to run in, and prevent loss of life or personal damage. While you are running in notice I would like you to notice every one else is running out for their lives. Firefighters deserve everything they get, and more. They not only put their lives on the line every time they respond to a fire, they also respond to getting your cat out of a tree-emergency medical calls. There jobs are not only to respond to fires they are also catch all to everything that goes on in a Town or City that is not specified in a job description in other operations of the city.

  • Eve Pearlman

    Hi, Blue Eyes,

    No one is saying that the work firefighters do is not brave and heroic and incredibly necessary, and no one is saying that they should not be well-compensated for their work. What I am saying is that public resources/taxpayer dollars are not at all infinite (in fact they are shrinking) and the choices the city makes in one area (health and welfare benefits for firefighters, for example, or staffing levels, for another) should not made in isolation.

    We all should be asking questions about how the city can continue to provide the services it does more economically. For example, it might make sense to have a private company transport our patients to off-island hospitals once they have been treated by our firefighter paramedics (it is my understanding that 90 percent of transfers are off-island facilities). A structural change like this would 1. keep our firefighter-paramedics on the island so they’re here for the inevitable next emergency and 2. cost less because the ambulance company can provide the service for less than it costs the city to have our firefighter-paramedics do it.

    Eve

  • Grace

    Hi Eve, I totally agree your points. Actually, I watched the NBC 11 NEWS several days ago, Alameda firefighters told the reporter our city is going to bankrupt.It feels hurt to hear that. And it is not true.

  • http://actionalameda.org/actionalamedanewsblog/2009/01/23/fire-station-brownouts-begin-monday-alameda-fire-chief-un-apologetic/ David Howard

    Err… if you saw anyone on TV claiming that the City was close to bankruptcy, it was probably me, and not any of the firefighters. Unless it was the Fire Chief, who wrote in an email to the fire department:

    “If the City does not adjust spending, it would be facing bankruptcy in as little as 36 – 48 months.”

    Click on my name for a link to the full text of the Fire Chief’s e-mail.

    At the January 24th, 2009 Alameda Public Affairs Forum event covering the budget crisis, firefighters association president Dom Weaver said that he does NOT believe the city is close to bankruptcy. DVDs and audio CDS of that event are available from the APAF.

    The City is in rough financial shape – it faces lawsuits totaling over $30 million from the Dr. Attari death in the estuary and the failure of the Telecom division of Alameda Power & Telecom. And I’m not convinced the City has suitable insurance coverage to pay off those settlements, should they arise. $30 million is roughly 40% of the annual general fund budget.