New Report Shows Fire Department Compensation 137% to 325% Higher than Private Sector Benchmarks

Carl DeMaio Carl DeMaio 38 Comments

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Councilmembers DeMaio and Zapf Call for Critical Review of Fire Department Labor Costs

Councilmembers Carl DeMaio and Lorie Zapf today released a troubling report showing extreme differences between Fire Department employees and similarly qualified employees of private sector ambulance companies.

The analysis showed the Fire Department is paying salaries that are 137% to 325% higher for comparable work in the private sector when including fringe benefits.

“Any time the City gives out salaries and benefits that are higher than the local labor market we are wasting the taxpayers money,” noted Councilmember DeMaio.  “This report shows that Fire Department salaries and benefits significantly exceed local benchmarks and the Mayor and City Council should reform these expenditures immediately.”

“We must rework and re-engineer the way the City provides core services, or else we’ll find ourselves being forced to, once again, underfund public safety and endanger our families and communities,” said Councilmember Lorie Zapf.

DeMaio and Zapf requested the Independent Budget Analyst compile a report to look at a variety of options which may be available to the city on saving costs while maintaining service levels.  The potential savings could be used to restore browned out fire stations.

“This report should serve as a motivation to critically review the labor costs and service delivery model in the Fire Department to ensure every single taxpayer dollar is well spent,” said DeMaio.

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Comments 38

  1. I love how the Fire Chief and Fire Union Boss both blasted DeMaio today for “lying” and “misrepresenting facts.”

    Hmmm… sounds exactly like what the same Fire Chief and Fire Union Boss said during the Prop D debate when DeMaio called bullshit on their claims of massive public safety cuts if Prop D wasn’t passed.

    DeMaio’s numbers come right from the Independent Budget Analyst. So if you are calling him a liar, you’re calling the IBA a liar too.

    Here’s a little clue to our dear Fire Chief and Fire Union Boss: The public sees through your game. They don’t trust a single word out of your mouths — and they are sick of being held hostage and threatened every time someone questions the lavish salaries and benefits you folks get.

    It’s time for a reality check — and DeMaio (and Zapf) are giving it.

  2. To my knowledge, no one who works for a private-sector ambulance company is ever asked to fight a fire. Is this really an apples to apples comparison?

  3. Yes, it is. The report looks at “Single Role” EMTs and Paramedics — ones that do not fight fires — and even there the city pays much more.

  4. Read the Report,

    Thank you, but I didn’t see a link to the report. Perhaps you could post one.

    I will admit that now that I have re-read the post, it does say Fire Department “employees.” Since I know that Mr. DeMaio would never intentionally try to deceive the public, I am sure that I am the only one that assumed that the Council Members were referring to fire fighters.

  5. We would remind commenters to select a handle and stick with it, not whatever name happens to fit the message they are trying to get across at that particular moment (such as “Read the report Alger”).

    As our about page notes – http://sdrostra.com/?page_id=2 – Anonymity through the use of pseudo-names is allowed, but commenters should use the same name for every comment entry, so as to not falsely appear to be more than one person commenting on the same or several matters.

  6. Funny, there is only one single-role EMT on the fire-department, and nine single role paramedics. They are both considered “terminal classes” meaning that through attrition, those positions will be eliminated permanently. Not much savings there for Carl’s still over-inflated comparison. The comparisons for fire are a joke – there is no private sector alternative – this is just a political hatchet piece that inappropriately uses the IBA’s numbers – nothing more.

  7. Wrong,

    Pointing out that the Emperor Wannabe (Carl) has no clothes is a sure way to end the conversation on this topic.

  8. There is a great letter in yesterday’s “Poway Chieftain” that brings up the question about how the city actually figures out pensions. We hear about the large pensions that some make, but what about the workers that have to work mandatory 56hr work week, but their retirement is based upon a 40 hr work week.
    Here’s the letter I am referring to:

    “Perception must change
    Thanks to James Smullen for his April 14 letter, “Few public employees retire well” helping to set the record straight.
    I retired in 2008 at 62 years old after 34 years as a paramedic for the citizens of San Diego and 16 years of service to the City of San Diego Fire Department. I had a mandatory 56-hour work week — i.e., I would have been fired if I had not worked 56 hours in a week (24-hour shifts). The City of San Diego would only calculate my pension on a 40-hour work week (two-thirds of my actual pay) giving me a retirement income of $22,500 a year, even less than Mr. Smullen’s self-described “princely” sum of $27,000.
    The perception that retired public employees are in fat city needs to be changed. The City of San Diego nickels and dimes most of us, including uniformed safety personnel such as myself.
    Bob Blizzard, Poway”

    To read the letter online-
    http://mylocalnews.com/nws/
    opinions, April 20th, go down to the letter (3rd) titled “Perception must change”

  9. As a former labor relations person in San Diego City, there is no valid comparison in private industry with the class of firefighter and associated ranks. The real question for the public is how much to pay folks who spend a vast minority of their time pulling a hose or doing more critical functions. They “work” 56 hours a week, most of which is sleeping, lounging, cooking or attending to their own personal business interests. A goodly proportion of those on shift work have their own businesses and firefighting is a 2nd job. Many injuries, although this is impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, occur on the 2nd job but reported as a fire-fighter job-related cause. Check out the percentage of disability- related retirements (which are tax-free) in the firefighting trade versus other occupations. I often told my students when I was teaching that they should become firefighters as it was the easiest way to make a super-good living. Disagree? Ask HR the number of candidates applying for Firefighter exams, say vs. Police trainee.

  10. Each year the census bureau does a survey of public employment and payroll for the month of March. In 2009 the average monthly pay of public firefighters in the U.S. was $5,787. For California the average was $9,748, the highest in the U.S.

    Firefighters are defined as personnel trained and/or engaged in fire suppression and prevention.

    http://www2.census.gov/govs/apes/09stlall.xls

  11. Tom,

    Are you suggesting that rank-and-file firefighters in California take home an average of $117,000 a year?

  12. A countyrman,

    Under the government function “firefighters only” there were 30,042 full time employees earning a full time pay of $292,847,997.

    The Ventura County Fire Protection District average wage in 2009 was $105,282. This average includes all 598 employees of the district, not just the firefighters. If you exclude everyone except those designated as firefighters the average is $107,484.

    http://lgcr.sco.ca.gov/EntityList.aspx?entity=County&load=ByDefault

  13. Tom isn’t “suggesting” anything, he is citing government statistics. The use of the word “suggesting” SUGGESTS that Countryman believes this is Tom’s opinion. Now, someone may not LIKE the statistics, or believe that the gov’t stats are wrong, but that would be a different issue than someone simply pointing out facts.

  14. Let’s keep in mind that 72% of America’s trained firefighters are VOLUNTEERS. In California, the unions have made it very hard to have a volunteer effort — even as an auxiliary to the paid firefighters. We have reserve city and county police officers, but almost no reserve firefighters.

    Unions put great stock in “boots on the ground.” But what they really want is UNION boots (only) on the ground.

    As to the wages above — “rank and file” firefighters make up less than half the firefighters. Every truck has an “engineer” firefighter who drives the truck — paid at a premium. Also every three or four man truck has a fire fighter “captain,” who earns at a significantly higher rate than the engineer truck driver. Then add to that the battalion chiefs, etc. and we find that the “rank and file” firefighter (generally ff 1 and ff 2) are just positions on the way up the employment ladder — most make captain or engineer before they retire — and get paid a pension at this top position.

  15. Poway Roger, I would not put much stock in this anecdotal Blizzard letter with unverifiable facts. Indeed, the facts appear intentionally misleading (if not outright false). Consider:

    If a firefighter retires from 16 years service in the city of San Diego with a top salary of only $63,600 (the lowest salary this letter writer could possibly have AS A FIREFIGHTER), his pension would be about $30,528 ($63,600 x 16 years x 3%).

    But since he was a paramedic, his pay and pensions would be higher. And that assumes he got ZERO pension credit for the 34 years he supposedly worked as a city paramedic before working for the fire department. I suspect those years were spent with a PRIVATE ambulance company operating in the city.

    One possible PARTIAL explanation was that this cleverly worded letter makes one ASSUME he became a city firefighter — but he really was just a paramedic for the city, sometimes employed by the fire department. Note the misleading wording — “16 years of service to the City of San Diego Fire Department.”

    Here’s the 2009 pay and benefit summary for the city of San Diego fire department firefighters:
    http://apps.sandiego.gov/pjaol8/bulletins/2931.pdf

    Note in particular some of the ways a firefighter gets his pay AND PENSION boosted for having various certifications or skills.

  16. The issue of second and third jobs for City employees should be analyzed.

    http://www.sddt.com/Government/article.cfm?SourceCode=20110405czf

    Sanders, DeMaio, Faulconer combine their pension plans for 2012 ballot.

    “… De Clercq continued. “We’ve never had a problem recruiting firefighters and nor have we had retaining, but I think you will see — if this moves forward — a huge retention problem.”

    Sanders cited the lack of trouble retaining firefighters as the main reason for excluding them from the protections the police have been offered in this plan. Sanders said the city has long had a problem recruiting and retaining police, and eliminating their pension would make that even worse. He didn’t foresee that for firefighters and lifeguards.

    “Everybody wants to be a firefighter, they work 10 days a month,” Sanders said. “They’ve all got second and third jobs.”

    He added, “When they work they’re heroic.””

  17. A minor modification to my previous post to Poway Roger about SD city firefighter pay. I said the lowest pay for a veteran Firefighter II was $63,600, which is true. But given that Blizzard was an EMT, his minimum pay upon retirement was $68,765 (actually in the doc I included as a reference). Hence his pension should have been $68,765 x 16 years x 3%, which comes to $33,007. I might add that today, EMT certification is a requirement for APPLYING for a San Diego firefighter applicant.

    Don’t know what compelled me to post that minutia. Quiet Easter afternoon, I suppose.

  18. Richard Rider,

    I had the good fortune of working with Mr. Blizzard and I’m pretty sure you are picking and choosing parts of his letter to twist as to fit what you want. Mr. Blizzard was a “Single Role” Paramedic (and a damn good one). He was not trained in fire supression (i.e. He was NOT a firefighter). Nowhere in his letter does he say that he is a firefighter. The point of his letter is that he worked ten 24 hour shifts a month = 240 hours a month which equals a 56 hour work week, however his retirement is being calculated on a 40 hour workweek x his ending salary. THAT was his point.

    Instead of speaking about any facts, you used assumption and put out a statement to inflame and anger the public. So, like Demaio and Zapf, you have taken what you THINK you know and put it out there as fact to support a claim that you have no idea about.

    The independent study is comparing the salary of a FIREFIGHTER who is cross trained and utilized also as a paramedic to a Paramedic who has NO training as a firefighter. Apples and Oranges.

    First and foremost, Firefighters are FIREFIGHTERS and that is what their salary is based on. They can at any time be called to perform TOTALLY different tasks that a “Single role” EMT or Paramedic CANNOT nor have been trained to perform. Firefighters in our EMS (Emergency medical system) are then classified (due to their additional training) as an EMT or a Paramedic. So they can function in a dual role, either as a firefighter OR a Paramedic/EMT.

    To effectively manage a critical patient on a medical call, the industry standard is to have two paramedics on scene to render aid. EMT’s are also utilized however they have a lower “scope of practice” (They can not start IV’s, give medications, intubate, etc). I will not go into the logistics of a critical patient here, but I assure you, all hands are needed, if not more hands.

    The system has been studied over and over and over again to figure out how to make it as “lean” as possible. The private corporation runs as FEW ambulances as possible, roaming throughout the city. These ambulances have One EMT and one Paramedic. (everything done is to minimize costs). These ambulances could be coming from miles and miles away to respond to a medical call. Meanwhile……

    Fire engines are stationed throughout the city geographically to be able to meet response times (deliver proper coverage to the citizens for emergency needs) whether they be fires, rescues, traffic accidents AND medical calls. YOU NEVER KNOW WHEN AN EMERGENCY WILL HAPPEN. They have cross-trained these firefighters as EMTs and Paramedics so in the case of a medical emergency, YOU(the citizen) can have a Paramedic on scene in less than 4 minutes of calling 911.

    This Fire engine consists of one Captain (the supervisor/boss), one Engineer (trained to drive the Fire engine, operate the pump, etc), one Firefighter/Paramedic (the main medical authority on scene), and one Firefighter/EMT (assists the Firefighter/Paramedic with medical care).

    Once the patient has been stabilized and moved to the ambulance for transport, the Fire Engine is then put available for the next response. If the patient is deemed “critical”, the Firefighter/Paramedic and the Firefighter/EMT will go with the ambulance to the hospital to continue care in cooperation with the Paramedic from the ambulance.

    This has been proven to be the MOST efficient way. The alternative: Instead of paying a Firefighter who is already response ready 14K a year to function also as a Paramedic, Hire another “Single role” Paramedic for 35K plus benefits.

    Many lies are being spread about the fire department by people who are either ill informed or mistaken. From the lies about “spiking” our high one year salary, to being paid overtime to shop for groceries, people are misleading the general public.

    If you have any questions, please FEEL FREE TO ASK.

    I will be one of the first to agree that the City politicians have mismanaged the General fund, the Pension fund, etc. HOWEVER, to put it on the backs of the employees through manipulative words and inflamatory statements to skew the public perception is sad.

    Thank you

  19. Boy, that was some literary effort! But, while you might not like my criticism of the inference in the Blizzard letter that he was a firefighter, it WAS accurate to say that. And I went on do deduce that he was not a firefighter.

    He could have clarified in his letter by saying he worked as a PARAMEDIC for the SD fire department. Perhaps by accident, he didn’t.

    Blizzard also did not clarify that most of his time as a city paramedic was in PRIVATE employment (34 years as “a paramedic for the citizens of San Diego” sounds like it was a “public servant” position). Of course, no way should the city consider that in calculating his pension benefit. His previous position is not germane to his ultimate city pension, so why did he include it — if not to make his pension sound paltry?

    BTW, I have no problem with the city requiring ff’s to be EMT’s. But there is no reason to pay a premium for that qualification — any more than we’d pay a government attorney extra for obtaining a law school degree.

    Supply and demand CLEARLY show us no such EMT premium need be paid.

  20. Mr Rider,

    Thank you for your response.

    While I do appreciate you trying to make an analogy, it however falls short. A government attorney would need a law school degree TO become an attorney because that is the singular scope of their job. A firefighter does not need to be an EMT to perform firefighting duties, rescues, etc (the firefighter part of the job).

    Through the years, the City of San Diego took over the EMS contract and initiated a standard of EMT minimum qualifications for EMS employees (please see previous post for the reason WHY they changed the system to this [i.e. most efficient]), they trained all the FD employees to be EMT’s (I think this was back in the 80’s) as opposed to a lower standard (basic first aid). When they added this additional responsibility for the employees, pretty much a whole new facet to the job, they included a pay raise for it (EMT differential). They added it via a percentage “add on”. as opposed to incorporate it into the base salary configuration. EMT pay is NOT a “premium”. Even with EMT pay, The City of San Diego gets Firefighters at a much lower cost than almost ANY municipal FD in California.

    So, once again, back in the 80’s when the City of San Diego wanted the Fire Department to provide another service instead of only Firefighting duties, they compensated them for it. These days, it has become the industry minimum for large municipal departments. Hopefully I put it into words clear enough. Adding new responsibilities/jobs/duties = a pay raise.

    As far as supply and demand: True, many EMT’s apply to become Firefighters. There is a stringent application and testing process which weeds out most of them (by way of written test, background checks, interviews) until they end with the MOST qualified 15-30 people to go to the academy (determined by current staffing needs). Some of these candidates “fall out” during the academy. So, while EMT is the minimum qualification to become a firefighter, it does not necessarily automatically make you qualified to be a Firefighter. This “business” is different, we can’t just hire anyone with the minimum qualifications. We want the best. If you ever need 911, I am sure you want the best and brightest showing up at your door, not necessarily just ANY EMT.

    As long as I have you on the line, do you understand why the IBA analysis and Carl Demaio are wrong in comparing a Firefighter/Paramedic to a single role private paramedic? Apples and oranges.

    Thanks again for your reply, and I am sorry I did not pick up on your deduction that Blizzard was not a Firefighter. It was lost while reading how you put out the numbers for his retirement as if he WAS a firefighter.

  21. If the city of San Diego is paying so low, then obviously SD FD firefighters should be leaving in droves for other agencies, and few should be applying for the rampant vacancies. Not happening.

    And remember, unlike the private sector, most public employee pensions are portable between governments in CA (an insane idea if the purpose of pensions is [as claimed] to recruit AND RETAIN quality employees).

    Sure, there’s always SOME turnover, but firefighter positons are coveted jobs, with few openings anywhere in the CA union fire departments except for retirements. Few quit until retirement.

    In addition, CA firefighters are paid FAR more than most in the nation — not to mention the 72% of America’s firefighters who are VOLUNTEERS. IF we ever had a shortage of firefighters, we could advertise in Eastern and Northern (and even Southern) cities during the winter — then stand by for the deluge of applications from experienced firefighters. We don’t do that because we don’t NEED to do that. Indeed, to keep down applicant paperwork, our city is quite restrictive as to when it will even ACCEPT applications.

    The Mayor of Carlsbad tells me that they seldom even consider ff applicants who score lower than 3rd in their firefighter academy class (a program they must go through BEFORE they can even apply for most cities in California). He says last year they had 100 qualified, trained applicants for each opening. And their pensions for new hires is FAR lower than the San Diego FD pensions.

    Doubtless the SD FD weans out most applicants — they HAVE to in order the meet their low requirements. All that tells us is that a lot of qualified eager applicants are turned away.

  22. First of all, Firefighters are not leaving in droves, you are correct. This is not the job you just up and leave.

    1. Most of us love what we do, so we aren’t going to quit outright. Being a Firefighter is what we love to do. Help people.
    2. We aren’t leaving for other agencies “in droves”, because other Fire departments aren’t hiring “in droves”. Not to say people aren’t looking elsewhere.
    3. If you realized the amount of work and time it takes to get hired and work your way up in seniority, this does not just “transfer over” to another department. You start at the beginning. Re-apply, re-test, re-interview, redo the academy, redo probation.

    SDCERS does Transfer with other CALPERS systems, you are correct. And yes, part of choosing where you want to apply to work IS the retirement options (just like in the private sector). I’m missing your problem with the reciprocity.

    —“Sure, there’s always SOME turnover, but firefighter positons are coveted jobs, with few openings anywhere in the CA union fire departments except for retirements. Few quit until retirement.”—

    I love how you throw in “union” when you talk about CA fire departments. People love to paint the public employee unions as knee breaking goons. My employee union has done nothing but TRY to protect my salary, benefits and rights. They have TRIED to keep the 8 fire engines from being browned out.

    The San Diego Firefighters union has worked with the City of San Diego to help with the budget shortfalls for the last 5-6 years! No pay raises, Higher contributions to the pension system (I contribute $475 biweekly), so in a sense, less take home pay. Cuts to our medical “flex benefits”, cuts to our uniform allowance, gave back our “floating holidays”. All these things are concessions we as a Firefighters Union have given back to help. Every year, giving more and more. So, Union goons strong arming the city….. hardly!

    —“In addition, CA firefighters are paid FAR more than most in the nation”—

    Do you think this may have to do with the fact the cost of living in Southern California is much higher here than in Pocatello Idaho or Muskogee Oklahoma?

    —“not to mention the 72% of America’s firefighters who are VOLUNTEERS”—

    I love when people bring this up. Please show me a major city that runs on volunteer firefighters. They don’t. They don’t because you cannot hold volunteers accountable to maintain the training, certification or standards that is expected in a professional Fire Department. Google volunteer firefighter positions. I can bet you find most do not even require you to be an EMT, nor have a Firefighter academy. I should know, I was a volunteer. I worked at a station that had a real hard time getting volunteer firefighters to staff the station more than 1 person at a time. Most volunteer systems are in cities that run a few thousand calls a year. The City of San Diego runs over 100,000 calls a year. This IS a full time job that requires full time staffing.

    —“IF we ever had a shortage of firefighters, we could advertise in Eastern and Northern (and even Southern) cities during the winter — then stand by for the deluge of applications from experienced firefighters.”—

    I think you are making reference to people wanting to work here because of the beautiful weather. Yes, I agree that the weather is beautiful and like in ANY job, San Diego would be a great place to work. This argument is really irrelevant.

    But if you offer a pay and pension that does not allow someone to afford to live in San Diego, I have a hard time believing you will have a “deluge” of applications from “experienced” firefighters leaving their paid positions in the south, north, east, west, whatever.

    As far as Carlsbad is concerned, I’m familiar with their hiring process. Carlsbad, Vista, Escondido, San Marcos, etc (most of North County) hire from a list they call the JPA. To be placed on this list, you must have a California State Fire Marshal Firefighter I certification (received through a California firefighter I academy, other state’s firefighter I certifications do not qualify due to California’s higher standards) and a Paramedic license. You are ranked on this list via a test on Paramedic knowledge and a Physical Ability Test. When one of these small departments (Carlsbad has 6 stations, we have 46 stations… not even comparable) has an opening, they pull a handful of candidates from the top of this list, interview them and then chose the one or two they want to hire.

    Since they only hire in groups of one or two, it would be ridiculous to put them through a full fire academy at that time, thats why they require it up front, then they just fine tune for their department. Luckily since we are so large of a department, we can train our own in a firefighter academy, evaluate them and make sure they meet the standard.

    As far as Carlsbad FD pensions, I just went on their website and it shows them with 3% at 50 just like us. How is that FAR lower? Or has it just not been updated?

    –“Doubtless the SD FD weans out most applicants — they HAVE to in order the meet their low requirements. All that tells us is that a lot of qualified eager applicants are turned away.”–

    Once again, as in my last post, “qualified” is up for interpretation.

    Thanks again for your replies

  23. I guess you and I could do this for months, with no one else reading. I’ll TRY to touch on a couple points.

    1. Carlsbad new hires’ pension is now TWO PERCENT at age 50, based on the AVERAGE of their three highest years. And they have 100 trained applicants for each opening.

    2. I concur that we need full-time urban firefighters (though we should supplement that cadre with reserve volunteer ff’s for the big brush fires). But a major reason ff’s claim we need to pay so much is the RISK of firefighting. Given that many people are willing to take such risks for free, that argument doesn’t hold water. That’s why the existence of so many ff volunteers is important. Indeed, I suspect in a candid setting, today’s ff’s will admit that they wish we had more fires like the old days. Even with the 40% increase in population since 1978, we now have 40% fewer actual structural fires. A ff LIKES to fight fires — and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

    3. No reason for SD FD to pay for both the ff academy AND a salary for new recruits. Ask any of the other cities in the county for guidance. It’s a foolish expense, and I suspect it whacks taxpayers in the end as that time probably counts towards the wonderful pension.

    4. Yes, CA is more expensive than most other states. But the average CA household income is only 6% above the national average. Our ff pay and benefits (like ALL CA public employee pay and benefits) is FAR more generous than the 6% differential the rest of us deal with. It’s unjustified, unnecessary — and unfair to taxpayers.

  24. Over 1,000 unique visitors to Rostra in the last 2-3 days. Many do read the recent comments.

  25. Mr Rider,

    1. PLEASE, if you are going to put up facts, put up the whole facts. I found the update, Carlsbad FD now receives 2% at 50, but you conveniently neglected to include that the number increases to 2.7% at 55 . Thereby, ramping up the disparity, and public anger.

    As soon as they can figure out a way to pre-determine when and where a fire, accident, haz-mat, heart attack, collapse, natural disaster, bomb, plane crash or any sort of emergency will happen, we can do away with the FD. Our motto when we go to work is that “you never know what is going to happen”. But when IT happens, we are there to mitigate it. It is our job, and you are right, we love to do our job.

    To say Firefighting does not involve risk is ludicrous. What other job has these hazards? You make it sound as if you could pick up anyone off the streets and have them grab a hoseline and put out fires. I cannot emphasize enough how much more there is to it.

    According to the U.S. Census bureau website, the median household income in San Diego was $62,820. http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/06/06073.html. The pay for a top step firefighter II with EMT pay is $68,725. I definitely think this job warrants higher than median household income.

    Once I did more research on you, I realized who exactly I was talking to! I read your online “rants” and started to realize just how off base you are. You have no idea of the work this job entails. You have some pre-conceived notion of what we do. You are strongly opinionated and for some reason you hate firefighters. You try to use your selective, twisted statistics and numbers to quantify something that is dynamic and fluid. It doesn’t work. You lambast Firefighters by spreading half truths or out right misleading comments.

    I see that your dislike for firefighters is deep….. so nothing I say will have any effect. I could go until I’m blue in the face. I have better things to do and I’m sure you do too.

    Mr. Rider, Thank you for your time.

  26. My my! You are presenting one straw man argument after another. I sense desperation.

    Who is talking about “doing away with the FD”????? Not me! I don’t know of ANYONE seriously discussing this thought. Did you find that in my other “rants”? And I already made clear in our exchange that I DO want paid urban ff’s.

    I love my firefighters. It’s just that I can love them just as much for half the pay and a third the pension.

    Okay, okay — we can quibble about the “proper” lesser amounts, but clearly the supply/demand disparity tells us we are paying far more than we need for qualified, effective ff’s.

    And while I love my firefighters, I do NOT care for your plethora of indignant misrepresentations — you’re now regurgitating the standard (discredited) public employee responses.

    Who says firefighting does not involve risk??? Another straw man for you to set afire, I suppose.

    CLEARLY firefighting involves significant risk — though not as much as ff’s would have us believe. While most occupations are far safer, there are also a number of jobs with higher risk — construction laborers, truck drivers, farmers, airline crew — not to mention the resource gathering industries. If you’ve been reading my stuff, you’ve seen the stats from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We needn’t rehash this aspect — it’s “settled stats.”

    Some SPORTS involve high risk. Mountain climbing, sky diving and cliff diving are some of such pastimes come to mind. We don’t have to PAY people to assume that risk — they LIKE the risk. So do most ff’s — it’s a part of the job. They look FORWARD to the risk. Many would like to face more risk — instead of making mostly ambulance and false alarm runs.

    Your comparison of ff pay with household income is apples to watermelons — perhaps an unintentional straw man (should I be saying “straw person”?). “Household income” is ALL the income in a household — spouses, kids, roommates, second jobs, overtime, investments, etc. This ff ploy is based on the unstated, bogus assertion that they/you have some sort of right to raise a family on a single base income.

    Few families in CA have that luxury. Neither should ff’s.

    And, of course, not one ff in ten exists solely on their base ff salary. They’d be bored to tears 20 days a month! All either have a second job (or business) and/or work lucrative overtime as a ff.

    And then there’s your “you hate firefighters” complaint. Standard union playbook nonsense. Seems you’ve got a whole CROP of straw men.

    My complaint involves ff COMPENSATION. Again, you’re doing the labor union dance — anyone who challenges the pay and pensions of public employees therefore HATES public employees. Granted, when the exchange turns testy (as ours has at YOUR instigation), I respond in kind. Doesn’t mean I HATE you (though I think it’s fair to say that many ff’s hate ME!).

    I’m not surprised that you “definitely think this [ff] job warrants higher than median household income.” But come on — asking an EMPLOYEE if they are paid too much??? Truth is, as a ff, your opinion doesn’t much matter. What matters is the opinion of hordes of qualified ff applicants who are willing to take your place — should you decide to leave before retirement (fat chance!).

    You did make one good point — while I was factual about Carlsbad, I did not include the “2.7% at age 55” option. I won’t omit that in the future. Nevertheless, that’s 10% less than the old pension (and your pension), PLUS it it averages the THREE highest years, reducing somewhat opportunities for pension spiking.

    Your correction is important for another reason. It demonstrates that such defined benefit (DB) plans are almost impossible to REALLY reform — that’s why I prefer the more honest defined contribution (DC) plans common in the private sector. No unfunded liability, and everyone can see the full cost up front before making the decision to proceed.

    It seem we’ve reached a mutually agreeable stopping point. At least we found SOMETHING to agree on!

    Since it would be a shame to waste both our prodigious efforts, I think I might cobble together our exchange and post it on my own blog and Facebook. I won’t edit your entries, but I might expand mine (such as detailing the industry risk issue) for broader public dissemination.

    Of course, I’d LOVE to include your real name. I try to level the playing field in that regard. Full disclosure, and all that.

    Kindly post your name back, IF you want your exchange properly credited to you — though seldom do I find paid ff’s from any jurisdiction that will provide such info.

    Either way, thanks for your comments. And I MEAN that. I think the public will find our discussion illuminating.

  27. Mr. Rider,

    Darn it…. you sucked me in again…. I was going to walk away but I find it amusing that you are actually getting irritated (mad?) at our debate. I apologize if you find my comment that “you do not know what you are talking about” to be offensive, I assure you it was not to be snide. It is a true statement. You do not have any idea. (P.S. Playing “Whack a mole” with your garden hose on some embers in a barely threatened area during the Cedar fire does not make you a firefighter.) I merely was informing you that I know where this conversation is going….. nowhere.

    I never said YOU would do away with the FD. Please don’t infer that. I was making a general statement to explain the reasoning and importance of resources and having the best trained personnel. We can NOT predict when fires break out because they are usually accidents. (I.E. your “rant” where you state “something that only happens every 4-20 years” [talking about Cedar/Witch fires]) . To say such a thing is for a lack of a better word….. Dumb. Oh, I also like how you want to just pull the military from whatever they are doing at the time to fight the wildfires…. because they are more “fit” and trained (shipboard firefighting)…. ????? Oh yeah, and we will just outfit them with a whole fleet of firefighting apparatus???….

    Actually, by the way, I am “regurgitating” the standard “firefighter” responses… I can’t speak for all public employees, I do not know what all their jobs entail.

    Hmmm…. Firefighting is less dangerous than truck driving… In a sense, yes. In a sense…… No. Truck driving is dangerous because a truck driver is always on the road driving, thereby putting him at a minimal risk for a greater period of time. I can guarantee you that going into a building on fire in threat of collapse or flashover is far more dangerous than driving a truck from here to San Francisco. Same applies for all those other “statistics”. Once again, a moot point when arguing if my job is not that “dangerous” Oh, and if you could please let me know when my next HIV patient with a GI bleed is going to call, let me know so I can stay at the station so I don’t risk exposure….. (Oh yeah, there are less “exciting” points to this job that are more frequent and just as dangerous and I go to ALL of them!)

    What are you even talking about paying people to skydive???? because it involves risk??? Skydivers are not performing a service to the citizens of San Diego last time I checked, so….. To overstate the obvious, OF COURSE we don’t pay people to skydive, mountain climb….. Another ridiculous argument.

    Household income…. Yes, sometimes it means more than one person, but SOMETIMES it does mean one person…. That is why it is an “average”…. And yes, you are right, firefighters have a hard time raising a family on 68k a year. So, we do have to have our wives/husbands work, we do have to rent as opposed to buy a home, we do have to work second jobs. As far as being “bored” 20 days a month…. Nah, I’m usually recovering from the butt-kicking I took at work, waking up 3-5 calls after midnight…. (I’m sure you are going to dispute that and tell me how you know my schedule and call volume better than I do!)

    I keep going in circles with you about the difference between “qualified applicants” and “Most qualified applicants”… Are you ignoring this or are you just trying to do a play on words… broken record “Plenty of qualified applicants… Plenty of qualified applicants”….

    I will try to explain this to you one more time…. THERE IS A DIFFERENCE between “qualified applicants” and “Most qualified applicants”. So, for example, any of your jobs you have possessed during your life. I have no doubt that I could go out and find someone with the minimum qualifications to fill your seat who would happy to do it for “x” amount less than you get/got paid, just to have that job. This does not make that person the most qualified or for that matter even mean they could do said job. It is this way with ANY job. Someone could be found who would work for “x” amount less for ANY job!…

    That is why, the American way is to provide an opening and the person who works the hardest (is the “MOST qualified applicant”) should and hopefully will get the job. So your argument that “there is a huge supply of “Qualified applicants”” does not hold any water. Your “supply and demand” argument holds no ground. There are plenty of college educated people out there who are without jobs. Does that mean we should choose to cut the pay of you and everyone else who applied for your job where the qualification of the job was to hold a degree?… Of course not…

    Supply and demand is only a small part of a reason why ANYONES salary or benefits are what they are. How about what the job is??? Does that have anything to do with what someone gets paid? The medical field is full of private sector occupations with comparable salaries… As you yourself have stated, a lot of what we do is emergency medicine….. Are you after everyone in the medical field or just Firefighters/ paramedics/ City employees as a whole? Once again, it boils down to you feeling we are overcompensated through some knowledge base you have of what we do…. I have no idea where your opinions come from, but they are exactly that, your opinions.

    Mr. Rider, reading your profile, you have military service and probably receive a military pension. I’m not even curious to what it is, because I’m sure you’re ready to jump up yelling to compare your Federal service pension to my “Outrageous” pension. My point is, did you graciously decline your “Defined Benefit” or should other service people decline theirs since the Country faces such an out of control National Debt? it sure would help towards balancing the National budget. Of course not….. But I’m sure you think it would be fair or right if the Federal Government all of a sudden decided they were going to slash that benefit greatly….. Probably not.

    Once again, until you have walked a mile in my shoes, don’t act as if you know anything about what I do… I know you probably work 9-5 in an office, sit in the A/C at your desk and type on a computer. I’m sure you get a lunch break and every night you go home to your loving wife for a good night of sleep in your own bed. Sounds cush to me, I think you should get paid 20k a year… But it DOESN’T matter what I think, because I don’t know the details about what you do! You have “heard” things and maybe at most have visited a fire station, so in your limited exposure now feel you can speak on what my salary and pension should be… Kooky.

    All your arguments are off base. None of them even really make sense if you dissect them. They are all based on your “OPINION”.

    Please, do post this on your blog, Facebook, Myspace, Tweet it, whatever…. I hope people do read it. Hopefully it does make sense to the lay-person. Anyone who has called 911 has no doubt been happy that we HURRY to their house, hop off and have the “most qualified” people there to help them in their time of need. Hopefully most people will not buy into your propaganda and rhetoric and see you for the posturing politician you are.

    As far as giving my full name….. HA! Yeah, you’re going to call me (and the other firefighters) out for not giving you our personal information???… I have nothing to hide and I stand by my comments, but please ask yourself, WHY would I give some guy who I don’t even know my full name over the internet? I’m smarter than that and maybe you’re not for asking such a request. Don’t worry, all my friends and family already know what I’m writing and would be able to recognize my screen name. But thanks for trying to “get me credit”…..

    Thank you Mr Rider for the pleasant conversation and best of luck in all you do.

  28. Wait a second……. Mr. Rider, who is so outspoken AGAINST “defined benefits” and calls them unsustainable draws a military pension, probably lifetime healthcare too? Pot calling the kettle black?

  29. This same bozo (who is about “republican1” as I am a Commie) put together a fake Facebook account so he could pretend on my Facebook to be incensed about “discovering” my military pension.

    Here’s my Facebook response:

    Gosh, GREAT detective work, “Mike Davis” (doubtless a fake name to go with your spineless nature and false Facebook page). My military (reserve) career has remained a closely guarded secret up until now. …Except I put it on my bio, on my blog and elsewhere.

    According to you union apologists, if a pension critic —

    A. Does not have a government pension, then they suffer pension envy, and have no credibility.

    B. DOES have a government pension, then they are hypocrites, and have no credibility.

    “B” might be true is I were calling on govt employees to reject their excessive pensions or healthcare. I NEVER have said that. I don’t expect that. No sane person would. I want the excessive defined benefit pensions reduced for govt employees, and have said so LONG before my wife and I retired — 20 years or more. In essence, I have campaigned against my personal self interest.

    That is different from the rest of you greedy union folks, as YOU campaign for HIGHER pensions and better benefits — cost (and taxpayers) be damned. And somehow you think YOU have greater credibility than I do!

    It would be fun to compare your cushy union job and pension with a military reserve pension. Spending 6 months to a year away from home (yes, we serve several years on active duty), potential danger (for many, but not in my specialty) far in excess of your union jobs, on call 24/7 (though seldom called, a reservist has to be prepared to leave one’s home, family and work in 48 hours). And lastly, we could compare pension dollar amounts and age at retirement.

    Mike, you shame yourself and all state and local government employees when you try to pretend your pensions and work conditions equate to a military retiree — active or reserve.

    “Mike Davis,” I’m disappointed but not surprised that you are a coward — most union members who challenge me are like you. A quick look at your Facebook page shows what a pathetic person you are — a fake profile.

    As I do not have time to debate you dishonest cowards on my Facebook page, you are removed. I can be found on many other venues, which take up too much of my time as it is. I don’t duck debate (far from it) — but I DO get to pick my fields of battle. You won’t further waste my time here.

  30. Mr. Rider, correct me if I am wrong, but there are some major differences between the local pensions and military pensions. Military pensions are a reasonable percentage of the highest attained base salary. Bonuses and special pay received while on active duty does not figure into the calculation. A military pension never exceeds 80% of the last base salary. Military pensions do not start until after 20 years of service and can be denied if you were discharged from the military for a felony. The military also has access to a contributory system which is very much like a 401(k) called the Thrift Savings Program. Their pensions make sense especially when you consider how low their pay is comparatively speaking.

    “Republican1” or “Mike Davis” or whoever…you are comparing apples to oranges. To be clear, we would not be having a discussion about pensions in this town if it were working. Which is why we are not having a discussion about military pensions…they work.

  31. Richard, we assume you noted that the “Mike Davis” facebook page was created and a question posed to you through it about the same time that “republican1” above asked the very same same question here.

    But, of further interest is that the IP address of “republican1” above is the same IP as the person debating back and forth with you above over the last several days. In other words, “Micahd858” and “republican1” above are likely (well, most certainly) one in the same.

    Oh, and Mike Davis on Facebook and Micah D here are strangely similar names, wouldn’t you say?

  32. Plus nobody has ever seen them both in the same room at the same time.

  33. Ok… So I’m not that good at being sneaky… You got me. First of all, I LOVE our service people, so don’t get the wrong idea. I just feel like someone campaigning against “defined benefit” plans having a pension to be odd, no matter what it is. And I feel most people don’t know that about you, so I had to TRY to inform… But you got me. Oh well.

    Once again, please do not even pretend to have any idea of the hazards of my job. You do not know. And I am appalled as always at the broad brush and disgusting jargon you use to describe my labor union. Once again, we HAVE given back over the last several years.

    Oh yeah, please also note, overtime does NOT count in retirement calculations!

  34. We support anonymity here. But, the rule is to select a “handle” and stick with it. I guess the ridiculousness in this is that you had an entire debate above with Rider anonymously, then felt the need to act like a different anonymous person, apparently to “out” him like it was coming from a second party. For what reason? Other than to call into question your motives from the beginning, we mean.

  35. Micahd85: I do not support arguing against higher than normal pensions and pay based on a general hatred for defined benefit plans or on how easy your job is. Defined benefit plans are not inherently bad. They have their place and can be run well if appropriately planned. And the last thing I want is a guy saving my neighborhood from burning down who got the job because he was the lowest bid or isn’t paid much because not enough of his colleagues have died. I certainly don’t want a police officer stopping crime for minimum wage.

    City employee compensation packages…pay and benefits…are out of the realm of normal and need to be adjusted because they are unaffordable. It is that simple.

    I recently read a short op-ed by a local police officer who was threatening to leave California because his compensation is being cut by around $10,000 a year. I feel for this officer, but all of us reading this know many, many people in the private sector whose pay was cut by far more than $10,000 a year due to the bad economy. Government employees should not be immune.

  36. You are right Thor’s assistant, I am sorry for that. At the time it seemed like a fun way to stir the pot. But I guess I should have kept in mind the seriousness of the topic. My apologies to all.

  37. Mr Schwartz, that was very well written and I thank you for it. Please understand that over the last 5-6 years the firefighters have given back more and more. I understand the reasoning that people are facing hard times right now, however, when things were good and people were getting bonuses, raises, cost of living increases, 401ks were growing exponentially, we relied on the thoughts of “stable income, good retirement”. I have seen ONE 2% pay raise in the 7 years since I have become a firefighter. Firefighters are also upside down on their mortgages, working two jobs to support their families. I am not trying to give you a sob story, I just want you to know we are right there with “the private sector”. I have NEVER made 6 figures. That statistic is relating to about 4% of the upper management (chiefs, captains) who spent most of their life at the fire station.

    I believe there are other ways to cut before we start putting it on the backs of the employees who serve this city day in and day out. We ARE the middle class. It sucks to see the people leading the charge against us to be the independently wealthy (demaio) and people who HAVE a pension/lifetime healthcare (as modest as they make it out to be). The mayor cutting our healthcare when he himself keeps that benefit. Self serving politicians who are serving their own selfish desires (future office, making a name for themselves) by exploiting us. Putting grossly incorrect information out to anger the general public. This politicians understand the difference between my job as a firefighter paramedic and the job of an entry level paramedic on the ambulance. But they will never retract that incorrect “independent study”.

    I also find it humorous how nobody ever talks about how this mess could have a lot to do with the City politicians underfunding the pension system during key years to fund the ball park, republican national convention, etc.

    But that’s my opinion…..

    For the record, in TEN years, I will say I have NEVER been to a union meeting where the president said “now we have them right where we want them!”… It’s usually “well, they want us to give x,y, and z back…. But through our negotiating, we only have to give back x, and y”…. Really..

    Mr Schwartz, thank you for your unbiased answer. I will keep that in my mind.

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