Thursday, July 23, 2009

It's a great gig.

There is something that has been bothering me for quite a while now. I've spent lots of time trying to figure out how to explain it so I didn't seem un-thankful for the dangerous jobs they do. Generally I'm extremely supportive of people who serve our country. However, this one issue keeps poking me and poking me.

It's the firefighters.

Remember a while back when I mentioned I felt firefighters were padding the payrolls? I only became aware of this issue because all the firefighters in my town were sporting really expensive cars. New Volvo's and Audi's and the like.

At the time I wished I taken pictures, because it seemed pretty unbelievable that I was claiming most of them were driving so many expensive new cars. Sure, maybe the chief was sporting an expensive car here and there, but surely not most of them.

Except for the last 10 years, I never remember firefighters driving in such luxury. They all sport these licence plates, so it's easy to tell they are firefighters.

Well, this month I got an opportunity to show just the kind of cars our firefighters are diving. Lexus, and BMW 5 series. These pictures were taken a couple of weeks ago, and I thought I could still squash the feeling to blog about it.

Then last night, I read this story where they sent 35 firefighters to a house fire.

"By Roman Gokhman
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 07/22/2009 09:20:05 PM PDT

MORAGA — A kitchen fire caused $250,000 worth of damage to a Moraga house Wednesday morning.

The fire was reported at 10:15 a.m. in the 1100 block of Larch Avenue by the resident, who returned home from running errands to find his kitchen on fire, Moraga-Orinda Fire Department investigators said.

The department and Contra Costa Fire District sent 35 firefighters to the home. By the time they arrived the house was empty. They were able to contain the blaze to the kitchen and attic, though the rest of the house had extensive smoke damage.

The fire was controlled at 10:40 a.m. The cause remained under investigation Wednesday evening."

Maybe it was a ginormous mansion right? Not so much. I plugged the block into google maps, and the houses are somewhat average. 35 guys are a huge amount of people.

I noticed this trend on my own block one day. I heard all these sirens. I thought it was a huge house fire. It turned out to be a small fire. Flames and smoke never even erupted from the house at all, and there were about 10 guys. I have pictures. I was shocked the house wasn't more fully engulfed for the amount of people they sent.

Now I don't begrudge these guys for working hard and buying beemers. But, padding the staff kind of pisses me off. Considering our state is in so much trouble.


  1. I thought firefighting teams worked on an on-call rotation, with 24/7 coverage, and were paid the same regardless of how many calls they answered during their duty period.

    Besides, even in your scenario, I'm not sure what the solution would be. Considering the risks inolved with underestimating the scope of a fire, I don't think I'd want my 911 call to result in a Fire Inspector armed with a handheld extinguisher. "Give me a few minutes to see how bad this fire is, and then I'll call in backup if necessary".

    Sure, it sounds like a good idea, but if the fire is already out of control, I'd sure wish all 35 guys had shown up to begin with.

    Plus, these guys rush boldly into burning buildings to save lives. If anybody deserves a BMW more than me it's them.

  2. Why not pay them a million dollars then? Or two? How much is it worth to you to save your stuff?

    Tons of these guys are making close to a 100% or more of their salaries in overtime. And, they continue to make that money for as long as they live.

    "FIRE CAPT. ARTHUR Jacobsen earned $265,000 last year, including about $150,000 in overtime. Engineer Franklin Penaloza earned $230,000, including $127,000 in overtime. Firefighter Guy Hayashi earned $204,000, including $110,000 in overtime."


    Saving lives and belongings is immeasurable. Yet, how long does the average person need to work to pay a firefighter almost 250 grand a year for basically the rest of their lives?

  3. Or why not have each party pay whatever services or compensation the market will bear, and call it even.

    I don't know, do firefighter pensions include overtime pay for retired firefighters, or just the base pay?

    Other than that, all these figures tell me is that a firefighter's base pay is roughly the same as my own, even though I'm sure their job requires a much higher standard of physical fitness and professional development than mine.

    So right off the bat, their labor is much more skilled, and much more demanding than mine is. But they don't really get paid much more than I do.

    On top of that, it looks like they work a lot of overtime. Which pays more. And it would pay me more, too, if I worked it. I guess the solution there is to hire more firefighters, and cap overtime?

    But then you've got another pension to pay out, which as I understand it, you would find objectionable.

    I think in the long run, it's probably cheaper to keep the number of firefighters low, and keep the pension costs correspondingly low, and make up the manpower shortage with overtime.

  4. If there are no firefighters, what will the cats do?

    I have nothing to give to this debate. In my world, cops and firemen all make the same money as the guy wiping down equipment at the gym.

  5. MDG - I don't know. I think the crazy cat ladies will step into rescue them.

    Have you seen This?

  6. stutefish-

    "Or why not have each party pay whatever services or compensation the market will bear, and call it even.

    Okay. If you want 35 guys to show up - you pay for them. I don't want 35 guys to show up at my place.

    I've had a fire burn down my house when I was growing up, and we lost a family member. 10 guys or 100 guys would not have changed that result. A house can be fully engulfed in under 2 minutes. So shockingly fast. Even if they'd saved him, does that mean the taxpayers should just hand over their wallets for my misfortune? Why is that fair? I don't need premium service, because I know most of the damage occurs before the department even gets there. It sucks to have lost all my stuff, but I would have replaced all that stuff by now at least two times. And it would have assuredly been lots less than I am paying in taxes to keep a bunch of extra guys on the government payroll who really are just filling spots for the unusual emergency the depletes the existing force.

    "I don't know, do firefighter pensions include overtime pay for retired firefighters, or just the base pay?

    "Aside from pumping up their paychecks, overtime also pumps up firefighter pensions–which are based on final or highest years’ salaries. In the long run, that means taxpayers end up paying some retirees far more than they otherwise might have. "

    The story goes onto say:

    "Some firefighters acknowledge trying to get as much overtime as possible in their final years so they can retire with a bigger pension. Others say that’s not their motive."

    In another story:

    "--The department's top earner racked up a total of $570,276 in overtime in the last three years, including $206,685 in 2006. His three-year overtime total was nearly double his base salary for that period. "

    "But then you've got another pension to pay out, which as I understand it, you would find objectionable.

    Yes. I do object to pensions. On many levels. On a moral level I think it enslaves other workers and taxpayers to pay back an over-promised IOU. In most cases the person draws much more than they contribute. Or else we wouldn't have so many unfunded pension plans, now would we?

    Just because they are firefighters doesn't mean they get keys to the bank. And it also doesn't mean they also don't fall prey to greed. After 911 people just felt so grateful they said give them anything they want. Well, they have taken it - and more. They are taking advantage of the system.

    Just the same as if I rolled up to my doctors office and noticed he was driving a rolls royce - I'd think that guy was too expensive for me, and I'd go somewhere else. Only firefighters, you don't get a choice.

  7. rant on

    do any of you people have any idea about what it takes to work a large structure fire?

    padding the crew? are you stupid?

    it was most likely a 2 alarm job, the 1st alarm probably had 15 or so firefighters, so you geniuses do the math.

    I am sick and tired of people second guessing staffing levels, salaries and benefits for a job most of you can't begin to understand.

    my dept took a 15% pay cut in order to continue to provide service. does that work for you?

    until you can really understand the job, I'd suggest you keep your suck shut.

    rant off

  8. Let me get this straight. You want me to support your pay scale by coming here and projecting a hostile tone? We civilians are just "too stupid" to understand what your job entails? Is that it?

    Honestly, I don't know if 15% is enough. We'll see how the economy goes. While everyone else is taking several steps back in life - you are locked into these extremely luxurious benefits (even for good times) packages as witnessed by firefighters driving Lexus's - and you expect the public just to STFU about it?

    You should just be thanking your lucky stars if you even have a job right now. We in the private sector are. At least the smart ones are. But, it probably doesn't matter anyway - some of you can just retire early anyway.

    And to bite the hand that literally feeds you is shocking honestly.

  9. Not aiming to get away from the pension thing, but it's not just the cars that they're buying. Here's a story from Fla. about a firefighter buying a $430K condo: He planned to make it a vacation getaway and eventually his full-time residence when he retires in four years.

    That's a lot of change for a vacation getaway.


  10. Yeah. I read that too.

    I'm in a really conflicted spot about this whole thing. It isn't that I don't want them to make a good living. I do object to them getting very rich. I don't think anyone in government should get rich off the taxpayer. I also really have a problem with the hubris that we don't matter and should just stfu when we start having a problem with excessive pay.

    Technically I work my ass off to make sure they get fed. And that their children get fed. I do that everyday. I may only need them once of twice in my lifetime, and that I should feel beholden to them irks me.

    Everyone I know has made sacrifices. No one likes it, but it's the way things are. Instead of pissing on the taxpayer who is trying to do their level best to "feed the system" and is cock blocked at every point - perhaps they should look at voting out the people who make it so we don't want to pay them as much.

  11. Hey dumb fuck,

    Did you ever think that maybe the firefighters who drive these nice fancy cars are married to someone who makes a lot of money? That probably never crossed your mind because you were to busy being jelous that you dont have a job that you love and you probably drive some piece of shit clunker. I hope I get called to your house for an emergency someday.

    Suck it!!!!!

  12. Or what? You'll let my house burn down?

    Have you guys completely lost your minds? Because you don't seem to grasp the impression you are leaving. You probably don't care right. We are the assholes.

    I'm starting to think that all you firefighter guys feel like we are all just stupid podunks. Too stupid to understand math-e-matics. Which is why you can super inflate your retirement salary. No matter you could barely pry that information out of the cities. Once someone did - we got all uppity. Right?

    You think just because you post anonymously, most bloggers don't have site meters that roughly target your geographical location. I'm just low enough class that way.

    Just read in the paper today that Calpers lost a ton more of your retirement money on Manhattan real estate. Why not direct your anger at them? Maybe if they could have managed to save that money and not gamble it, you wouldn't have moron taxpayers like me bitching about you reaming us with Beemers and Lexus's. But, all you guys are marrying up I guess. Whatever.

  13. I'm a firefighter, and I am not rich. After 15 years of service I DO make a decent living (70k), but I also work 72 hours a week. There is nobody in my department making 6 figures except my chief, and he is just over 100k.

    You are off the mark with your assumptions. MOST firefighters make pay you would never even consider (my hometown starts at 24k). Those that are paid well, are usually not simply a "fireman". Try adding just the levels of training I myself have....EMT, Hazardous Materials Technician, Confined Space Rescue Technician, Aircraft Crash and Rescue FF, Wildland FF, Rescue SCUBA Diver, Fire Inspector, Fire Instructor, Ladder and Pumper Driver Operator, ARFF Driver Operator, and I even have Space Shuttle Orbiter certification in case an emergency crash landing of the space shuttle. These are the ones of the top of my head.

    So...I don't want to sound rude, but you have NO IDEA what you are talking about on this matter. Your observation is way off. I hope your readers understand that.

  14. Well, I appreciate you not being rude. The truth of the matter is..... hey wait. How much are they paying you for training in the remote possibility of a space shuttle crash? Because, that sounds like a complete waste of taxpayer money. The shuttle path doesn't even take it over Michigan.

    Anyway, back to my point. Which are not "observations" BTW. The police and rescue budgets are consuming 60,70,80% of city general funds in many, many areas. Hell, Albany NY police and fire are consuming 85% of the general fund. These departments are raping our cities through pension spiking, and doing it easily by guilting everyone. It isn't right. It has to stop.

  15. The space shuttle crash training was from my time in the US Air Force. I was at an alternate (emergency) landing base, and that is where the aircraft training came from as well.

    Back to the topic. 85% or more of US Fire Departments are volunteer. The rest are either part time paid, and the smallest percent is paid. In the grand scheme of things the fire service is horribly UNDER paid for the services they provide (and in most places the actual 'fire' calls are the least of those services).

    Truth is, nobody wants to pay a firefighter till they need one.

    It sounds like you have a city that has some unique and unusual agreements with the city employees. It isn't the norm. The city I live in doesn't pay retirement or even insurance (unless you are hurt on the job).

    You more have a problem with the policy of your city, than an argument that firefighters make too much money.

  16. Been looking for an anti-firefighter bumper sticker or picture for the back of my car. Or just a 'You suck', but my vocab is better than that.

  17. First off,
    1. I work as a volunteer firefighter for free for about 3 years, before that I put myself through a fire academy for 6 months working a full-time job.
    2. I then put myself through medic school for 6 months.
    3. I put myself through college for an AS degree in fire science.
    4. My wife makes about $350,000 per year from here own self- made business. You can't just assume it's due to the FF's salary paying for that nice car.
    5. Overtime DOES NOT count towards retirement.
    6. Firefighters run on more than fire calls, we also go on Medical aids, where people call us out to go in an ambulance cuz it's faster than being in the waiting room. They have a Medi-Cal state insurance card that YOU'RE TAX DOLLARS PAYS FOR. Which is crippling the state budget.
    7. Firefighters didn't bring the Economy down. Peoe buying homes that they couldn't afford did. And the loan people making $500,000 a year did too.
    8. You would be surprised as to how many people get used on a working structure fire or medical aid.

    9. You people are amazing! You want protection by someone who wi give their life to save you or your kids, but you want it for free. But you'll pay a loan broker $30,000 on a loan that he's hiding in the terms that you can't understand how to read!