Defending San Luis Obispo firefighters

August 26, 2011


As I sat in the recliner returning from my 57th call in three days this morning, I wanted to comment on San Luis Obispo firefighter Rob Farino’s recent Opinion piece.  I am one of the “L.A. Firemen”  that is being used as a measuring stick against San Luis Obispo city firefighters.

This is an opportunity for me to not only reflect on the comments slamming Rob’s character but the entire fire service in general. I find it only fitting that I respond in the same comforts that everyone else has—on the beautiful Central Coast, without fear of major crime, traffic, gangs, drugs and our beautiful 72 degree weather.

This is not a statement defending Rob’s $26-dollar per hour wage, his decent retirement, or San Luis Obispo Fire Department’s ability to keep collective bargaining. He makes a wage to support his family in the San Luis Obispo area and it gives him the opportunity to live in the community in which he serves.

No, this is in response to the attacks that have been made against firefighters and police and the job they do on CalCoastNews, the Tribune and the Dave Congalton show. As most of you sit behind a computer screen in the safety of your workplace or home and attack our local public servants as being overpaid, under-worked, and then blamed to be the the root of so many of the City’s financial problems, I would like you to realize you are attacking your first and last line of defense against the cancerous abuse of the public health care system that riddles many areas today.

I know what you’re thinking—that could never happen here, we’re immune from the problems occurring  “down south”. Tell that to the fine tax paying citizens of Lennox, Watts, San Bernardino, Moreno Valley and East Palmdale just to name a few cities I have served and I will continue to provide excellent service for the next 20 years.

They too were once immune to the abuse, yet now riddled with the problems that everyone here living in San Luis Obispo has come up to escape. If this comment seems foreign to you, pack up the kids and take a vacation, not to Hawaii, or the Grand Canyon, yet spend some time in the communities you would hope not to be forced to get off the freeway and get gas on your way to Orange County or Palm Springs. If you need “pay per hour” hotel recommendations let me know, I’m sure most San Luis Obispo residents will need no more than that to understand my point.

Call me cynical or a little jaded, but you can not say I don’t have first hand experience of being a fireman, which most of the people here making these comments lack. Rob Farino is the type of person you want in defense of these problems. He seems educated, eloquent and very passionate about his job.

One day, in the not so distant future, as our precious community changes and our way becomes threatened, like so many others have, you’ll gladly pay him or anyone else $26 dollars an hour to come to your aid.  I can promise you San Luis Obispo’s call volume will go up, you will need and want our police and fire services.  So I respectfully beg to you be careful towards the hateful and ignorant stones being thrown towards the ones sworn to protect you.

Please value our police and fire departments.  As the old saying goes; We’re not paid on a daily basis for what we do; but for what we are willing to do!

Aaron Salmon serves as a firefighter in Los Angeles.

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As I put in another post about this, the State of Ca has regulation on response times and number of people on a truck or squad unit for a given job, do you people think that there would be fire stations all over SLO if there wasn’t regs governing it, the station on Broad street can’t cover the north end of Laguna in the alloted time so there is a station in that vicinity, cutting staff is not going to happen either, unless the city removes some of the overhead.

I dont believe there are regulations governing the amount of resources in a certain area. I believe its a case by case based on demand and volume of service calls and response times. There are recommended objectives and ideals.

There are response times set up by the state on how long it takes to get to a call, if all calls could be delt with say from the broad street station do you think that the city would have other fire stations around town.

Station 3 was built when station was down town further away, prior to the new station being built. I think things can be more efficient. Are response times set up by the state or by fire chiefs with certain response time objectives?

This guy’s still sitting in his recliner?

As of the last public Talley by the County Clerk-Recorder at 8:07pm 8/30/11 with 42% of the ballots counted.

Yes on A: 74.16%

Yes on B: 72.81%

I think it’s safe to call it.

YES On A & B is the apparent Winner.

It’s a good start for the taxpayers and government accountability.

Andrew Carter has just been given the go ahead to ruin the high level of public safety this city has. He will cut staffing and close a station and soon have the garbage men responding to emergencies instead of highly trained, professional firefighter paramedics. Great job citizens of SLO. I hope you enjoy what you are about to get…..I know one thing you probably won’t get…..the happiest town in America award again.

It’s my opinion that since fire station 1 was relocated to it’s current location and engine 1 was taken out of service to staff the truck as a single station resource. Fire station 3 should be closed and the crew of engine 3 relocated to station 1 to staff both engine and the truck. This would result in no reduction of staff, savings in operations & maintenance costs by closing station 3, reducing wear and tear on the very expensive tiller truck and significantly increasing it’s operational life span resulting in savings from reduced maintenance and replacement costs.

Exactly Bob!!!

What do you have against garbage men? I would be proud to be saved by my local garbage collectors… as long as I’m only in need on Tuesday mornings…

PS: Don’t forget to give nice Christmas gifts to your garbage collectors… $5 each one or whatever you can afford and feel they deserve… or a nice cold drink on the hot days, coffee on the cold ones! A little bit once in a blue moon goes a long way!

Agreed. After all, sanitation work is among the top ten most dangerous professions … unlike firefighting.

I love it when slojo threatens about cuts in services, which he seems to dwell on. As I recall, when the firefighters got their 30% plus pay raises, they didn’t say that they would improve their services by 30%, much less any improvement at all. Now that they face a possible pay cut back down to where their salaries were before, he claims that their services are going to go downhill, below where it was before their pay raise, with garbage men responding to emergencies. It sounds like he should leave SLO and then SLO would be the happiest town in America again!

slojo, lets face it slo city is over staffed for what its needs are. Station three should be closed and run a rescue out of station 1 covering station 1-3s district. Response times wouldnt suffer and the tax payers would save millons. Staff two on your rescue and three on your truck. In the event of a fire the rescue would respond with the truck any way and theres your complete staffing. SLO Fire isnt that busy. Look at the stats. Its time to be real!!! Its common sense!!!


Thanks for your help in getting A&B passed. We couldn’t have done it without you!

Ah, yeah, but, “people will die,”

Arent we all going to? If its your time its your time regardless of how fast the paramedics get there. Unless slo city fire is immortal!

Correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t this whole binding arbitration thing started in the late 1990s when the PD, FD and city council couldn’t reach agreement on new contracts, so they went to the people to ask for binding arbitration and got it.

Then in 2008 (or 09) the first time binding arbitration was actually used, the PD got huge raises in part to make up for zero raises in previous years, for which the back pay alone blew a multi-million dollar hole in the city’s budget that the council and administration were not prepared for.

Had the council not shafted the cops and firefighters for several years, that arbitration decision would not have been so large. It would not have been such a huge financial hit. I see the A&B measures as the council’s attempt to regain control over its employees.

The firefighters don’t want to see binding arbitration end because they haven’t yet had a chance to use it. They probably see that system as their best chance to get raises they were denied along with back pay.

You’ll notice how it’s the firefighters being more vocal about the issue than police, since the cops got their big raises and the couldn’t possibly expect the citizens to put up with that again.

On another note, I try not to begrudge people the money they make, and I appreciate the work these men and women do (firefighters more so than cops), but when 12 percent of the state’s population is unemployed, taxpayers have a right to be concerned and angry when the people who work for them, keep getting raises and don’t have to worry about their pensions disappearing in the next Wall Street “adjustment.”

Firefighters and police officers in SLO have a really good gig and could be less demanding on the taxpayers. Frankly, it’s rude to make demands for raises and such in the kind of economy we have today.

Quit whining about your pay, go to work and be thankful that you even have a job. And don’t worry, the people will love you again once all this settles down. Indeed, we never stopped loving you.

“I see the A&B measures as the council’s attempt to regain control over its employees.”

DAAA isn’t that what this is all about. Who do you want wagging the tale. Yes the unions have apparently taken control of salaries and benefits and that is why we are here.

A&B are the answer to restoring reasonable wages and benefits.

As I read the “comments” on the two opinion pieces written by Farino and Salmon I can’t help but think about how things have changed since I retired as a FF. “Back in the day”, citizens held up “thank you” signs as we departed an area ravaged by a brush fire. Children smiled and waved at us and their parents gave us a thumbs up. And the thumbs up from citizen’s vehicles continued as our Strike Teams made our way back to our stations via the freeways. And no, we didn’t consider ourselves hero’s, just guys that felt good about being able to save a lot of homes. It felt good to have the support of the citizens back then but sadly that era seems to have passed. I don’t think opinion pieces written by active FF’s is a good idea and it doesn’t appear (judging by the comments) that those pieces have helped their cause in any way. In fact, I think it’s damaged their public image. In our business, public perception is everything.

Good comment oldbrown. I’m sure back in your day there were not the unions that were making all of the demands that are being made now. Back in the “good old days” the firemen would mow the lawns around the fire house and maintain the buildings. Now it appears that those jobs are beyond the job descriptions placed upon them by the unions. The firemen are still good guys it has only been the unions that have brought them down.

In most jurisdictions firefighters still mow the lawns. In some, firefighters have never mowed lawns. That is really not a valid metric for comparison. Usually such decisions come down to whether it is cheaper to buy many mowers or to more fully utilize the park department’s resources and staff to accomplish the same job. But I’ve never seen a firehouse where the firefighters don’t clean toilets, mop, vacuum, do windows, wash vehicles and perform all sorts of maintenance.

That will be the next demand from the unions that janitorial service be provided and maid service at night to turn the beds down. Chocolate will be optional.

The clean-up duties will at some time require additional training and certification which will also require a different pay scale.


My sentiments exactly !!

I think we could be related, LOL. Actually it sounds like our careers ran parallel to each other, timeframe wise.

It is ashame that the citizens of SLO are not exercising their right to VOTE. As of last Friday, only one third of them have sent in their ballots out of 24,000, very sad indeed.


It’s just a thought but I can’t help but wonder how many of these guys even knew what “Collective Bargaining” meant when they went through the hiring process? Like us, they probably knew two things about the job, a great work schedule and a pretty good salary.

And here it is, a week away from the vote. They could not have picked a worse time.

I am confused.

Why do I get social security for retirement that has been funded by me (a tax payer) and my employers (private sector who are also tax payers); while government employers expect a private pension funded by tax payers and complain if they have to contribute?

Guess what, if social security is good enough for me, it is good enough for firemen, policemen, prison guards, union members et al, and any other government employees. These different ‘classes’ of retirement has created much of this ‘use against them’ situation.

The $26/hr wage seems about right for a public servant. After that, they can pay taxes and social security and everything else the same as the rest of us do. If they want to pay union dues, it also comes out of that $26/hr.

Two quick points – your employer also contributes to your social security – not so unlike contributing to public service pensions. The firefighters don’t have a choice – they do not get social security – only the pension. Many members of other unions get both. Also, the firefighters DO contribute to their pensions – out of their wages. That isn’t what this is about. A is about fair and equitble treatment decided by a third party. The reason the voters approved binding arbitration in the past was because the city was not doing their job. Think it will be any different this time?? B affects all city personnel and has to do with the details of all pensions – years to be vested, age of retirement, etc.

I’m not sure regarding that firemen contribute to their retirement. There are some, I’m not sure about SLO, where the entire retirement and medical benefits are picked up by the employer. You are correct about what A & B are about. Although at the same time it is shameful to hear SOME of these people crying about their employment and benefit packages when almost everyone else in the privatte sector is suffering to some degree.

We are all suffering, Mr. Holly. But we should band together rather than attacking those who are not at fault. Let’s put this energy into changing the system – into electing representatives who will work for the people instead of themselves or their “sponsors”. I don’t see the hue and cry here about a potential strike by the grocery chains – but, oh yes, they aren’t “public employees”. You realize, sir, that these “public employees” are also taxpayers. They are no different than you and me. Rather than calling them out, we should be trying to find a way to improve everyone’s lot.

It looks like SLO has elected officials who want to fix it. A YES vote on A & B will be a start to fixing this problem.

The strike by grocery workers is another example of people wanting more entitlements or the unions demanding them. In the case of the unions I think it’s mostly a higher wage that they are looking at. My gripe is the retirements that these firefighters recieve after sitting around the firehouse for years. Their retirements reange from $70,000 to $100,000 a year. Their answer to that is all of the dangers that they are exposed to. In the larger metroplolitan areas I can deal with some of that. Locally though it’s a different story. I would like to know what dangers our locals have been exposed to that is that much different than what the everyday worker is exposed to that warrants all of these outrageous salaries and benefits. Could it be the exposure of too many days off?

Once again I encourage a YES vote on A & B to correct this and hopefully the positive results will be followed by other jurisdictions.

” A is about fair and equitble treatment decided by a third party”

Jhagstro, I think this is where the crux of the problem lies. The prior decision made by the arbitrator involving the SLOPD did not appear to be fair. It was drastic. That seems to be a loophole in binding arbitration. If repealed, maybe future Cty Councils will negotiate in better faith. If not, vote them out, but don’t let an out-of-town third party decide our economic future. JMHO.