Five Cities Fire Authority delays raises because of disclosure failures

May 19, 2020

Fire Chief Stephen Lieberman


The Five Cities Fire Authority Board delayed plans last week to give raises and bonuses to all fire personnel, allowing Arroyo Grande Councilman Keith Storton time to comply with his city’s requirement to get council approval to spend more than $10,000.

While government shortfalls are leading to reductions in pay and layoffs, fire authority staff is seeking a 2 percent pay increase, and a one-time lump sum payment of $1,000 per employee. In contrast, state fire personnel are receiving 10 percent reductions in pay because of issues related to the coronavirus.

The fire authority is made up of three member agencies: Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and the Oceano Community Services District, all of which are currently facing financial hardships because of the pandemic.

During last week’s fire authority meeting, Oceano representative Karen White argued that they had already budgeted the raises and bonuses into their prospective budgets.

The matter “has already been approved,” White said.

Nevertheless, Storton argued that the public needed to fully understand the impacts of the raises and bonuses as they relate to the “Covid budget.” Recently, Arroyo Grande initiated furloughs and hiring and travel freezes, and deferred project maintenance. In order to implement the proposed raises and bonuses, all three members of the board would have to vote to approve.

Of the fire authority’s 32 fire personnel, 15 make over $150,000 a year in salary and benefits, according to Transparent California.

Fire authority’s top earners:

  • Fire Engineer Joseph Silva – $219,130
  • Fire Chief Stephen Lieberman – $218,514
  • Fire Captain Paul Quinlan – $218,165
  • Fire Captain Brian Leathers – $207,459
  • Fire Battalion Chief Brian Salce – $200,152
  • Fire Captain Patric Ferguson – $198,007
  • Fire Battalion Chief Riki Heath – $190,608
  • Fire Captain John Bova – $186,826

Decades ago, with improved fire prevention methods, fire departments began focusing on health care emergencies in order to fund their agencies. Currently, firefighters respond to medical calls first, while ambulance drivers delay their response for five minutes. If there is a medical emergency requiring transportation, the ambulance medics take over medical care and transport the patient to a hospital.

Critics have questioned the efficiency of the system.

And as the controversy over the cost versus the benefits of having firefighters respond to all medical calls heats up, several communities in California have switched or are in the process of switching to a system where private ambulance personnel respond to most medical calls without dispatching fire trucks and safety workers.

For example, during contract negotiations 14 years ago, San Joaquin County adopted the practice of sending out the “correct resource” for each emergency call, either a fire truck or an ambulance.

“If you send the cavalry to each call, even if they are not needed, they may not be available when you need them,” said Dan Burch, San Joaquin County’s director of Emergency Services, who also noted the cost savings of not rolling out unneeded vehicles for each call.

Burch said the change saved taxpayer dollars, while also improving quality of care as patients receive continuous care from the original medics.

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What most people do not realize this the most, if not all, of these exorbitantly paid civil servants will retire with 90% of these salaries for life. Oh, did I mention that their retirement is FREE .

Free to them but not to the average working person. We, the sheeple, pay for their retirement with our taxes. This travesty goes well above and beyond the group mentioned in this article. Look at the salaries of most cities and the county level and see how overpaid these people are under the bureaucratic umbrella. In the private sector, you would be extremely lucky to make half those salaries and you have to fund your retirement. Boy did I make the wrong career choice!


Too high. Because those overblown compensation amounts are public monies and not prosperous private enterprise, we the public should be able to get qualified and equally dedicated candidates for HALF these figures. Especially if similar nearby agencies were not hoodwinked into similar jumbo overblown salaries. Those compensation numbers are just way out of line for the skills and risks the jobs entail. I do not blame the individuals for happily serving in those posts, but come on, the public shouldn’t have to pay amounts wildly disconnected from general workplace payscales.

Silence Dogood

This system of service is clearly broken and not sustainable. As a supporter of the fire service, I am beginning to rethink my position as the credibility and priorities of the employees is now questionable.

My first observation is the appearance of greed. If authenticated, a wise labor negotiator would remove a pay request in light of the current economy as a good will gesture, if for no other reason. Our neighbors are starving while they receive a pay increase has a souring taste that will likely remain through any upcoming tax increase initiative to support the firefighters.

The cited employee costs are astronomical and likely avoidable through proper management. In order to earn those salaries, each must be acquiring huge amounts of overtime, which has been reported by other government agencies such as the California Prisons. If I were in a position of responsibility or decision maker for the organization, I would be embarrassed enough to take action to correct.

It is sad to see a system that was implemented as a cost saving measure turn into such a huge financial burden. The Fire Authorities oversite independence from cities has done little to improve service while clearly passing on much higher costs to be ultimately paid through our taxes.

It is refreshing to see that Mr. Storton has the integrity address the issue. I have all of the confidence that the current crisis will be resolved and probably forgotten until the next budget cycle or pay increase. But we still will continue to live with the shortcomings inherent in this system and it will remain broken.

Either a paid INDEPENDANT audit of the fire service is warranted or at least a local committee to review the outrageous salaries and level of service for this $ 6 million operation. Without action, we will never be able to repair nor sustain this service.


Several years ago we experienced a medical emergency and called 911.

Even though the ambulance station is closer, a large fire truck arrived with several firemen. A few moments later the ambulance arrived. By the time all responders were in the house we could barely move. Only two could treat the patient so the rest stood by. Did we need 7+ people to deal with the issue? No.

It was obviously a slow day so the entire cavalry was sent, and it was overkill to say the least. The firemen made the initial assessment, and then the ambulance staff (who were standing in the room for the majority of the time) took over.

Had this been an event that required a response from more than one agency we would have no problem, but if fire agencies are billing ambulance companies so they have something to do when there are no fires to fight it’s a damn shame. We are all paying a high price for duplication of services we can not afford.


Plus they get to count that as an incident and it goes into their tally, in part to justify these ridiculous salaries. Time for the FCFA to go away, Oceano can’t afford it, Arroyo Grande can’t afford in and I don’t think even with all the pot money in the county that Grover beach can afford it.

Eyes Everywhere

Any public agency in California even considering raises under current conditions should have all hell rain down on them. Shameful and greedy!!!!


Typical America. They ‘save’ you, but destroy you financially. Ever notice how the firefighters never miss a photo op, tv moment, or another way to tell you how wonderful they are?


Does anyone know what the Templeton Community Service pays their fire department staff?


Easy to get overtime when shifts are 24 hours. They need to work 12 or 10 hour shifts like other first responders and it will save a fortune.


Back in the day paramedics showed up and county or city ambulance showed up .Those first responders barely made a tenth of what today’s first responders made .To top it off the ambulance ride was free as in from property taxes and sales tax etc paid for it .. Today all about money