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As expected, the firefighters responded with a number of points we can discuss.  Since the comments are not numbered, I’ll try to reference them with excerpts. I won’t answer all at once — there’s only one of me discussing matters with an unknown number of government employees:

Reader Burnt by Nonsense thinks I “should shut up” since I opposed Prop 172’s regressive sales tax increase.  Now that’s persuasive!

I guess it is wrong for me to point out that the tax was sold to a skeptical electorate as a fire fighting tax (it was behind in the polls until they used that ploy), yet the money is not being used for firefighting. 

When the voters approved the tax, they were under the delusion that it would improve public safety.  It did not.  It increased government salaries and pensions — not public safety.

Reader Vinnie stoops to a straw man argument I never made — ridiculing the idea of firing all police and firefighters and going to a 100 percent volunteer structure.  My point is that the professional full-time firefighters need assistance and backup in the big fires. 

But Vinnie‘s point and its many variations are often heard from firefighters. While showing great physical courage in fires, they are scared to death that they will lose their jobs if anyone helps out who is not in the firefighters’ union.

Reader JR (the designated hitter for the union firefighters, I take it) presents more substantial arguments.

a) JR claims that the city is “often completely out of ambulances.”  Really?  Kindly back that with some specific references.

b) Similarly JR claims that “it’s not infrequent that the city is down to about half its engines available.”  It’s not clear whether he means half are off at emergencies, or out of commission for bad maintenance.  Either way, since we send a four man firetruck for heart palpitations rather than a two man team, it’s wrong to say the fire engines are not available for real emergencies.

JR gives the impressions that city firefighters routinely madly rush from one emergency to another, a la the melodramatic TV shows.  Not so.  Consider my Scripps Ranch fire station, which JR says is stretched thin — estimating that it will take 20 minutes for my firefighters to answer my call for help.

Each month, our Scripps Ranch homes and businesses gets a substantial free (SRCA) newsletter, filled with articles of local interest, along with self-serving stories for various groups. Apparently the fire department dutifully provides the newsletter with a monthly summary of our local fire station’s response activity. While it is supposed to detail all the good they are doing, the report is more revealing than they intend.

Here’s the Scripps Ranch fire station’s official summary for March 2007″

  • 34 Paramedic calls
  • 4 Traffic accidents
  • 8 Fires: Three Structural [no indication as to severity or damage, and, given that there was nothing in the press (I searched) on these fires, one must assume that they were very minor]. One Brush [again, no story in the paper, so a minor matter]. Four Vehicle (three of which turned out to be false alarms)
  • 3 “Investigate odor” — all false alarms
  • 7 Ringing alarms — all false alarms
  • 2 Special Service — a leaking propane tank and a downed power line

So all told — false alarms, heart palpitations and all — firefighters on a 24 hour Scripps Ranch shift get called out less than two times a day. They actually put out a fire about once a week.

Based on what I recall from perusing previous monthly Scripps Ranch fire station reports, this is a pretty normal month for our local fire guys.

Truth be told, firefighters — like mountain climbers, sky divers and hang gliders (all of whom PAY to pursue their adrenalin-producing pastimes) — enjoy actually fighting fires and saving lives. That is a major reason why it is rather easy to get volunteers to man the 11,000+ volunteer fire departments in the rural areas of America. I suspect that, if most paid San Diego firefighters had their way, they would work in a fire station where they would be called out more often for such legitimate emergencies.

Finally (you’re gonna LOVE this!), there is a remarkable article in the same Scripps Ranch newsletter authored by our termed out city council critter Brian Maienschein (who doubtless will seek higher office). He is “pleased to announce that initial discussions have begun for a SECOND fire station in Scripps Ranch” (emphasis added by yours truly). Evidently politicians think fire stations should rival Starbucks as to convenience and accessibility.

Imagine! Two fire stations splitting the tiny load of our current fire station. And, judging from Maienschein’s comments, all the politicians can think of is the CONSTRUCTION cost of the fire station. Truth is, that’s just a pittance compared with the annual 24/7 cost of OPERATING that station.

While from time to time (VERY infrequently) firefighting can be quite dangerous, most of the time firefighters are bored to tears. That’s why our firefighters have the Barcoloungers, big screen HD TV’s, Internet access, their own private bedroom cubicles and LOTS of time on their hands.

There. THAT should get the firefighters hot under the collar. Who talked me into this suicide mission?

I’ll send more later.

— RICHARD RIDER

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