Firefighters Fiddled, Mall Burned

Steven Greenhut: Check out my latest piece on regarding the firefighter response to the Roseville mall fire. In it, I argue:

I hear endlessly from firefighters who typically earn pay and benefit packages of $175,000 a year here in California that they are heroes who put their lives on the line to keep us and our property safe. Yet, so often when tragedy strikes, these heroes act in ways that certainly are not heroic.

For instance, on Thursday a major fire consumed a good part of the Roseville Galleria, one of the largest malls in northern California, while firefighters basically waited outside to allow the fire sprinklers to do the job.

As the Sacramento Bee reported, a “troubled” 23-year-old man walked into a game store, claimed he had a gun, ordered everyone out and set fire to the store. Everyone was evacuated from the mall without incident, according to the Bee, “But because he left a backpack behind, and because no one knew if it contained explosives, firefighters waited outside while a bomb squad went in looking for the back pack.”

Read the rest here.

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  1. John Seiler
    John Seiler 24 October, 2010, 21:32

    Firefighters’ real job is waiting for their pensions.

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  2. Bret
    Bret 24 October, 2010, 22:36

    I don’t want to delve into the tactics employed by different FD’s around the state, or what is “brave” versus “not brave”. That is for another discussion and can be very technical and time consuming, but the CAL PERS pension thing is very enticing.

    I keep hearing about how firemen can retire at 90% of their highest year at age 50. Sounds pretty sweet. But that is not the total truth of it. The reality is this; If you are hired at age 20, and then put in 30 years… well then yes, you could retire at 90% of your highest BASE PAY. More common is that it usually takes the average candidate to reach 25 and 35 years of age before the average he gets his first appointment. And usually this is preceeded by 2-4 years of college to obtain a paramedic license (very desirable) and a myriad of fire science classes. So for those individuals to max out and get the full 90%, they are approaching 55-65 years of age. Further, most entry level firemen start (with a few exceptions for the high end FD’s) at around $50K to $70K per year base. To get into the high $90K to $125K that fireman is going to have to work a boatload of OT. Toward the end of a career if a fireman has promoted, then yes… he may be making $125K base yearly. But again, these are usually set for Battalion Chiefs and up. And remember, OT does not factor into the retirement. If your base is $75K, but you gross $125K with massive OT, your retirement is based on the $75K.

    So the real question is to decide what you think is equitable. Is the age bothering you? Is 50 years old too young? Fine, then let us say a fireman cannot retire before 65 years of age. But the bummer reality about that is most firemen are pretty well beat up by the job before they hit 65. So is it fine with you that at 0300 AM you might have a Truck Company responding to your house and have to affect a rescue with 3 of the 4 firemen being 60 to 65? Or, when the Santa Ana’s hit, is it wise to have guys who are approaching their 60’s to be tramping up and down hillsides all day long? I mean even the military sets pretty stringent age limits for combat duty. Another factor is that firemen have documented risks that are associated with the profession. Cancer rates approach 3 times the levels that are experienced by the general public. Let me repeat… 3 times the rate. Heart disease remains a huge issue for aging firemen. The wear and tear of the sleep patterns and night calls, as well as the stresses endured by the firemen are massivecontributing factors. Even with FD’s that do not work 24 hour shifts the heart disease rates are well above the general public.

    Or is it the money? Does the idea that a fireman making between $50K and $100K seem extreme to you? I suppose that in South Dakota, yes… that would be obscene. But in southern California where the average house tops the $250K listing I am not so sure. Additionally, the average fireman will work up to 3,000 hours a year, compared to the average American worker who clocks in just over 2,000. We both know that it is almost impossible to raise a family (let us say a family of 4) in SoCal off of $50K. It is still very, very difficult at $75K. Or does it bother you that a Captain in his 20th year makes a base of $125K? Or a Battalion Chief at 25 years? Well, what be equitable for a Battalion Chief to make at the 25 year mark, considering they are responsible for 25-50 firefighters at any given moment, at emergencies and in the stations? Most FD’s require a minimum BA degree, but a Masters is becoming more common. Does this carry any weight?

    I’ll be honest, most firemen are more than willing to take up the load and bear more in this crisis. Are there some glaring exceptions? Of course, as there always is in every profession. But the average fireman has always been willing to do what it takes and continue serving the public and their safety. But before we start bemoaning a fireman making $70K a year, how about we reduce the $10.5 Billion in expenditures that illegal aliens cost this state? Or before we eradicate the 3% @ 50 CAL PERS for Public Safety Employees, how about we look at why the State spends 51% of the total state budget on a education system that is dysfunctional? Does that make sense?

    Southern California has some of the highest firefighting standards and best trained departments in the world. The average firefighter who is working in southern California is very highly trained and specialized. They respond to fires, medical emergencies, hazardous materials, public assists, and countless other emergencies and non-emergency activations, all day long, all year long. There has must be a solution here.

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  3. David
    David 24 October, 2010, 22:58

    According to the Sacramento Bee, it was police who did not permit firefighters inside the building because of the possibility of explosives. But I don’t understand your point anyhow. Are you saying firefighters should have entered the building even if they thought there were explosives inside? Why? People are more important than property. Not entering a building that may contain explosives is simple common sense.

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  4. John
    John 26 October, 2010, 08:25

    Everytime I read a Steven Greenhut article about public saftey employees, it sounds like he wants Police or Fire to die for their pay.

    You Sir have a morbid fasination with this. You act almost, no, exactly like a disgruntled individual. I know, you applied for a job as a policemen and were not able to pass a background check. Maybe you took the fire test and couldn’t pass the written exam or the physical entry exam.

    Sometimes you write about interesting meaningful content, other times, you allow your personnel feelings get in the way.

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