Where There's Smoke...
Fighting fires shouldn't result in money going up in flames: Firefighters have gone from last decade's heroes to this decade's thieves — and the spokesman, Mr. [Tom] O'Connor, seems to pride himself on being a pathological liar ["Your Money for Nothing," Peter Jamison, Feature, 1/26]. There is a reason the city is going bankrupt. And we all love the often-quoted story that public-sector workers make about the same as private-sector workers, but public-sector workers just get better benefits — as if said benefits don't cost a fortune.
Kudos to SF Weekly for caring and digging deep and exposing the widespread corruption in city employee compensation, including the "Let It Bleed," piece [Joe Eskenazi and Benjamin Wachs, Feature, 10/20].
Maybe firefighters save S.F. money: I applaud Peter Jamison's effort in this story. Sadly, it is so poorly researched that I had to write this to help him out.
S.F. firefighters do get 6 percent premium pay for driving the engines; that is true. Do you know what the average pay increase for other firefighters is in other cities for driving an engine? 23 percent. They call them "engineers" because it is a promotion in every other city fire department in the entire country — and world, for that matter. Why? Because it carries more responsibility. The lowest percentage increase I can find is 11 percent. These are the small towns that run 35 calls in a year. S.F. firefighters run sometimes that many in a day and more.
So are the firefighters saving the city $3.4 million now? No! Jamison won't say that, because everyone wants to point at somebody else for the financial debacle we are in. Not to mention that by not having another rank above firefighter, the city is saving money by not having a promotional civil service exam. How much is that in savings? Yes, they get paid well. But let's be realistic.
Oh, and by the way, in the private sector it's called a bonus, and I don't see anyone running to give that up. My friend's bonuses in the private sector are surely more than 6 percent. And yes, it is for doing the job they signed up for in the first place. Are they [firefighters] really costing the city money, or saving them money? I believe if everyone picked five random cities to see the percentage difference between firefighters and engineers, we might all see that they are not costing the city money. If anything, the city is costing them money.
Peter Jamison responds: The issue of potential cost savings for a city department by paying a premium in lieu of establishing a more advanced rank is raised in the story by firefighters' union president Tom O'Connor. He was discussing the EMT premium, but the observation could also apply to the engine drivers' premium — the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, for example, pays engine drivers a maximum wage that is 14 percent greater than the maximum paid to entry-level firefighters. But drawing such comparisons can be risky. What are the differences — in wages, benefits, and work conditions — between working as a firefighter for the state and working in San Francisco? Or in San Francisco and the "small towns" you mention? Our focus was the evolution of and logic behind premium payments within this city.
Don't Forget the Wine!
Pairings get overlooked in restaurant review: The funny part about this [Seven Hills] review is that the wine list never got mentioned ["In Classic Form," Jonathan Kauffman, Eat, 1/26]. One would think that a professional food and wine critic would at least acknowledge the wine list that was created by two legendary and well-respected master sommeliers. The wine list and how the wines pair with the food are normally an important part of a food review, at least that's my experience, and to leave it out doesn't say much. Good notes on the service. To me, this review felt a bit rushed.