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Cutting the fire budget cuts service

EDITOR:

I’m a firefighter for another department in the greater Sacramento area, and am proud to make El Dorado Hills my home. I’m hoping that the insight I can provide might help some of my voters make a good decision on Election Day.

Let me start by saying that the district that I work for is one that has been pointed to as a comparator agency to El Dorado Hills by Craig and Sherry Petersen. We staff a similar number of stations and run a similar number of calls as EDH. Except for the fact that we drive fire engines and wear blue uniforms, that’s where the similarity ends.

The first difference I’ll mention is in pay and benefits. EDH firefighters make more than me. They make a little more per hour than I do, but they have greater opportunities to earn overtime (more on that later). We both have employer-provided medical, as all fire departments in the area do. We both have a pension through CalPERS, but I pay a bit more out of pocket for it than do the EDH firefighters. Am I jealous? Of course I am. I’m not the only one. Turnover at my department is pretty high. We can usually only hire new guys with little experience and keep them for only a year or two before they take their experience to better paying departments, like EDH. I’ve been here almost three years, and am hoping to get picked up with another large Sacramento area department that compares with EDH. I’d love to work here at EDH, but they haven’t had any turnover (go figure).

The next difference is in staffing. We have two firefighters per engine; EDH staffs with three (industry standard). About half our guys are paramedics, all of EDH firefighters are medics. We don’t have a truck; EDH does. When one of our guys calls in sick, there is no overtime to fill the seat. Instead, we shut down the station (known as a brown out) and send the other guy to be a third firefighter on a different engine. This means that an area of our district has zero coverage. EDH fire has the ability to pay overtime to firefighters so that all areas of the district have 24/7 coverage at all times.

You don’t have to be a firefighter to understand that having more firefighters per engine makes a big difference in emergencies. You also can probably figure out how important it is to have an engine covering your home 24/7. This is one of the reasons I live in EDH.

You can cut the department budget by 25 percent or more, and still have a fire department. But you need to know that it won’t be the same service that we get now. It’ll look more like the department that I work for — and that would be a real shame.

I’m voting for Hidahl and Hartley.

Mike Scott
El Dorado Hills

Short URL: http://www.villagelife.com/?p=26336

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16 Comments for “Cutting the fire budget cuts service”


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  1. We definitely need new Fire Board members. Your incumbents (Hidahl and Hartley) irresponsibly approved putting 4 people on an engine company instead of 3. The impact along with the Chief-level overstaffing, cost us all around $2.5 million per year, for the last several years. That money could have gone a long way in our community, or even better, stayed in our families pockets. That was a cavalier misuse of our tax dollars. For the casual reader, only large cities such as San Francisco, New York, etc. staff engine companies with 4 people. Now that each fireman cost the taxpayer $202,000 + per year, extravagant wastes like ridiculous overstaffing just can’t happen in our community and in this economy, especially with so many of our neighbors experiencing pay cuts or loss of jobs.

    Thanks to the Grand Jury getting involved, the Fire Dept has apparently begun reducing that to the correct 3 person level. Unfortunately again for our EDH citizens, they had to pay out even more money to “encourage” several firemen to begin their very lucrative retirement early. The very reason we need new Fire Board leadership is that it shouldn’t take the FD getting caught with their hand in the cookie jar in order to make more responsible fiscal decisions. There won’t be a Grand Jury investigation every year to keep them honest.

    And budget cuts absolutely do NOT equal loss of service. The is no logical correlation between the two. Your letter was well-written, but short on logic. The EDHFD over-spends in many ways, and in today’s business climate, the buyer has all the power. With prudent spending, more astute buying, and better business acumen, you will easily cut costs and have absolutely no loss of service whatsoever. Organizations across the country have done just that, but you begin by not act like government money wasters. And you begin by getting rid of the poor Fire Board leadership, replacing them with business-minded leaders.

    As a former Firefighter turned top 25 Fortune 500 business manager, I seen it happen everywhere, and it will work here.

  2. I agree with Mr. Peterson.

    As for Mr. Scott’s comment: “they haven’t had any turnover (go figure).” That could be construed as an example that what is happening here in EDH is NOT the norm.

  3. We definitely need new Fire Board members. Your incumbents (Hidahl and Hartley) irresponsibly approved putting 4 people on an engine company instead of 3. The impact along with the Chief-level overstaffing, cost us all around $2.5 million per year, for the last several years. That money could have gone a long way in our community, or even better, stayed in our families pockets. That was a cavalier misuse of our tax dollars. For the casual reader, only large cities such as San Francisco, New York, etc. staff engine companies with 4 people. Now that each fireman cost the taxpayer $202,000 + per year, extravagant wastes like ridiculous overstaffing just can’t happen in our community and in this economy, especially with so many of our neighbors experiencing pay cuts or loss of jobs.

    Thanks to the Grand Jury getting involved, the Fire Dept has apparently begun reducing that to the correct 3 person level. Unfortunately again for our EDH citizens, they had to pay out even more money to “encourage” several firemen to begin their very lucrative retirement early. The very reason we need new Fire Board leadership is that it shouldn’t take the FD getting caught with their hand in the cookie jar in order to make more responsible fiscal decisions. There won’t be a Grand Jury investigation every year to keep them honest.

    And budget cuts absolutely do NOT equal loss of service. The is no logical correlation between the two. Your letter was well-written, but short on logic. The EDHFD over-spends in many ways, and in today’s business climate, the buyer has all the power. With prudent spending, more astute buying, and better business acumen, you will easily cut costs and have absolutely no loss of service whatsoever. Organizations across the country have done just that, but you begin by not act like government money wasters. And you begin by getting rid of the poor Fire Board leadership, replacing them with business-minded leaders.

    As a former Firefighter turned top 25 Fortune 500 business manager, I seen it happen everywhere, and it will work here.

  4. Mr Perterson,

    I don’t believe I have ever seen anybody in any of theses letters claim to be a firemen, know it all top notched educated fortune 50000000 best of the best as you claim to be. The disrespect you have shown everyone that comments and/or challenges what is going on in the FD, is uncalled for coming from one of your status. You Mr Peterson are running for the Board???? I have never been to a EDHFD board meeting but now knowing I would be able to see such a person like you speak there, you better believe I will be there. Let me ask you this If someone came into your life and threatened your pay and retirement would you not want to fight for what you make and support your family with. You bet you would you hypocrite. I haven’t even been in this community very long let alone cared what was going on in the politics of this community. but now knowing and ready this stuff written by you I will be very involved. Oh by the way 9 years with four of them being injured behind a desk does not make you a know it all firefighter. Doesn’t that mean you collect a paycheck for retiring out injured. You should give that money back to the taxpayers of the department you so called worked for. Yes I know people in my line of business and find out what I want to about anyone. Also the other folks running for the board are also collecting retirement checks, is it now that they and you have yours you want to take it away from other. mmm nobel and upstanding you all are. you seem to think it is ok to call people uneducated and selfish amongst other names, but criticize other for standing up for the careers.
    Thanks for you time and see you at the next board meeting

  5. Here’s what you don’t get:
    1. All challengers to the Fire Board are better fiscal managers. That means stronger business skills to ensure the Fire Dept stays financially healthy well into the future, ensuring you have jobs and retirements 25 years from now. Better management will make sure that happens.

    2. Many people in our own community have lost their jobs, and they are barely holding their family together. Refocus yourself on the entire community, not just yourselves. If you walk around your neighborhood and look closely, you’ll notice that there is an abandoned house on almost every block. These homes used to belong to a family who likely lost it and their life savings with it. You don’t understand how many people have lost everything, and how many families in our own community are experiencing this miserable fate. So instead of focusing on whether you’ll have to sacrifice a dollar here or there, keep in mind how lucky you are to have one of the best jobs in the world.

    3. You’re right, I am absolutely more qualified than either incumbent. Check the website of several public companies, and go to the “Board of Directors” page. You’ll see people who have similar education and business backgrounds as the challengers. What you won’t see are many backgrounds similar to the incumbents. Organizations acheive and maintain success with only with sound leadership learned by making decisions for companies who are leaders in their field.

    4. There was a reason the Grand Jury called the FD and it’s Board fiscally irresponsible. Their financial decisions were irresponsible. A more competent Fire Board will keep that from ever happening again.

    5. I politely asked the fire folks twice to stop using personal insults directed toward the challengers, even if they were not aimed at me. I asked them to respect and honor those people who freely give their own time and money to help the entire community. Politely asking was not effective. I and others in the community had had enough. More than one EDH citizen thanked me for my replies, and were unimpressed with the fire folks poor judgement.

    If the fire folks wanted to tout their incumbents, more power to them. But they insisted on lashing out using personal insults. The citizens pay the firefighters wages. If you worked for Starbucks for example, how long would you remain employed if you continually insulted your bosses. Not long is the right answer.

    6. Finally, when your resume looks like mine, your statements and credibilty will stand on their own.

    So “Justin White”, I like your spirit. Continue your education and be a life-long learner. Build your resume by staying in motion and challenging yourself. Do something everyday that makes you better in some way.

    And ask yourself not what the community can do for you, but what you can do for your community. (JFK)

  6. If you don’t believe people in our own community are making sacrifices, or suffering, go to the library and do some research. Oops you can’t because our library has had to cut it’s hours in half. The librarians took pay cuts or lost their jobs. Our kids can’t use it because it’s closed half the time.

    So when you tell the community you are unwilling to help or sacrifice, and your main concern is your own pocketbook, the message is received loud and clear.

  7. “JP”
    Here is what YOU don’t get:

    You assume you are talking to someone that this matters to, it does not.
    I have not seen anywhere in any of theses letters or “debates” that anyone has been personally attacking the people you say they are. I have seen, by you attack these men and women with slanderous remarks and acquisitions of standing around and looking at what type of TV they have, while on a fire. You also seem to be talking to me as if it matters to me what type of education these people have.

    Look at the history of education. Most degrees take 4-10 years to complete most of those degrees do not pay much. Never have, and the cost of the loans these people take out they will be paying back for years after the “education” is paid off. I will tell you right now education does not mean anything to me, I make more then enough for myself in the Private Realm. Isn’t it the business like banks in this country that has made it what it is.

    Many people in this country are loosing home and jobs due to bad decisions in the housing market and taking advantage of the money they where able to use from their home without thinking of the consequences.

    I never said you were more qualified then everyone running I assure you of that.
    I could care less what you have done in the business world. Just like you could care less of what I do or make. Here is what I see: the “business “ or “education” minded people that run this country are running it into the ground. People like you that think paying some insurance broker $200-500.00 a month pending on vehicle is ok, and the $.17 on the dollar for “TAXES” is not. Or the health insurance we have to pay along with co payment and deductibles with any insurance is “OK”??

    Maybe if one wrecks their car the Allstate Broker will help them out of the vehicle and drive them to the ER.
    Maybe if one has a heart attack he/she can call “their” Doctor to respond to their house without a co payment or deductable.

    You should think about what you are wanting from local government. Being more business like is what you might get.
    Imagine you still pay your taxes with a portion going to the FD, you call 911 with a service charge then they get there to help you, and maybe you have to pay a co pay before they begin helping. If it is your house on fire, maybe they should do the same with a co pay and after it’s out charge you more taxes and/or fee because you are more prone to a fire an/or health issues.

    Being more “business like” does not mean that so try to reinvent the wheel with local government maybe our efforts should go to EID and/or PG&E. In My three homes I own here I pay those two entities in one year more then what an average “businessman” makes in one year. If my plumbing brakes, EID does not fix it. Nor does PG&E come repair electrical problems. That’s all extra.
    Lastly, your comment about the Library? With all do respect maybe we should go back to Commodore 64 and type writers for our school project. Remember the thing you are reading and writing these outlandish letters on. That’s the great thing about the WORLD WIDE WEB. If you don’t like the change in time sorry it is the nature of the beast. If you want EDH to be a City with a City Fire then go live in the BIG CITY.
    I am trying to open eyes just like you. Just “POLITICS “my friend. Politics are never or Politicians are never upstanding. You as a politician should know this and be able to swallow your pride. In my life I have seen many humans of all kinds act the same when it come to protecting their own or lively hood.

    I don’t think someone willing to help with no questions asked is “SELFISH” and to lay down their life if need be for someone they don’t know or their home is able to put an hourly wage on it. So “John Peterson” I like you passion and would love to see your efforts go towards something that will save me money and our community. I have my challenges in which I am able to deal with and make money doing it. I am always in motion and do more for my country then most will ever do. To quote one you must be like one. Which he is not the most upstanding one to quote? Unless you are ok with corruption and adultery. Again take your education and business trophies and do well my friend

  8. The solution of using “quick response vehicles” as the Petersen’s call them, AKA pickup trucks absolutely equal a decline in service. When your house/business is on fire would you prefer the existing EDHFD Truck to respond, or a dinky pickup truck. Fire truck, not a tough decision. As previously mentioned ALL of the EDHFD staff are licensed paramedics, most departments can’t say the same. That obviously calls for higher pay with the higher education. That means something to me when my child or family member needs a paramedic! There are also higher paying FD jobs in our area, EDH is not the highest.

    John, you mentioned that there are many in our community that are suffering financially from the downturned economy- yes this is true across the nation. However the Petersen plan of cutting pay & staffing only adds to this! There are many young families at EDHFD and if you lay them off and cut their salary- you are adding to the problem you are preaching you are trying to help. The average cost to taxpayers is around $4/month for the service of EDHFD, most people spend this much at Starbucks DAILY!

    EDHFD also has money in the bank for emergencies- as any smart business & family does to prepare for the worst. Why is this a bad thing? They have planned and budgeted to allow for an emergency fund, had they not I would be appalled.

    Tea Party members such as the Petersens scare me. As they should scare all other EDH residents…they do not have the best interest of taxpayers in mind, although they would like you to believe so.

    • What makes you think the Petersen’s are tea party people? I heard they were democrats and re-registered as independents. I am a tea party person and do not support the Peterson’s. What scares you about the Constitution, free markets and fiscal responsibility? If tea party people don’t have the best interest of taxpayers in mind, then what do they have in mind? Do the founding fathers scare you, too? Taxpayers receive these services AND pay for them. EDH can’t print money like the federal government. The fire department must remain prudent or we will have no services and they will have no jobs. The electorate needs to pay attention to these agencies and be involved. No matter your position, just be involved. The insults in this comment string are sickening.

  9. The fire dept actually costs 17.5% of your total property tax bill. Whomever told you $4/ month was lying to you. It’s closer to $1000 per year, frankly an almost absurd sum, for each and every household in EDH. This is an extremely high amount for a city of this type and size. The current board has demonstrated little financial accumen. We can easily trim that down quite a bit, and have no loss of service or response time whatsoever.

    The incumbents have shown little skill, and quite honestly, little desire to change their current habits. They have shown no remorse for their fiscal irresponsibility. They show no willingness to adapt. And while I like them as people (Hartly reminds me of many of the people I grew up around), they are not suited to the demands of a Board of Directors, especially in this economy.

    What bothered me enough to get involved in the first place was that when the current financial crisis began, the board actually approved a ramp up in hiring/ overtime and allowed a “minimum staffing level” up to standards that only cities such as San Francisco and New York have. There is no comparison between El Dorado Hills and New York. Whereas New York has 8 million people and a whole lot of business and work load to support that staffing level, EDH has only you, me and our neighbors. That’s just wrong, and frankly just a slap in our face.

    To address your other concern, the Peteren’s are not talking about sending pickup trucks to emergency calls. They’re talking about a type of quicker rescue truck that I used to drive and captain at my old fire dept in the bay area. It’s fully equiped with with “jaws of life” and all medical equipment for every type of medical emergency, and can negotiate the steep winding hills faster than fire engines. It’s a legitimate idea worth considering. The Petersen’s are plenty savvy for the job, and have spent more hours doing research than every other candidate combined. I respect that. They definately have the best interests of the entire community in mind.

    Disappointingly, it seems the FD has only their own best interests in mind.

    The Grand Jury warned the Fire Dept to discontinue lying or deceiving the community (I think it was #6 on the Grand Jury report). Apparently the EDHFD has lied to you too. I’m troubled that they continue to do this to their community. The EDH community has been very kind, generous and has taken good care of their FD. Now it’s time for the Fire Dept to return the favor. So far, they’ve been unwilling to do so.

    The Petersen’s have no Tea Party involvement. Again, apparently just another Fire Dept deception ploy.

    Finally, in case the FD has again lied to you, the FD members average only community college education, well below the average education in EDH. Yet the taxpayers pay them double the wages that the average EDH citizen earns. I’m sorry the FD had deceived you, and if I’m elected, that will stop.

    A vote for any challenger is a much better vote than for the fiscally irresponsible incumbents.

  10. It is almost funny reading these comments. But then Politics or should I say Policians are pretty funny. In EDH I am under the understanding that in order to become a firefighter with them you have to have to also be a Paramedic, which I am not sure that this is a qualification for most agencies. So, whomever responds to your call is capable of putting out a fire and/or saving your life!!!!! And most ‘Volunteered’ for the Department before being hired.

    The reason the so many homes set empty is certainly not the fault of the fire department, that was the banking ‘politics’……. I lost a job in Real Estate because I refused to do a contract to sell a house to a person that I knew would not be able to make the payments within a couple of years. Had there been more of us out there that weren’t so money hungry, there would not be so many forclosed homes.

    We just had to pay an extra $150 annual Fire tax that Governor Brown put on all of us, even though we already pay an $85 fee here in ElDorado County. Can’t blame that on the EDH fire department.

    We live in an area where we are vulnerable to wildfires and a major freeway that has had ‘many’ major accidents. I have always been very impressed with the service we are provided in this area and don’t feel that a little extra tax is a problem for this service. When you live in an area that $1,000,000 homes ‘move into’ you expect things will change.

    I, being of sound mind and body………..would never vote for anyone but Hidahl and Hartley………especially after seeing all of this BS!!!!!!!!!!

  11. The only reason you pay so much tax for the fire department is poor Fire Board fiscal management. You can have the same exact service for a lot less money. The Grand Jury report fully outlined the Fire Board’s irresponsible fiscal management. The EDH taxpayers deserve better. You’ll get no reduction in service of any kind, and you’ll likely spend a couple hundred less dollars each year.

    PS There are no politicians in the Fire Board race. There are only people who recognize well-documented financial irresponsibility. And some ridiculous firemen in disguise who think they’re fooling the EDH citizens, but are only turning them off.

  12. First of all EDH is not a city it is a community, the city hood idea failed many years ago thankfully. Second as home owners in EDH we pay our 17.5% for fire service and anyone who has read the paper knows that the rest of the fire departments int the county that get a smaller percentage are on the verge of closing there doors. When EDH was set up that was the % put in place with the county for the purpose of keeping a fiscally sound department. You talk as if you give some of that money back it would have kept people from losing there homes, it would not cover the balance. If you tell the county that as a board member you don’t want 17.5% and you can make due with say 12% they are not going to give it back to the residents, they will just send it to another agency that needs the money and it won’t be the library.

    I have been to the Tea Party meetings where they stated they were supporting the Pertersens but I believe they have changed their minds on that topic.

    It is true that a one point the EDH Fire had four people on a fire engine but then the economy changed and the department changed with the times. Four people on a fire engine is still better than three when is comes to fighting fire or accidents, but times have changed. When the department payed for some of the fire fighters to retire early it was to the benefit of the department, it saved more money than it cost to keep them. That sounds fiscally prudent.

    I am a strong believer in education but just because you have some does not make you better than others. I have known many people without a formal education that can run circles around your average MBA, what matters is the right person for the job. Your average person does not want to do the job of a firefighter or police officer but a few people do and you criticize them for it and for protecting their way of life.

    This Grand Jury report that you keep hanging your hat on was out dated before it was printed. Of the items in the report that were not incorrect all had been changed before the report came out because of fiscal prudence. Time to find a new horse to beat.

    In all of the EDH Fire Board meetings that I have gone to I have yet to to see you there Mr Peterson to listen to the real facts about what the board is doing. As to the Petersens they have gone to the meetings but when they ask a question they choose not to listen to the answer. As you have stated they like you must think that everyone lies when they try to respond.

    As someone who has lived in this community for almost 30 years and has seen the positive change the fire department has made from their meager beginnings to what they are now I am impressed and I want my fire department to stay on the cutting edge to provide my family with the right service if they should need it. There are few fire departments in the state that can say that without having to ask for more money.

    Please vote for Hidahl and Hartley a keep a sound fire department.

  13. The Grand Jury report was not only very accurate and up to date, it was the perhaps the most important document for EDH residents in the last 4 years. You have fixed only a fraction.

    John Pelham is an EDH Firemen, and we all get that you guys are fighting against any changes. But this is the 21st century, and everyone but the EDHFD has worked to get their budget down to ease the burden for their taxpayers. The public has noted your reluctance to find compromises.

    You know John, the community would have had no problem with the Grand Jury report and the Fire Dept, if you guys would simply have apologized, said you made some fiscal errors you wish you hadn’t, and promised to fix them. If you had reduced the budget and shown us some savings, there would have been no board challengers.

    The FD’s continued defensive stance isn’t working for you. What would Psych 101 tell you about the position your audience will take if you are 100% defensive? Your audience will assume an offensive position. That’s why you are losing people’s support.

    And believe me, if you can lose a 2nd generation Firemen’s support, you have really messed up. So take some responsibility.

    Your losses are mounting. Today you’re seeing board challengers, and tomorrow (next election 2 years from now) everyone will turned on you. We’ll all find out in a few days whether enough of the community has become aware of the fiscal irresponsibility. If you don’t make some stronger, substantial corrections on your own, you’ll find the number of people against you will grow exponentially.

    If you guys can get creative and show you’re responsible concerning your budget usage (I’d suggest on your own find a minimum 15% reduction), your adversaries will go away. We just want more responsibility.

    Lastly John, instead of everyone at the FD getting behind the “union guys”, who everyone knows are most interested in getting as much taxpayer dollars into their pockets as possible, get behind the smartest guys. The smart ones are often not the loudest – you may have to bring them out, but make sure those voices are heard and respected.

    The ball is back in your hands John. Show us you are willing to police yourself into some savings for the community, and we’ll all get back behind you again. And I’ll be the first to sing your praises.

  14. Well said John Pelham, I agree.

    And it should be noted that Mr. Pelham is not an EDH FF, a volunteer maybe so he is choosing to support Hidahl & Hartly based on principles rather than a financial decision.

    I disagree with the comments pointing to EDHFD not willing to “compromise”. JP they may not have compromised to your liking, but decreasing FF on apparatus, incentivizing early retirements to save the FD money overall, minimizing admin staff, and recently filling vacant spots on the ambulance with part-time hourly, non-union paramedics rather than full time union employees to save money are big compromises. There are many more compromises that aren’t listed.

    I’ll be transparent, my husband is an EDHFD firefighter. Let us not forget that at the end of the day- firefighting is an extremely dangerous profession, even a way of life. When my husband gets up and leaves to go on duty, and leaves me and our 16 month old daughter for 48+ hours straight…is gone on Christmas and every other holiday…I would hope that our community appreciates this and know that day or night EDHFD is there- competent, educated, and has quality people to do a quality job. I realize the argument isn’t about the day to day but maybe it should be. Yes, fiscal responsibility is very important, and they have made changes to reflect the times and continue to do so. Lets not drag our first responders through the mud, no matter your position they will still help you through your emergency. I support Hidahl & Hartly.

  15. They were tremendously overstaffed, as I said, to levels only large cities such as San Francisco and New York employ. So no, they have not sacrificed by any stretch of the imagination.

    Furthermore, the FD ended up paying people an extra $50,000 to begin their lucrative retirement early. The extra people were only there as a union ploy to get their hands on high paying “overtime” days. Those positions should never have existed, so again, absolutely no sacrifice whatsoever.

    This is not normal.

    Being a Firefighter in El Dorado Hills is far from dangerous, and miles from “extremely dangerous”. Police officers have a much more dangerous position, and frankly work a lot harder. Yet the EDH taxpayers pay firemen twice as much!

    That’s just plain wrong, and again, you don’t seem to care. Why you people are so focused on your own wallets, instead of your community is beyond my comprehension. I think each of your messages tells the public what you’re all about.

    The Fire Board should have been better leaders and managers, and put a stop to the firefighter’s union greed. The Grand Jury asked Fire Dept members to discontinue exagerating or misleading the public, so your community would appreciate more honesty.

    A vote for a Peterson and a Petersen will benefit the entire community, not just the fire dept.

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