A recent San Mateo County grand jury report was released with the title “Coastside Fire Protection District — Going Backward or Forward?” While I disagree with its conclusions, I feel the question is a very important one.
Four years ago, I was elected to the CFPD board in an election that saw all the incumbents, who had voted to bring CalFire to the coast, swept out of office. For the next two years, I worked to understand how CalFire worked and understand the district’s true financial picture. Two years later, when the majority on the board shifted, we were able to take a hard look at the contract. The result was development of the document, expanding so-called Exhibit E, to detail many of the items that had been assumed by the board, but not provided under CalFire’s interpretation of the contract.
Here are some of the reasons why, after four years of trying to fix it and after conducting numerous interviews with chief officers both within and outside the CalFire organization, I feel it is time to learn from our experiences and move forward with a local, not state-controlled, fire department.
We should retake control of our financial future by:
t Moving from a fixed retirement system to a contributory retirement system especially in the area of health care;
t Eliminating spiking and other abuses common to the public sector;
t Limiting long-term debt exposure by controlling benefits;
t Improving work rules to increase the effectiveness of our firefighters and staff. We would do that by reducing the number of personnel taking time off on any given day, eliminating holidays and personal leave days, improving work day efficiency, and improving battalion chiefs’ efficiency by scheduling an office day as part of their work week.
t Encouraging the development of special skill sets that improve service delivery such as a working knowledge of Portuguese and Spanish or the ability to swim;
t Encouraging employees to live locally, which increases community awareness and availability during mass casualty or disaster scenarios;
t Setting promotional exams that reflect the skill sets needed for the position;
t Providing captains who have years of familiarity with the Coastside;
t Providing personnel who work alongside their allied agencies like the San Mateo County Harbor District, State Parks and Sheriff’s Office because they are their neighbors;
t Providing personnel who are dedicated to the community-based disaster preparedness groups because they directly affect the health and welfare of their families and friends;
t Employing a fire chief who is community-focused and who is directly answerable to the local fire board, not the state of California or any firefighters’ union; and
t Accomplishing all this without raising taxes.
One quote comes to mind that surfaced in conversations around this issue. “It is like the difference between owning your home and renting it.” The owner has an investment in his community, the renter does not.
I would end with this thought. Why would the two local businessmen and the one retired firefighter on the board take the position they have and put at risk their businesses, children and grandchildren, for no monetary return, if they didn’t believe their actions would materially improve their community?
By the way, in the course of writing this, I have been informed that unless Director Mike Alifano and myself immediately cease our actions, our local businesses will be picketed. Is this a warning to any elected official who owns a business in this town? Is the message, “Do things our way or we will do everything in our power to ruin you personally and financially?” I am sorry, but I will not give in to this kind of bullying!
Doug Mackintosh is the president of the Coastside Fire Protection District Board of Directors.