Palo Palo firefighters get hosed down

The Daily News
Diana Diamond The Daily News

Good grief, Diana Diamond of the Daily News is having a conniption over Palo Alto firefighters’ new work schedule.

Diamond objects to the two 24-hour working days on duty followed by four 24-hour days off duty schedule being implemented in the Palo Alto Fire Department. Diamond complains that firefighters lounge around most of the time while on duty and therefore don’t deserve nor justify so much time off.

However if you look more closely at the overall situation you will find that Diamond’s rationale is not logical and therefore is more about envy of a group of people who have created an niche industry that pays them what the market will bear than it does with exploiting tax payers.

Diamond points out that each fireman will be working 10 days a month while getting 20 days off under the new schedule. This would amount to working 120 days a year while getting 240 days off.* Diamond compares this to most workers in the private sector that work 5 days a week with 2 days off; or working 260 days a year with 104 days off. *

The problem with Diamond’s logic is she is comparing days to days and not hours to hours. Most professionals work 40 hours a week; or 40 hours every 7 days. Minus two weeks vacation per year that equates to 2,000 hours a year. Firemen are working 48 hours every 6 days. Minus two weeks of vacation per year that equates to 2,784 hours a year.

One could argue how much pay and benefits firemen should receive for their services but that is not the argument here. The argument is over what firemen are being paid to do. First and foremost firemen are being paid to be highly skilled in fire suppression and emergency responsiveness for individual and community needs.

Secondarily firemen are being paid to be available when needed; being paid to be “on-call.” Palo Alto is paying firemen to be on call 24 hours a day 365 days a year. For each 24 hour day fireman slot the city is paying for 8,760 hours of service per year.

Every day for every fireman slot there are three 8 hour shifts that need to be filled. These shifts could be divvied up between three different firemen or between two firemen working one 12 hour shift each or one fireman working one 24 hour shift. Regardless of how the hours are split up between firemen the 24 hours of service from a highly trained fireman is being paid for.

Ultimately Diamond’s complaint is not about firemen being overly compensated for their services but in how firemen are divvying up the hours of service they provide to the people of Palo Alto. What should it matter to Diamond if three different people are working three different shifts in 24 hours or if one person is working the three shifts the same 24 hours of service?

If Palo Alto thought that it was being exploited by the Fireman’s Union collectively bargaining to obtain unreasonable compensation than Palo Alto could just as easily out source all medical emergencies to a private paramedic/emergency medical service provider the same way the city has out sourced the street sweepers while rolling back the fire department’s personnel to a few full time employees and enlist the services of hundreds of Palo Alto residents into a primarily volunteer fire department.

And If that be the case are you Diana Diamond willing to put in 10 hours a month training and cleaning fire equipment in addition to getting up at 2:00am in the morning at a moments notice when your phone rings to help put out a fire on the other side of town knowing full well you will have to get to your own full-time job by 9:00am?

(* Numbers not exact and not including holiday’s or vacation time; rounding off for simplicity.)