This letter is in response to a letter titled “The tale of two fire departments” that ran on Sept. 24 on page 11.
Two fire departments? I would be confused too. The truth is, though separate in some ways, such as the governing body for disbursement of funding, Patterson-West Stanislaus Fire Protection District is one large combination fire department. A combination fire department is a department without a large enough tax base to pay all of its employees a full time salary.
Therefore, it relies upon local citizens to come forward and gain the knowledge and training to become firefighters. This dedicated group of volunteers work hand in hand with the full-time, paid staff in order to get the job done.
To say that these men and women are not employees of the fire department is wrong, and an insult that is more egregious than their minimal compensation. Yes, they are paid a small stipend for each call that they respond to, many (two per day) staff our Diablo Grande station for 12 or 24 hour shifts and receive a larger stipend. There are also several “volunteers” that work 24 hour shifts as an “On Call Officer”. In this role, they respond to every single call in their assigned part of the district to mitigate whatever the incident. The volunteer staff is also covered by workers compensation, wouldn’t that make them employees?
As a full time staff employee in this combination fire department, it does take commitment to dedicate much of your life away from your family while on duty. You must have the necessary level of training and be at the ready, however, we are well compensated. We receive a full-time salary, medical benefit package and a retirement plan to which we contribute. But to be clear, in no way can the six people on duty in the city nor the “volunteer” staff from the district handle a second or third alarm incident without relying on the other. Neither side, city nor district, has the staffing level to work completely independent. We work together on almost every call but the larger incidents are where it is imperative that we continue to operate together to mitigate each hazard safely and effectively.
With the countless hours of training, fundraising, dedication to their community and
department, many West Stanislaus members have moved on to become paid firefighters in Patterson and across the state. These are qualified firefighters that have given their time and talent to help protect this community. In my opinion, several people in the department have the goal to drive a wedge between the fire district and the City of Patterson. I believe their hope is to force the City of Patterson to hire more paid staff, increasing the union dues they collect.
The citizens of Patterson could potentially end up with less fire protection, which leads to higher fire insurance rates, and of course tax increases.
It is absolutely time to stop the back biting and in-fighting. Let’s work together. When the members of this community call upon us on their worst day we need to be there, unified, to fix the problem and keep families safe.