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PENSIONS: Peril is in the eye of the beholder

Submitted by on 1, April 19, 2011 – 12:02 am47 Comments

Kevin Kennedy and Jeff DelBono agree that Alameda’s pension and retiree benefit costs are a problem that must be addressed. Where they differ is on the scope of the problem – and of the solutions needed to fix it.

Kennedy, a financial planner and self-described “numbers guy” who has served as the city’s elected treasurer for the last decade, and DelBono, a firefighter/paramedic and the political director of the local firefighters union, are key voices in the debate over how to address growing benefit and pension costs – a problem that has been decades in the making.

The arcane financial drama exploded into the public consciousness in late March when Kennedy claimed the city would go bankrupt without major, structural budget changes – a claim that left Mayor Marie Gilmore and union leaders scrambling to assure residents that Alameda is solvent and that unions are doing their part to try to fix the problem. It’s a drama that is playing out all over California, as policymakers and labor leaders try to come to terms over the rising cost of pensions and millions of dollars in retiree health care benefits that public agencies offered, but in many cases never saved money for.

City leaders have inked a tentative deal with firefighters, but the terms – which will go up for a vote before both the firefighters union and the City Council – have not yet been announced. Contracts recently approved for management employees and electrical workers don’t offer any concessions on pensions or benefits, however.

Kennedy, who first sounded the alarm about pension and benefit costs in 2009, said he believes they are “enveloping everything else” in the city with no end in sight. And he believes budget numbers offered by city staff in late March – the night of his bankruptcy claim – back him up.

“(The City Council) has to realize this probably can’t be kicked down the road any longer,” Kennedy said. “We clearly don’t have enough money to pay what we’re paying.”

Those financial projections show Alameda suffering a budget deficits of $6.2 million next year and larger ones in the four years to come – deficits which would exhaust the city’s reserves inside of three years unless expenses are reduced. Next year’s deficit projection includes an additional $3 million in pension and health benefit costs, and it shows pension costs – particularly for public safety workers – rising through 2015-2016.

Kennedy said health care costs are rising beyond projections – 14 percent versus the 9.5 percent predicted by the city’s actuarial – and he thinks return expectations offered by CalPERS, the state retirement system Alameda uses, are rosier than they should be.

CalPERS is charging its member cities and counties more money this year to cover previous investment losses, and barring some miracle in the market, Kennedy said the increased payments could continue over 15 years: The losses were so bad that the pension fund opted to spread them out over time, in order to spare public agencies who bought into it massive payments they couldn’t afford.

But the big issue, Kennedy said, is retiree health care, which the city has yet to fund. If the bill were due today, the city would owe more than $75 million, he said.

“I don’t know how that’s going to work,” Kennedy said. “We’ve never saved any money toward this.”

To fix the problem, Kennedy said policymakers should consider a range of solutions, including layoffs, wage reductions and increased benefit contributions – along with a 401(k) retirement plan for new hires in place of the pensions city employees now get, which pay a fixed amount regardless of how the city’s pension investment performs.

DelBono concedes there’s a problem, but he says it’s not as bad as Kennedy thinks. And he is adamant that pensions be preserved.

“I believe everybody in this country should have health care and retirement,” said DelBono, who said pensions allowed his grandparents, both machinists, to live comfortably in retirement.

He said he thinks employees should consider paying more for their benefits, and that health care plans should be restructured for new employees.

“We’re working hard to restructure the benefit and it will probably look different from what a retiree has now to an active (employee) to a new hire,” DelBono said during an interview last week.

DelBono said public safety employees are already contributing 9 percent of the cost of their pensions, and that they did so even as CalPERS, flush with cash a decade ago, lowered public agencies’ payments to zero. And he said actuarial projections of health care costs assume everyone will take the most expensive benefit plan available and that they don’t account for things like Medicare, which he said employees are required to apply for at age 65, lowering the city’s costs. He thinks the city can continue with its pay-as-you-go approach, since its employees won’t retire all at once.

He said CalPERS’ return projections are lower than their actual returns: The pension fund has set a standing expectation of a 7.75 percent return on its investments, but this past year, it earned 12.5 percent.

DelBono said city leaders offered public safety workers enhanced retiree medical benefits after they agreed in 1992 to move from a city-funded pension plan into CalPERS, a move that he said saved Alameda $3 million. He said that money was supposed to help pay for the new benefit. But it wasn’t.

While he thinks workers need to make concessions, DelBono said he also wants the city to pay into a rainy day fund to cover benefit costs when times are bad.

On this Kennedy and DelBono agree on: Alameda’s pension problem didn’t happen overnight. And while they disagree on the solutions to the problem, they know that whatever they are, they won’t come quickly.

“I do agree with Kevin that what we do need to be – need to work toward funding benefits we do have,” DelBono said. “It’s a slow process. And we didn’t get here overnight.”

WEDNESDAY: How we got here


  • John says:


    Thanks for your dedication and hard work on trying to get a grip on our cities finances.

    If we know that all these City and AUSD Employee Salary’s , Benefits and retirement pensions are bankrupting city and unsustainable for the city to pay and are NOT based on a sound actuarial principles , why has Council done nothing about it last XX amount of years? Does the City Charter Mean anything or just another piece of paper?

    Cutting salary’s, pensions and benefits 5 -10% is a joke to where we stand financially or am I missing something?

    Here is what City Charter States:

    Establish on or before July 1, 1938, a retirement, pension and insurance system for City officers and employees based on sound actuarial principles, which system once adopted shall not be amended except by majority vote of the full Council and shall not be repealed except by the People. Such system shall provide for the support thereof by deductions from the compensation of officers and employees of the City and contributions from City funds and funds under the control of the respective boards.

  • John says:


    Thanks for your Work on the AFD you guys are a great asset of the city.

    The Alameda Fire Dept has 17 people whose total compensation cost the citizens of Alameda between $200,000 –$ 275,000 last year. Another 55 whose earnings and benefits were between $150,000 and $200,000.

    The median expected salary for a typical Fire Fighter in the United States is $41,308. I’m sure there is happy median between 41K and 275K. This basic market pricing report was prepared using our Certified Compensation Professionals’ analysis of survey data collected from thousands of HR departments at employers of all sizes, industries and geographies.

    I think a combination Paid and Volunteer Fire Dept in Alameda would be great for the community in many respects.Large communities (those with populations over 100,000) are most often protected by combination volunteer and paid departments that consist of primarily paid staff. There are very few purely paid fire departments in the United States , but those that exist are primarily found in very urban areas.
    The majority of fire departments in the United States are volunteer.
    Of the total 26,354 fire departments in the country, 19,224 are all volunteer; 3,845 are mostly volunteer; 1,407 are mostly career; and 1,878 are all career

    • Volunteers comprise 73% of firefighters in the United States.

    I do not know how many thousands of qualified applicants that applied in Oakland for last fire fighting jobs but they will use Coliseum next time. I know the colleges are swamped with students trying to get into being EMT’s and Fireman and always looking to get experience so this might be some other options for volunteers.

    We might look at adding some options like this to not BK city. What are you feelings on AFD using volunteers?

  • MRA says:

    Thank you for making people sit up and pay attention to this problem.

  • I think the community deserves more than announcements that “concessions have been made.” We should be given some reassurance as to when city’s balance sheet is going to level off. It can be based on the gloomiest of projections, and if things turn out better we add to a rainy day fund.

    We need to know that more is being done than simply push away bankruptcy for a few more years. Currently we run out of money in two years. With the firefighters’ concessions mentioned in this article, we move that day to when? If we do X, Y and Z, we move that day to ten years, etc.

    • Hey Richard,

      The process as I understand it at this point is this: There is a tentative deal between the firefighters and the city; firefighters are expecting to get the language Friday (the city’s negotiator, I believe, is on vacation). They have to give seven-day notice to their membership for a vote, so that’s April 29 at the earliest. If the firefighters okay the contract it goes to the City Council, and it becomes public at that point. I’ll be interested to see what’s in there meself.

  • Seth says:

    I’m a firefighter for another jurisdiction and I’m looking to buy a house with my girlfriend in Alameda (a very expensive proposition, by the way – I’m glad she makes more than I do).

    Can’t we just use volunteers? I am sick of hearing this question.

    It is our fault that you ask this question because we have done a very poor job of letting you know what it is we do every day. Because this question puts us in the position of arguing for our jobs, please forgive any perceived bias in my response to that question:

    Volunteer firefighters respond to emergencies and risk their lives every day in communities that can not afford full time emergency coverage. We honor their dedication to their communities. We see them as brother and sister firefighters. There are differences, however, in the quality of services volunteer and professional firefighters deliver. Professional firefighters are better prepared for fighting fires and saving lives than our volunteer counterparts. This is because we train hard and this is our “day job.”

    Every year, your professional firefighters go through training mandated by law, training mandated by the department’s training division and training mandated by the on-duty battalion chiefs. Every year, your professional firefighters spend their off-duty time and their own money paying for classes (tax-deductible, if we can) so we will be better at saving lives. A volunteer does not have enough time to keep up with these requirements and maintain a day job and maintain a normal life.

    Alameda has particular challenges that require specific training. Knowledge of building construction is a vital skill for firefighters. This knowledge keeps us safe and puts us in a better position to save your life. The beautiful Victorians of Alameda can be death traps; they are full of chases for fire to extend unseen throughout the building. A fire in one of those cute businesses on Park could run a whole block if not stopped quickly by engine and truck companies (two entirely different specialties, by the way). A fire in your big box stores at the end of Park could put your firefighters in the position of having to risk their lives in a smokey (zero visibility) labyrinth looking for an unaccounted-for stock boy (smoke, by the way, is no longer just smoke – It’s partially burned hydrocarbon fuel thanks to plastics); this would put firefighters in an extremely hazardous position.

    Rigorous background checks, psychological evaluations, medical evaluations and many tests, both mental and physical, are performed on each and every firefighter before they are allowed to serve the people of Alameda. Many applicants are turned away at different points in the testing process because they fail a standard. Firefighters go into people’s homes at their most vulnerable moments and the public requires our trust.

    Nationwide, the recruitment and retention of volunteers is a problem:



    I couldn’t find the video, but I remember one fire back east for which not a single firefighter responded (all volunteer).

    Time Matters: Every day, your professional firefighters are assigned to a fire engine, stay near it, and promise to protect you and your community while on duty. Volunteer forces must first muster before they can respond. They must negotiate traffic in their personal vehicles while obeying all traffic laws before arriving at a fire station. They must then wait for a full crew of firefighters to arrive before they can leave on an engine. Upon arrival, a minimum of four firefighters are required to be on-scene before entry can be made to put out the fire; this is true of both volunteer and professional departments, by state and federal law.

    Taking classes with paid and volunteer firefighters all over the state, I have come to understand that volunteer firefighters typically do not limit fires to the fire’s room of origin. They show up to cool the foundation with a $500,000 fire engine they got with a grant.

    Fire spreads incredibly quickly. Fire can destroy the integrity of a roof in less than twelve minutes, bringing the roof down on trapped occupants and firefighters. Your brain starts to deteriorate within six minutes when it is deprived of oxygen. Traumatic injuries require rapid intervention as well as rapid transport. Rapid response to incidents saves lives all the time. Rapid response allows firefighters to limit the spread of fire; slow response to fire incidents can mean writing off the building as a total loss.

    Every day, your professional firefighters respond to your calls around the clock. Every call is different and has the potential to be a learning experience, making us better at serving you in the future.

    Every day, your professional firefighters and firefighter paramedics respond to medical calls. Sometimes the ambulance beats us to the call and we go back to the station. Sometimes the Ambulance beats us and they need our help to save a person’s life. Sometimes we beat the ambulance and don’t need the ambulance’s help. Sometimes we beat the ambulance and the best medicine is getting that patient to the hospital quickly, so we initiate life saving care and get the patient stabilized for transport while waiting for the ambulance. This is why some firefighters are trained paramedics.

    Every day, your professional firefighters respond to medical calls, likely not far from your house, where we mentally pre-plan and prepare for a fire in that structure, making us that much more prepared to fight fires and rescue victims from similar structures.

    Every day, your professional firefighters check their gear to be sure it’s ready for when we need it, or when you need it.

    One problem with volunteer staffing is that volunteers have day jobs and things to do at night that aren’t necessarily placing them in a prime position to respond to emergencies.
    Another problem is that recruitment and retention of volunteers is difficult given that they have jobs, and not all employers are alright with their employees leaving at no notice.
    Keeping up on mandatory training is often difficult for volunteers.

    Another thing about maintaining staffed fire stations is that removing staffed fire stations adversely affects homeowners’ insurance rates.

    The point being, full-time professional firefighters are more prepared and better equipped for life threatening emergencies than their volunteer counterparts. I do not say this to slam volunteers. I used to be a volunteer in a combination department. I thought I was tough stuff as a volunteer fireman. I have since learned that I had no idea what it was like to be a Professional Firefighter. In a fire, I want a Pro backing me up. I look forward to life in Alameda. I will pay my taxes and sleep well at night knowing we are protected by on-duty professional firefighters.

  • Suzanne says:

    Family members have been attended to by EMT’s from both paid and volunteer firefighters. Both gave incredible excellent care. I have seen fire fighting by both volunteer and paid firefighters and both train and respond well. The one thing volunteers have going for them is they live and work close to where they volunteer. I wonder how many firefighters live and work in Alameda?

  • John says:


    As the Firefighters are fighting for their jobs the City of Alameda is fighting for its Citizens to be solvent. I think we need to look at all options.

    I would love to have Doctors on every emergency medical call. Looking at the Total compensation numbers some might think we do. (The Alameda Fire Dept has 17 people whose total compensation cost the citizens of Alameda between $200,000 –$ 275,000 last year. Another 55 whose earnings and benefits were between $150,000 and $200,000.)

    There are thousands of students going thru EMT and Fire training just in California alone that are looking for Departments to get experience from. They help assist Kaiser hospitals emergency needs and many others and some I know commute from Sacramento just to be able to work to just get experience for their schooling.

    I think we can subsidize some students schooling in exchange for services and would help everyone. I think a great mentoring program could be developed and maybe a partial pay partial volunteer deptartment could be set up to compliment our fully paid staff.

  • John says:

    There are some great Stories out there and we could be part of it by giving some others a chance.

    Brendan Finley-Davis Named NVFC Junior Firefighter of the Year
    Published Date: 04.14.2011

    Brendan Finley-Davis of Hackberry Township, KS, was awarded the National Volunteer Fire Council’s (NVFC) Junior Firefighter of the Year Award at a special ceremony during the NVFC board meeting on April 5. The NVFC and award sponsor Tyco International annually present the award to honor a junior firefighter who has gone above and beyond in their service to their fire department.
    NVFC Junior Firefighter of the Year Brendan Finley-Davis
    “It really is a great honor to be here,” Finley-Davis said as he accepted the award. “Achievements like these are really accomplished with teamwork. To be recognized at this level is truly a great honor.”

    Finley-Davis will also receive a custom-made set of turnout gear courtesy of TECGEN as part of his award.

    Finley-Davis has been a junior firefighter with the Hackberry Township Volunteer Fire Department for over six years. His leadership and dedication to the fire department make him a truly exemplary junior firefighter.

    Finley-Davis is consistently the first on the scene of a call and the last to leave, making sure all cleanup is done and equipment is ready for the next use before he heads home. He has attended all trainings provided by this department and has also gone to training hosted by other departments and the National Fire Academy.

    Thanks to a passion for teaching and his leadership skills, Finley-Davis is responsible for educating new junior firefighter recruits about the responsibilities of being a junior firefighter. He also teaches Exit Drills In The Home (EDITH) fire safety lessons to kindergarten through 3rd grade students at the local elementary schools.

    In addition to his work with the fire department, Finley-Davis is a 1st Lieutenant Cadet Member of the Kansas Civil Air Patrol and has received multiple Cadet Honor Awards, including Squadron Cadet Commander, Cadet Advisory Council, and Wing Cadet Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year Award.

    Finley-Davis is member of the National Honor Society, track and cross country teams, and Future Farmers of America. He has received the local Lion’s Club Student of the Month award and will graduate in the top three of his class. He also participates in his school’s choir and theater programs. Finley-Davis plans to attend Pittsburg (KS) State University with a major in elementary education, so that he can continue showing children the fun and importance of learning. While in college he will continue to volunteer at the local department.

  • John says:

    NVFC Honors Chief Glenn Jernigan for Lifetime Achievement
    Published Date: 04.14.2011

    The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) bestowed the 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award to Chief Glenn Jernigan of Faison (NC) Fire and Rescue. The award, sponsored by Scott Safety, annually recognizes an individual whose remarkable achievements in the fire service and community exemplifies outstanding performance. To be considered for the award, nominees must have been a volunteer firefighter for at least 20 years.

    “No man is more deserving of this award,” said Joe Guyotte, Chair of the NVFC’s Membership and Awards Committee, as he and Jason Cannon from Scott Safety presented the award to Chief Jernigan during a special awards ceremony at the NVFC spring board meeting on April 5. “Glenn is a fireman’s fireman and a fire chief’s fire chief.”

    “Not many times am I speechless,” Jernigan said upon receiving the award. “I am humbled to receive this award. It goes to all the members of the Faison fire department and all of the firefighters in North Carolina. I am really honored.” Jernigan also thanked his wife of 52 years, Evelyn.

    Jernigan joined Faison Fire and Rescue in 1959 and has dedicated his life to the emergency services. He has demonstrated exemplary leadership and vision both for his department as well as the entire fire service of North Carolina.

    Jernigan has served in many capacities during his 52 years in the volunteer fire service, including firefighter, EMT, officer, chief, and board member. He retired as Chief of Faison Fire and Rescue in 2006 after 36 years, and continues to serve as Safety Officer. He is a member and past president of several local and state fire service organizations, including past president of the North Carolina State Firemen’s Association (NCSFA).

    A strong advocate for firefighter training, Jernigan was instrumental in promoting and growing the North Carolina Fire College, resulting in thousands of volunteer firefighters receiving training through the College. He also supported the NC Office of State Fire Marshal in the development and enhancement of specialized training for the NC fire service. Jernigan played a vital role in promoting and growing the NCSFA scholarship program, which helps children of firefighters achieve their educational goals.

    Jernigan established his career in law enforcement, retiring as Sheriff of Duplin County in 2002. He is active in many community organizations, including Little League coach, chair of the boards of local nonprofits, and member of the Duplin Rotary Club and Faison Jaycees, among other groups. Among his numerous awards, Chief Jernigan is a recipient of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine Award, the highest honor presented by the Governor of North Carolina.

    Chief Jernigan and his wife Evelyn have two children, four grandchildren, and one great-grandson.

  • c gottstein says:

    I urge anyone interested in City spending to view “Bills for Ratification” on tonite’s Reg CCouncil mtg agenda. This feature is on the consent calendar every month & rarely discussed. In March 2011 ALONE, e.g., city paid $606,000 to CalPERS (times 10 months+ entire City deficit?) & ~$100K to the Meyers-Nave law firm.
    The facts are there; start questioning!

  • Carole says:

    Depending on the specialty of a physician on-call, it costs hospitals $700-$900 per hour. Check your bill the next time your are going to the emergency room in an ambulance.

  • Seth says:

    When you start talking about balancing budgets by using volunteer firefighters, that is very different from “compliment[ing] our fully paid staff.” Do you want to protect Alameda with volunteer junior firefighters? Really?

    Believe me, you want protection from a fully staffed fire service. As it is, City of Alameda FD staffs below industry standards. Please don’t advocate cutting staffing even further. You will only hurt public safety.

    Training wannabe firefighters at the fire house is something Alameda may already do through and Explorer program for teenagers through the Boy Scouts of America. Many departments do.

    When you have that many firefighters making between $150k and $200k, you clearly have a staffing shortage. Don’t demonize the firefighters who stepped up and worked extra 24hr shifts to protect the citizens of Alameda. Hire more firefighters or stop complaining about the OT.

    Firefighter paramedics and firefighter EMTs are specialists. I know an anesthesiologist at SF General who says he’s in awe of what paramedics do. “We show them how to intubate a patient in an operating room with excellent lighting and proper patient positioning and they turn around and do it under a car on a freeway.” Para-medicine has gotten to the point that having an accident in the street is almost as good as having an accident in the ER.

    Having a heart attack in your house is about the same as having it in the ER (and probably better than having it in a hospital ward bed) because paramedics are able to do everything necessary to save your life right there. Ambulance crews know where to take a patient based on what is wrong with the patient: Does the patient need a STEMI center for a heart attack? Clot busting drugs for a stroke? A trauma center? Burn center? Time matters. Fast transport is also important. EMT and paramedic care is ESSENTIAL to save lives in the field, and stabilize patients until arrival at an appropriate medical facility where doctors are (hopefully) able to finish saving the patients’ lives. Firefighters are not doctors, but they can sure make ER docs and Trauma surgeons look good by giving them lives to save.

    Your firefighter paramedics and firefighter EMTs are extensions of the emergency room. They are also firefighters and rescue specialists. You get a lot of bang for your bucks when you hire professional firefighters.

    Having been a volunteer firefighter in my community, having been a paid firefighter in my community and having been a paid firefighter outside of my community, I can honestly say that being a volunteer in my community is over rated from a quality of services perspective. It sounds nice. But it doesn’t make for better services. Having firefighters together at a station or on an engine gives the best possible response times to the community. New firefighters learn about the job and the community from their training division and from the crews they work with. A resident of Alameda could know the island like the back of his hand and be of no use because he happens to be at the wrong end of the island during rush hour. Time matters.

    “the City of Alameda is fighting for its Citizens to be solvent.” OK. I suggest finding another area to cut. Maybe something that doesn’t mean life and death. In a few years the economy will rebound. At that point, I would suggest adding staff in the FD. I understand some cuts to staffing have been made already, I would start adding with those positions.

  • Adam Gillitt says:

    Seth says:

    “the City of Alameda is fighting for its Citizens to be solvent.” OK. I suggest finding another area to cut. Maybe something that doesn’t mean life and death.

    There is a difference between paying someone a reasonable wage for an important service, and paying those same people people not to work, year after year after year, once they retire.

    • Seth says:

      So you don’t like the idea of pensions? I for one think we should be figuring out how to get pensions back into the private sector and how to get universal health care for everyone, instead of trying to figure out how we can take pensions away from people who have earned them.

      The city says to the firefighter candidate: “we want you to be our firefighter and we’ll pay you X wage, Y medical and Z pension”

      The candidate says “OK”

      Then, two to three decades later, the city says “you know all that time you worked for us and we said we’d give you X, Y and Z? Well, we don’t want to do that anymore. Let’s just do X, but cut it down by a few percent first. By the way, thank you for your years of service.”

      Let’s not go there.

      • Adam Gillitt says:

        Is it a given that providing pensions for a small group of mostly non-resident people is of greater importance than the overall fiscal solvency of this City? Or is this an area where flexibility should be an option?

        I say let’s go there.

        Most people don’t have the luxury of getting paid by the taxpayers for not working while the City teeters on the brink of bankruptcy. We have to arrange for our own retirements.

        • Seth says:

          Two things.
          1) I think it’s a given that you should be held to the promises you make to other people. Your firefighters have been living up to their side of the bargain.

          2) Paid while not working? Really? Maybe someone should tell AFD’s captains to lean on the air horn a little harder at 3AM.

          Almost every department has slow stations. Some have incredibly busy stations. I’d bet you a nice cop-sized doughnut that your firefighters keep busy by inspecting hydrants for access, visibility and function; inspecting businesses for access and egress, fire extinguishers, housekeeping and hazards; teaching kids in the station and at the schools about fire safety and exit drills in the home; training to save lives in many different ways and, of course, going out to save those lives. Sometimes it’s life alert calling because someone has “fallen and can’t get up.” Sometimes it’s plumbing that won’t stop and is destroying the downstairs unit. Sometimes it’s that funny smell from the self-cleaning oven – and hey, the wall’s hot! Sometimes it’s a ripping structure fire in a two story Victorian with flames in the basement and it’s extended to the attic – thankfully, everyone got out before we got there. Sometimes It’s Grandpa’s 3rd heart attack. Sometimes we get there too late. Sometimes we do get to sleep. I don’t know what AFD’s schedule is, but I’m guessing they have 24hr or 48hr shifts on a regular basis. I try to sleep at night. I’ll bet they also try. We are not just paid for what we do. We are also payed for what we will be asked to do.

          I’ll also bet you that I’ve left some stuff out and that your firefighters do more than what I’ve listed above. I know I do.

          • Adam Gillitt says:

            You’re putting up straw men, Seth. I am not talking about volunteer firefighters like other threads nor questioning the valor or value of the work that firefighters should be justly compensated for. I am talking about arranging for retirement compensation.

            Being compensated whilst one provides a service is one thing. Being compensated whilst one no longer provide service is completely another. Alameda may soon not be in the position to afford the luxury of the latter, which is the issue that needs addressing.

          • Seth says:

            Adam, not a straw man – just a misunderstanding on my part.

            “Being compensated whilst one provides a service is one thing. Being compensated whilst one no longer provide service is completely another.”

            This is actually what you meant. Employer-paid pension contributions are made during the course of employment. Upon retirement, the employer stops paying for the retired employee. At this point CalPERS (I think that’s what Alameda uses)starts to pay the retirement benefit with the invested principle and investment returns earned over the course of employment. Retirement is the point at which the City stops paying for the employee’s retirement.

            This is a negotiated benefit that has been promised to employees for the work that they have done, are doing and will continue to do as long as they are employed with the City.

            The city is on the hook for this. Your firefighters have been working with the expectation of this benefit as partial payment for their work. This is not a luxury; it is a duty owed in full to your firefighters for their years of service that they gave you in exchange for it. But, you don’t have to like it.

      • Adam Gillitt says:

        Oh, and I agree with you on one point, Seth- it sure would be super awesome if we all could have free universal health care and pensions. I’ll be on the front lines with you fighting for it. I just can’t figure out how that’s going to get funded. Can you?

        • John says:

          To get the City whole again I think we need to put total compensation for all positions not only Fire. If Total compensation for a Firefighter is 50,000.00 a Year let them have the option to have XXX amount in Medical benefits XXX amount in Pension and Total = 50,000.00 if that is magic number. Go thru every position in City and AUSD. I think this is more in line with city charter for sound financials.

        • Seth says:

          That is actually simple in principle: everyone has to pay into it and we have to take any profit motive out of it. I’m open to suggestions, too.

          • Seth says:

            That was to Adam

          • John says:

            My Suggestion is the same.

            50,000.00 Total Salary compensation including all Benefits and Pensions.

            If you want 500.00 a Year to go to Retirement fund

            If you want 1500.00 a Year toward your health benefits

            Your Salary is now 48,500 and any additional Health benefits you want to buy would come out of check. Just like most individuals.

            If you want more retirement then it would come from salary and can be deducted from check.

            If you want lifetime health benefits you can buy those also. That can also be deducted from check like anyone else.

            If you want guarantee salary for retirement you can buy that also. Can Buy Annuity and can be deducted from check.

            I agree it really is quite Simple.

  • John says:

    Something is VERY VERY Wrong with our contracts with AFD when our costs are nowhere close to these.

    Average Salary of Jobs with Related Titles

    EMT Basic Certification in California $24,000

    EMT Basic in California $30,000

    Firefighter Medic in California $46,000

    EMT in California $32,000

    Firefighter EMT in California $43,000

    Average EMT salaries for job postings in California are 5% higher than average EMT salaries for job postings nationwide.

    Today in California, the median salary for Emergency Medical Technicians is around $40,000. The average salary for paramedics is $49,000. As a point of reference, the average salary for all professionals in the state of California, according to the US Department of Labor, was $44,180 for 2007

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the combined average salaries for EMTs and paramedics in California in 2008 were $31,110. The following California EMT salary information and data on paramedic salary in California is broken down by major city.
    State of California salaries:
    EMT: $40,000
    Paramedic: $49,000
    Fire Fighter/Paramedic: $58,000

  • John says:

    This is real world Seth
    Job just posted today for SF

    Emergency Medical Technicial – EMT
    All EMTs at ProTransport-1 start at $9.50 per hour with average performance bonuses of $40.00 per day ($10.00 per call) with the first opportunity for a pay increase after just 180 days.

    Job#: 121718
    Positions: 4
    Job Type: On-Call Part Time
    Location: San Francisco
    Department: Operations
    Category: Support
    Salary: Hourly + Commission
    Benefits: Available

    Apply To This Job
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    Return To List
    Job Description
    ProTransport-1 is a professional and growing company with an outstanding reputation in the ambulance industry looking for you to join our team.

    ON CALL/PART TIME Positions available now-MUST BE AVAILABLE ANY AND ALL SHIFTS (24/7 availability preferred)-Emergency Medical Technician’s Wanted- ProTransport-1 is actively hiring new and experienced EMT’s for ON CALL/PART TIME positions. Obtaining your Ambulance Drivers License (DMV) and 21 years of age is desirable. Paid on the job training and benefits are available for full time positions. Advancement opportunities are available for management/training (FTO’s) and supervisor positions- making ProTransport-1 a great place to start or advance your career.

    A current (within 1 week and 10 years back) DMV driving printout with your application and color copies of all valid certifications will be needed if your application is selected.

    What Do We Offer?

    All EMTs at ProTransport-1 start at $9.50 per hour with average performance bonuses of $40.00 per day ($10.00 per call) with the first opportunity for a pay increase after just 180 days.

    Benefits offered after 180 day probationary period completed (for full time positions).

    Also Hiring for:

    Field Training Officers/Station Managers

    Applicants should be County or State Licensed Emergency Medical Technicians

    Applicants should have a current CPR certification

    Applicants that are over 21 years of age (for insurance) with a clean driving record (CA Drivers License) for open driving positions.

    Applicants should have a valid Ambulance Driver’s License (ADL from the DMV) and a valid DL51 (Medical Examiner’s Card) from the DMV.

    Hazmat (Hazardous Materials Course)-First Responder Awareness is desirable.

    Applicants must have a positive and caring attitude.

    ProTransport-1 is a smoke free workplace.

  • Seth says:

    Nice job posting for a single-function EMT (not a firefighter EMT and all that that entails). I’ve had that job. I know it well.

    John, here’s some more real world, apples-to-apples numbers:

    FD Base Pay By Rank, 2009:
    Capt. Eng. FF/paramedic. FF/EMT
    SF 132k, 114k 99k
    Oak 126k, 110k, 110K 100k
    San Jose 130k, 113k, 102k
    AlCo 114k, 101k, 94k
    Hayward 110k, 102k, 96k
    Alameda 114k, 100k, 92k

    Not all rank titles are the same across different departments.

    2006-2008 census ACS (american communities survey)(the most recent google-able one)

    Alameda Median Home Price (dollars) 682,400 +/-15,433

    Bay area Median household income (dollars) 76,476 +/-323
    Mean household income (dollars) 102,764 +/-496

    Alameda Median household income (dollars) 77,868 +/-4,698
    Mean household income (dollars) 92,139 +/-3,374

    • Seth says:

      Sorry the formatting got messed up

    • John says:

      Everyone one of those Cities you listed are in same financial mess we are in or Going Broke. We are trying to avoid that Seth.

      Alameda Median income of a resident is between 38,000 and
      43,000. Depending on which database you use.

      Household income usually consists of Two incomes or More. Are Firefighters Two people or more now?

      Real World

      Market View for Alameda Real Estate .Avg. Listing Price


      Wk ending Apr 13 -$3,828
      w-o-w Median Sales Price


      Jan ’11 – Mar ’11
      112 Homes For Sale
      3 Open Homes
      373 Recently Sold
      244 Foreclosures

      • Seth says:

        “Household income usually consists of Two incomes or More. Are Firefighters Two people or more now?”

        No, but with firefighters gone 24-72 hours at a time on rotating days of the week (to save taxpayers money, by the way), most firefighter households cannot be two or more incomes. We are allowed kids, too. You are sounding off about a profession and compensation packages you don’t understand.

        Your city made a deal. Your firefighters are living up to their part.

        You want to cry about foreclosures? A big part of this state’s problems stem from people not living up to their financial obligations. “Predatory lending practices” led to financial meltdown? How about people getting in over their heads and walking away from their houses? Don’t perpetuate the problem by defaulting on your obligations and hurting those who have sworn to save your life.

        Don’t tell me about the real world until you learn to pay your bills on time.

  • John says:

    Here are Two Jobs posted for Firefighters on national Job Board.

    Most Cities and departments are cutting. That is reason for lack of jobs and Ads.

    Firefighter 2011
    Job Number: 31681190
    Company Name: City of Chattanooga TN
    Location: Chattanooga, TN US
    Career Focus: Military & Government
    Apply to Job
    New Jobs posted for firefighters.
    Updated: 4/16/2011

    Firefighter 2011

    Job Title: Firefighter 2011

    Salary: $1,233.73 Biweekly
    $32,077.00 Annually

    Job Type: Full Time

    Location: Chattanooga, Tennessee
    Salary: $3,307.00 – $4,173.00 Monthly
    Posted: 04/08/11

    Job Description:
    One, full-time, permanent position available in the Office of Protective Services. Will consider DROA, SROA, departmental and general re-employment employees, reinstatements, employee transfers, and list eligibles. General Statement of Duties: Under direct supervision of the Fire Chief, Office of Protective Services (OPS), a Fire Fighter performs a variety of skilled and manual tasks in fire prevention; such as testing automatic fire sprinkler systems, fire alarms; inspect fire extinguishing equipment, performs fire safety inspections of building and grounds; fire prevention training. The Fire Fighter is responsible of preparing written preliminary reports, daily logs, and any other written documentation that is required by the Fire Chief. The Fire Fighter may perform other duties as required by the Fire Chief. Applications postmarked, personally delivered or received via inter-office mail after the final filing date will not be accepted. Faxed applications will not be accepted. Advertised Vacancies will be filled upon critical hire approval.

    Additional Information:
    Working Title Position Number
    Fire Fighter 515 – – 8979 –
    Location County
    Porterville Developmental Center TULARE

  • Karen Bey says:

    Hopefully the two plans can be merged somehow and the issue resolved within an agreed upon time frame, so we can say on XXXXXX date, the pension and health care benefit issue will be resolved —much like what the President is doing to address the federal budget deficit. By working together to resolve the budget issues, it takes some of the politics out of it, because both sides get to own the results.

    But I do not agree that we should move to a volunteer fire department. I view police and fire as part of homeland security. Cities that have experienced major catastrophes really understand and appreciate having a well trained police and fire department. It’s a mistake to take them for granted and think they can be replaced with a volunteer department.

    • John says:

      Karen I don’t think anyone wants a all Volunteer FD or Police or city. But looking at all the options and all the duties required in city for all positions can be handled in a more fiscal responsible way. I think that is point of all my posts.

  • Seth says:

    “Firefighter” job you just posted in Porterville, ca. Does not seem to include fighting fires in the job description – it seems to be mostly clerical. It tops out at about $50k/yr

    Porterville, CA: US census ACS 2006-2008

    Median household income (dollars)38,079 +/-1,815
    Mean household income (dollars)49,593 +/-1,801
    Housing price Median (dollars)196,400 +/-9,087

    Firefighter job you just posted in TN was in TN. It pays $30k/yr
    Median household income (dollars)42,943+/-195
    Mean household income (dollars) 58,540
    Housing price Median (dollars)128,500

    Look at apples when comparing apples, please.
    See my post above. The firefighters of Alameda are paid a fair SF Bay Area wage!

  • John says:

    Seth that was the point of my post.

    “Here are Two Jobs posted for Firefighters on national Job Board. Most Cities and departments are cutting. That is reason for lack of jobs and Ads.”

    • Seth says:

      Your point is that no one is hiring and. . . ?

      Try looking here:


      These are just a few small departments.
      Large recent tests include: Alameda, contra costa and San Francisco.

      Done for now.

      I’ve got to go to a meeting because someone’s trying to take my pay and benefits away.
      John, Adam, Suzanne,Carole, C, MRA, Michele
      Take care,

      • Seth says:

        Oh, I missed Karen.
        Take care all

      • John says:

        Tons of Jobs out there. Look at all the anticipated openings within next fiscal year. Started at top and you be the judge.

        The San Bruno Fire Department
        Invites Applications For

        Anticipated openings within the next fiscal year: 0

        The Redwood City Fire Department
        Invites Applications For
        Anticipated openings within the next fiscal year: 0

        The Albany Fire Department
        Invites Applications For

        Anticipated openings within the next fiscal year: 1

        The American Canyon Fire District
        Invites Applications For

        Anticipated openings within the next fiscal year: 1

        The Cosumnes CSD Fire Department
        Invites Applications For

        Anticipated openings within the next fiscal year: 0

        The Diamond Springs Fire Protection District
        Invites Applications For

        Anticipated openings within the next fiscal year: 0

        The El Cerrito Fire Department
        Invites Applications For

        Anticipated openings within the next fiscal year: 0

        The Kentfield Fire Protection District
        Invites Applications For

        Anticipated openings within the next fiscal year: 0

        The Larkspur Fire Department
        Invites Applications For

        Anticipated openings within the next fiscal year: 0

        The City of Millbrae
        Invites Applications For

        Anticipated openings within the next fiscal year: 1

        The Mill Valley Fire Department
        Invites Applications For

        Anticipated openings within the next fiscal year: 0

        The North County Fire Authority-Pacifica
        Invites Applications For

        Anticipated openings within the next fiscal year: 0

  • John says:

    Fair is Relative. Fair to the City who is paying and broke or Fair only for workers. Fair Market for job in this economy is anywhere between 31,000 to 50,000 which is what jobs are being offered at. There are thousands of qualified people to do job with no jobs in Firefighting which gives you a great venue to restructure pay packages to match the situation we are in. And City Avoiding BK.

  • Karen Bey says:


    One problem I have with your analysis is that you are comparing salaries in Chattanooga, Tennessee and Tulare, California with salaries in one of the most expensive areas to live — the Bay Area. That’s not realistic.

    • John says:


      When the Average Individual Income for a Resident in Alameda is between 38,000 to 43,000 depending on what data you read there are alot of Unrealistic People Living on that income in this town trying to get by at much lower levels.

  • John says:

    Average Salary of Jobs with Related Titles

    Firefighter Medic in California $46,000
    EMT in California $32,000
    Firefighter EMT in California $43,000
    Average EMT salaries for job postings in California are 5% higher than average EMT salaries for job postings nationwide.


  • Mark Irons says:

    I think if you advocate for volunteer fire fighters you should be first in line to sign up. We have volunteer city council, why not fill all city jobs with volunteers? While we’re at it why keep going…How about volunteer air traffic controllers?

  • Li_ says:

    I expect our own city employees are uncomfortable speaking out while negotiations are on going. Thanks for posting. I’ve learned a lot about fire departments, especially Bay Area, that I didn’t know. While I was aware that there have been several contracts over the last 50 or so years, all with differing agreements, I didn’t realize how many different kinds of fire jobs there are, nor kinds of certifications. I was also interested to see your comparison figures with other area cities. Finally, apples and apples.

    Not being a union person, I don’t know much about how the contracts work. I assume each one of the job titles has it’s own contract. Are contracts only good for a certain amount of years, then re-negotiated or does each person hired between x year and y year get the same contract and it is good for life or until he leaves the city’s employ? Would you please talk about that a little?


  • Anne says:

    Over 75% of Alameda fire dept calls are for medical services. Only 2% of the calls are for fires. I just received three years of data on this, calls by category.


    It makes a lot of sense to use paramedics.

  • John says:


    If we go bankrupt those contracts are as good as some ENRON Preffered Stock Certificates and Some Lehman Brothers Charmin.

    I like Comparing apples to apples.

    Comparing Salaries of City Employees in same financial mess as us just leads us closer to Vallejo .

  • Kate Quick says:

    Here is what I know: We had a nasty house fire in our victorian. We were away from home at the time and drove two hours in frantic worry. When we got to our house, the firefighters had quelled the blaze, saved our house, moved most of the endangered furniture to safety, covered it with plastic to protect it from the water, and cleaned up a good deal of the mess. The pets were o.k. The firefighters came back to check for hot spots and make sure things were in order over the next few days.
    Our fire started from workmen stripping paint with heat guns, and igniting tinder between the clapboard and the lath and plaster. We had no fire stops at the top of the spaces between the studs, and the fire raced up the space like a chimney and ignited the attic. This is a typical fire for a victorian – we were told they mostly burn “from the top down.” We greatly appreciated the professional way in which the fire fighters handled our fire and the aftermath of it. I know volunteer firefighters in small towns and rural communities do a fine job, but our experience with the AFD was such that I want them to stay as is. Our firefighters are active in the welfare of our community; they worked hard on the Measure A School Bond campaign, and have done a lot of charity work. We definitely need to get pension reform, but don’t throw these people under the bus. They don’t deserve it and when they are needed, we want them there!

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