San Bernardino Firefighters Union Proposing Election For Fire Chief

Asserting that San Bernardino city officials have politicized the operation of the fire department, the union representing the city’s firemen is proposing a change in the city’s charter that would make the position of fire chief an elected one.
The San Bernardino City Professional Firefighters Local 891, which represents 126 of the city’s firefighters, said it will seek the change through the ballot initiative process.
Firefighters said they saw no inconsistency in their complaints that elected officials and high level municipal administrators had injected politics into the running of the department and their own effort to subject the fire chief to the elective process.
The firefighters union offered a summary of the proposed ballot initiative that called for “an elected fire chief, who is a resident of the city, to be elected at the general election in 2014 and every fourth year afterwards.”  Candidates for fire chief would “be required to have an educational background consisting of California state chief officer certification, the equivalence of an associate degree in fire technology or related field, 16 years’ experience in fire suppression and at least five years’ experience as a company officer or higher.”
In the face of dwindling revenues, the city has made painful cuts to the fire department, which fared worse than the more politically powerful police department. Since 2009, 25 firefighters have been laid off or eliminated by attrition and the department’s fire engines are now manned by three-member crews rather than four-member ones. Union members believe that by creating an elected fire chief, they will be able to concentrate their political efforts on that election rather than diffusing their support among multiple candidates for city council and mayor and therefore have more impact on how the department is run. While the union said its members were looking toward “granting the fire chief power and authority over the fire department independent of the mayor and the city manager,” the  summary said the proposed amendment would also require the fire department to include an assistant fire chief and a chief of staff, “both appointed by the fire chief with the consent of the mayor and council.”
The proposal also calls for the assistant chief to “have the same qualifications as the fire chief” who “must be an existing employee of the San Bernardino Fire Department.”  The proposal further stipulates that the fire chief’s salary be set “at $1 over the assistant chief’s salary.”

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