It has been 17 years and 146 days since the city’s pledge to build the West Branch Library.

I salute the men and women of the Glendale Fire Department. You, time after time, demonstrate your compassion, professionalism and integrity every time you answer an emergency call. Your genuine care for the people you serve is evident…especially the children, the little ones. Thank you for your service. I and every Glendale citizen appreciate what you do.

You work hard but you are paid well for your knowledge and expertise. You probably think that it is not enough and perhaps it isn’t. Due to your schedule of one day on and two days off many of you have second jobs or are business owners. It is something that nearly every other employee working a traditional 5 day a week job does not have the luxury of doing.

As a former councilmember and now private citizen of Glendale whatever concerns I have had or do have about the policies of fire service delivery have never been about you but they have been about the union that represents you and some of the goals and the tactics the union uses.

 I go nuts when in reviewing fire’s pay for major events such as this past Super Bowl and I see some fire department employees earning $220 an hour in overtime pay. I’m sorry but I think that is outrageous. There are many other professions in which their members earn far less than $220 an hour in overtime pay. It breeds a lack of sympathy among the general public.

The Glendale fire union’s latest stunt was averted by councilmembers who realized the fragility of Glendale’s current budget situation at their city council meeting of May 26, 2015. Sherwood and Chavira pressed to use reserve funds but they did not prevail. Sherwood is supportive because he needs all the help he can get in facing his recall election. Chavira is a Phoenix firefighter and has an obligation to support anything the fire union wants.

When Glendale residents picked up the Glendale Republic of May 23, 2015 the headline screamed Fire department understaffing stirs concerns in an article by Matthew Casey. It reflected a deliberate strategy by Joe Hester, President of the Glendale chapter of the fire union, (who really runs the department) to use scare tactics to get additional revenue now…immediately…to expand the fire department. Hester said, “It seems pretty obvious there is a crisis by any way you measure it. Our folks are extremely disappointed in the budget process.” Here is the link: .

The most telling statistic in the article was provided by Glendale Fire Chief Mark Burdick. He offered Glendale Fire Department response times for 90 percent of calls by year:

  • 2010 8 minutes 11 seconds
  • 2011 8 minutes 10 seconds
  • 2012 8 minutes 6 seconds
  • 2013 8 minutes 12 seconds
  • 2014 8 minutes 12 seconds

So where is the crisis? Today’s response time is the same response time as in the previous 5 years. Another fact often ignored is that Glendale is one of ten cities in the state accredited by the non-profit organization, The Center for Public Safety Excellence. Glendale would not have received its accreditation if its response times were not acceptable. This agency is responsible for accrediting individuals and agencies internationally. It is a much coveted accreditation and Glendale is proud to have measured up to its criteria. Do you really think Glendale would have received its accreditation if its response times were not acceptable?

The statistic Chief Burdick provided is telling for another reason. Now that he is soon-to-be retired as Fire Chief he has begun to tell it like it is. As a councilmember 5 or 6 years ago Chief Burdick and I had a conversation about the union and its influence within the department. There was much he wanted to say but he was obviously reluctant to speak freely about the union and its influence and he refrained. I could sense that he was embarrassed that he could not speak freely.

The purpose of this article released just before the council meeting was to pressure the city council to change its budget strategy and to use general fund contingency or unappropriated fund balance to purchase more equipment and to hire more personnel immediately.  Let’s look at some facts not clearly addressed in the article:

  • Fact #1 – Glendale is experiencing an increased call volume. Why? Glendale’s population has barely increased and in fact, Glendale is anticipated to lose state shared revenue because its population growth is low compared to other Valley cities. Much of its increased call volume are responses due to Automatic Aid.
  • Fact #2 – Glendale is a member of the Valley-wide automatic aid system. If the closest fire station is busy and Glendale is the next closest, Glendale is dispatched to handle the call out of its city. The Republic article acknowledged that “Glendale responded about 3,300 more times to calls in Phoenix and Peoria than those cities responded to Glendale combined.
  • Fact #3 – Glendale uses overtime to make up for its increased call volume. It is insane to send a large truck with 4 personnel to medical calls when 80% to 90% of its calls are medical. There are other strategies such as 2 person ambulances being employed right now, this very minute, to respond to emergency medical calls. It’s time for Glendale to adopt one of them.

Shame on the fire union for attempting to scare people into giving them the financial resources they want right now.  Shame on the fire union for attempting to expand its empire rather than looking at other strategies for response to medical calls.

No one asked the question: The fire department’s budget comes from the city’s general fund. It has been acknowledged that they want an additional $2 to $3 million and that does not include the additional monies needed to pay the salaries and benefits for more personnel annually. What department in the general fund do they want to cut by $2 to $3 million? What other city service are they willing to sacrifice to meet their needs right now?

In response over the next few months the council will take a measured look at the entire issue of adequate resources for public safety and that includes the police department. Five of the councilmembers did not rush to judgment as Sherwood and Chavira pressed them to do.  They realize that there is a problem but they were not ready to sacrifice other city services to give the fire union what it demanded. They also realize that there is no quick fix. It will take several years to implement a viable solution. The men and women of the Glendale fire department want what is best for their city. Too bad their union is not listening to them.

© Joyce Clark, 2015


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