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Richard Rider

Four San Diego city firefighter hiring reforms we need

Here’s a San Diego city firefighter hiring reform we need. Four, actually.

1. Do what EVERY OTHER CITY IN THE COUNTY DOES — hire already qualified firefighters who graduate from accredited firefighter academies — primarily our community college programs. Let the students pay for their firefighter education. No need to start from scratch with a new recruit — putting him (occasionally her) though the city’s own firefighter academy totally at city taxpayer expense. If the city wants to do additional training on top of that, fine — use OJT or hold a short academy for new hires. That’s what other cities do.

2. Not only do we pay for our SDFD new hires’ education, we actually pay them a SALARY to go to our free school. I think it’s currently about $2,500 a month — with zero commitment to the city upon graduation. This subsidy is TOTALLY unnecessary. Moreover, by having the students as employees, we taxpayers are subject to a lifelong disability risk while in the city academy — a risk that the students normally are responsible for while in school.

3. As I mentioned, our SDFD academy graduates — educated at city expense — are then free to go to ANY city for a job. There is zero commitment by these subsidized students.

Assuming we continue this city academy madness, have the students sign for a loan for the city cost of their education. Then forgive the loan on a sliding scale — at least 10 years. The longer they work for the city of San Diego, the less they have to pay back.

4. Expand recruiting of EXPERIENCED firefighters by recruiting firefighters in other states. Remember, our AVERAGE California firefighter pay is 60% higher than the pay for working full-time paid firefighters in the other 49 states.

Ideally the city should run such ads in January-February — especially in snow belt states! Our imaginary “shortage” of firefighters would go away overnight.

BTW, the San Diego shortage is exacerbated by the long hiring and training period for San Diego firefighters. Hire trained “off the shelf” firefighters, and there’s almost zero lag time to replace departing firefighters. The shortage (if any) is due to city ineptitude, NOT to a shortage of eager, qualified, trained firefighters who wish to work for the SDFD.