Commentary: No One Called Out Davis Firefighters For Endangering Public Safety

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Firefighter Union President Bobby Weist pickets outside of City Hall in 2013.
Firefighter Union President Bobby Weist pickets outside of City Hall in 2013.

In response to the police shootings in New York, members of the New York Police Department, angry at the mayor and perhaps by extension the electorate, have repeatedly turned their backs on the mayor in an effort to show collective contempt.

Contempt is one thing, but essentially “walking off the job” is another. The New York Times editorial board this week published two biting criticisms of the department. On Monday, they wrote, “Mr. de Blasio isn’t going to say it, but somebody has to: With these acts of passive-aggressive contempt and self-pity, many New York police officers, led by their union, are squandering the department’s credibility, defacing its reputation, shredding its hard-earned respect. They have taken the most grave and solemn of civic moments — a funeral of a fallen colleague — and hijacked it for their own petty look-at-us gesture. In doing so, they also turned their backs on Mr. Ramos’s widow and her two young sons, and others in that grief-struck family.”

In the meantime, on Tuesday, the Times cited a New York Post article that found that for the week that began the day the officers were shot, “officers are essentially abandoning enforcement of low-level offenses.” Writes the Times, “traffic citations had fallen by 94 percent over the same period last year, summonses for offenses like public drinking and urination were down 94 percent, parking violations were down 92 percent, and drug arrests by the Organized Crime Control Bureau were down 84 percent.”

They continue, “The data cover only a week, and the reasons for the plunge are not entirely clear. But it is so steep and sudden as to suggest a dangerous, deplorable escalation of the police confrontation with the de Blasio administration.”

The Times calls this action “repugnant and inexcusable.” They write, “It amounts to a public act of extortion by the police.”

The Tuesday editorial proceeds to make the case that the police are not justified in such an extreme reaction – but even if they were, putting the public at risk seems petty and self-serving, and ultimately will undermine whatever self-righteous indignation they have.

The interesting thing is that the actions of the New York Police Department have been playing out for nearly the last two years here in Davis, only in Davis it is the firefighters – angry at perhaps contract situations, personnel cuts, and management changes – who have put public safety at risk in their protests.

While New York police officers turned their back on the mayor, the Davis firefighters held a celebration in April when former City Manager Steve Pinkerton left, which even included a countdown at 5 pm on the Friday that was Mr. Pinkerton’s last day. The actions created an embarrassing situation for public officials and some believe it may have been the final blow in the electoral defeat of Sheila Allen – a candidate for city council who was backed by the firefighters and who attended the event.

But the pettiness and political ploys – such as protests, precinct walking, no confidence votes and celebrations of departed city managers – are one thing, but allowing labor grievances to impact public safety are another.

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In November, the Vanguard published data that shows a trend regarding training, that suggests that the Davis firefighters’ union had been effectively engaging in a work slowdown, doing the minimum possible so as to not get in trouble, but cutting back on all other extra work.

The data released by Chief Nathan Trauernicht published by the Vanguard in November, clearly indicated such a trend regarding training. Sources close to the firefighters have told the Vanguard the slowdown has impacted everything that is not contractually required.

The data show a very clear trend from March 2014 to September 2014 where training hours in total, and averaged by employee, dropped from around 30 hours per employee per month down to as low as 15 hours by August, before rebounding slightly back to 20 by September.

Is this clear evidence that Davis firefighters are intentionally reducing their training hours in protest of a number of policies that were implemented over their objections? These include boundary drop, staff reductions from 12 to 11 per shift, decoupling of the rescue apparatus, and, most significantly, the shared management agreement which has put Chief Nathan Trauernicht in charge of both the UC Davis and Davis Fire Departments.

Chief Nathan Trauernicht added fuel to the fire when he posted on the Vanguard, “You have to keep in mind that this is only a SEVEN month snapshot. There can be any number of circumstances that impact training hours.”

He stated, “I do believe that it is reasonable to expect that the hourly trendline SHOULD remain relatively even, increase, or even occasionally dip down to a standard baseline before rising again.”

Does all of this amount to a slowdown on the part of the union president and the membership of the Davis Professional Firefighters Association?

Chief Trauernicht stated, “While I can’t say that the order for a slowdown has has been given (because I don’t know that to be a fact), I can say that we don’t get a lot of eager participation in committees, projects, and in some trainings.”

“The reasoning that is commonly heard goes back to the contract imposition and a myriad of other issues.  Morale is very very very low and I actually sympathize with some of it as some of the issues put me, and the rest of the shared management team, in a frustrating if not impossible position of dealing with inherited issues that are significant in magnitude,” he stated.

At the same time, the Chief stated, “I remain hopeful that we will reach the day where, even with the barriers to progress from bargaining and the stigma of fire reforms, we will still find a way to move forward.”

However, unlike the situation in New York, the data and statement by the fire chief hardly received much attention. The training data were not reported in the local press and they were not called out in a local editorial.

Training is critical for firefighters – especially given the relative few numbers of actual active structure fires they face. It keeps the firefighters in practice in terms of dealing with emergencies as well as keeping them up to date on the latest tactics.

By reducing training, they quite possibly have put the public at risk.

Unfortunately, no one has stepped into this situation to put a stop to it. We will await new statistics that hopefully show a reversal in this trend. That said, there was good news in the September report, as well. The data show that boundary drop and the move and cover strategy is working.

Wrote Chief Trauernicht, “You can clearly see the impact of Engine 34’s role now that the boundary has been dropped, and the impact of the new move and cover strategy, in the amount of times that 32 and 33 now stay in their districts ready to provide service to those portions of the community.”

The result is that, despite the drop from 12 to 11 personnel, most people in the community are better covered than they were before the changes.

Chief Trauernicht stated, “It is impressive no matter what issues challenge shared management. Certainly a time for the community to be proud of improved services.”

However, these improvements may be challenged in the coming weeks and months by political forces bent on undoing these changes.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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33 thoughts on “Commentary: No One Called Out Davis Firefighters For Endangering Public Safety”

  1. Barack Palin

     Writes the Times, “traffic citations had fallen by 94 percent over the same period last year, summonses for offenses like public drinking and urination were down 94 percent, parking violations were down 92 percent, and drug arrests by the Organized Crime Control Bureau were down 84 percent.”

    Or possibly the NYPD doesn’t want to be called racists by the race baiters for enforcing low level crimes which would involve a high number of people of color.

    1. Don Shor

      Gun related deaths for police officers rose 56% in 2014″

      This is a weird statistic that is being bandied about.

      2012: 50

      2013: 32

      2014: 50

      So, while the increase is factual, it is 2013 that was anomalous, not 2014.

       

      1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

        This is the sort of game David Greenwald likes to play with statistics in his editorials. He picks an anomalous starting point and gives you some kind of an average which supports his ideological position. I noted an example of that when he said (wrongly as it happens) that asphalt prices had gone up 8-fold from 1999 to 2014. In that case he cherry picked his starting point, 1999, because it was the absolutely lowest price of oil on record in real dollar terms. Greenwald’s intention seemed to be to say that we better act fast before the price of asphalt goes up even more. Fortunately, its price (which had not increased 8-fold, but rather 2.6 times from trough to peak over 15 years) has since come down, along with the price of crude.

        1. Don Shor

          What’s amazing is how uncritically most news organizations and blogs picked up that statistic.
          Meanwhile, here’s the actual trend. Talk about a complete lack of context for that “56%” figure.
          police fatalities

        2. David Greenwald Post author

          Two points in response. First, I didn’t pick the starting point, I used the figures that Nichols Consulting used and Dan Carson critiqued. Second, I believe that the statistic was 8% per year from 1999 to 2014, not an eight-fold increase.

        3. Rich RifkinWDE 73

          GREENWALD: I believe that the statistic was 8% per year from 1999 to 2014, not an eight-fold increase.

          Then you believe wrong. Here is what you wrote verbatim:

          GREENWALD: Costs have gone up dramatically in the last 13 years.  Part of that is that payments have deteriorated rapidly and the other part is that asphalt prices increased eight-fold since 1999.  The result is that we must either pay a lot of money now or pay more later.

          Source: https://www.davisvanguard.org/council-approves-pavement-management-funding-plan/comment-page-1/

          It was your article I read and responded to, not anything quoted from a consultant. It is petty of you to blame your writing and your analysis and your words on someone else, if you did not quote them. And in your article, you used 1999 as a starting point. You should have known that 1999 was a cherry picked starting year. It was designed to tell a story. It distorted the facts, because 1999 was so unusual for crude oil prices.

          Note: the 8-fold claim was also completely false and senseless, aside from the distorted starting point. The 15-year increase was 2.6 times and that was itself only because 1999 was picked as the starting point. If 2009 had been picked, the increase would have been 0.0 times. If any other year was picked, you could have shown a negative trend or more modest increase mirroring inflation. That is the nature of commodities.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Okay, I see where you are referring. That graphic was generated by the consultants to the city – I cited their figure.

        4. hpierce

          “The thick plottens”…

          “It was your article I read and responded to, not anything quoted from a consultant.” (Rifkin)

          “That graphic was generated by the consultants to the city – I cited their figure.”

          Disconnect?

  2. Tia Will

    BP

    Or possibly the NYPD doesn’t want to be called racists by the race baiters for enforcing low level crimes which would involve a high number of people of color.”

    Is this comment merely an observation, or would you justify a policeman not doing the job he is paid to do because he doesn’t like the thought of being called a name ?

     

    1. Barack Palin

      Well, how many people jumped the officers for them trying to arrest Garner in NY for selling cigarettes on the street?  I read many posts where people felt this was a very low level crime that didn’t need to be enforced.

    1. Barack Palin

      Tia Will, don’t you think that officers all over the country are now feeling it’s not worth the hassle to enforce some of these low level crimes especially against blacks because they know they will be called racists?

      1. Tia Will

        BP

        I have no idea what police officers all over the country are thinking . However, I do know that if they think that being called a “bad name” is a justification for not doing their job, then I would question whether any individual that believes that is well suited for his/her job.

        I would also point out that at least in my mind “enforcement” does not include a fatal take down for a low level crime when so many other alternatives short of death or non enforcement are available to police.

  3. South of Davis

    David wrote:
    Davis firefighters’ union had been effectively engaging in a work slowdown, doing the minimum possible so as to not get in trouble
    If the city sets a minimum and the firefighters do it whT is the proem?
    Why not call out other government workers they do the minimum?

  4. Tia Will

    Why not call out other government workers they do the minimum?”

    Which other government workers on the local level do you believe have the same impact on public safety and thus have earned being called out in the same way ?

    1. South of Davis

      I bet there is not a single city employee that has taken more than the minimum number of sexual assault and sexual harassment training classes.  Tia can correct me if I am wrong but I believe she feels that city workers should not be sexually assisting the public…

      1. Tia Will

        South of Davis

        Tia can correct me if I am wrong but I believe she feels that city workers should not be sexually assisting the public…”

        I couldn’t make any comment at all based on a statement I do not understand. Did you really mean to say “sexually assisting the public ????”

         

    2. DavisBurns

      and safety workers have higher pay, benefits and earlier retirement than other government workers…they want to set themselves apart and that has to include doing your job well, not just the minimum.

  5. Rich RifkinWDE 73

    Training is critical for firefighters – especially given the relative few numbers of actual active structure fires they face. It keeps the firefighters in practice in terms of dealing with emergencies as well as keeping them up to date on the latest tactics. By reducing training, they quite possibly have put the public at risk.

    Much more likely, I would guess, not training sufficiently puts the firefighters at risk far more than it does the public. This is all the more true with younger, inexperienced firefighters. If someone has 15 or 20 years on the job, he likely has enough muscle memory to handle any emergency situation. But if another is a rookie or close to it, and he is not getting enough training, the young firefighter may lack the ability to do his job safely in a tough situation.

    In that (I think) a training slow-down represents a greater threat to firefighters, that might suggest the union is not actually doing what they have been accused of. However, my observation of unions is that very often unions do not act in the best interest of all of their members. They fight for the best interest of those who have power within the unions*. In this case, that may be for the highest paid firefighters with the most experience who are least threatened by a lack of training.
    —————
    *A case in point is the Davis Teachers Association. Every time they had the choice to either have everyone take a small cut in pay to the jobs of those with the least tenure or keep pay rates the same and have many teachers without much tenure lose their jobs, the DTA chose the former, more greedy route. There are probably examples where unions have done just the opposite in order to save all members’ jobs. However, in those cases, I would guess the power within those unions is not concentrated in the hands of the senior leaders but is more evenly spread out.

  6. Anon

    In November, the Vanguard published data that shows a trend regarding training, that suggests that the Davis firefighters’ union had been effectively engaging in a work slowdown, doing the minimum possible so as to not get in trouble, but cutting back on all other extra work.

    If the firefighters are putting in the minimum number of hours required for training, what is the problem?

    The result is that, despite the drop from 12 to 11 personnel, most people in the community are better covered than they were before the changes.
    Chief Trauernicht stated, “It is impressive no matter what issues challenge shared management. Certainly a time for the community to be proud of improved services.”
    However, these improvements may be challenged in the coming weeks and months by political forces bent on undoing these changes.”

    Now why would City Council members commit political suicide by voting to do away with the shared fire management agreement, which is working quite well, and saving the city money?

    “…the Davis firefighters held a celebration in April when former City Manager Steve Pinkerton left, which even included a countdown at 5 pm on the Friday that was Mr. Pinkerton’s last day. The actions created an embarrassing situation for public officials…

    How petty.  In my experience, what goes around comes around…

  7. Frankly

    I watched a TV program last night that was situated in Spain and included traveling through some of the antonymous communities.  For the residents of certain of these communities, when asked if they were Spanish first, the answer was consistently “no”.

    However, in the many European countries lauded by American left-leaning intellectuals and social justice crusaders, there generally exists a more homogenous base cultural connection.  Regional flavor rarely trumps the feeling of national cultural membership.

    This all has me thinking about the US and greater crime.

    Most people tend to protect what they consider their own.  In the US, because we are this huge melting pot with massive immigration, and because we have a core of multi-generational citizens and a political-media narrative that denigrates even the idea of the existence of an American culture, there is a lack of the feeling of community ownership that most European countries benefit from.   So American residents are more willing to cause harm to the community for personal gain… because they don’t feel ownership of the country they reside in.  The feel more that the US is just a vessel of opportunity to be exploited.   Anything they can do to get more is justified.

    And on top of this, we have entered a point in time where our politics have never been more divisive.  The political methods utilized have degraded to primarily conflict in a divide and conquer strategy.

    One of the political heroes of the political right is Ronald Reagan.  Regardless if you disliked his policies, Reagan’s message was one that increased a sense that American was a great country that every resident should be proud to be a part of.  Immediately after her husband was elected, Michele Obama said “for once, I am proud of my country”.

    Those arguing against my suggestion that Reagan was better for our country than has been Obama with respect to crime will point to reduced rates of crime.  However, the reasons for this has been tougher policing.  And as Seattle has discovered after the police department was put under the scrutiny of a court-appointed monitor, the result of a 2012 Justice Department complaint accusing it of a pattern of using force that denied people’s constitutional rights… softer policing is resulting in a big spike in crime.

    The US is a large and diverse country.  Either we return to honoring it as a place with its own national identity where we all pledge allegiance and honor it as our own, or we demand stronger law enforcement to compensate from the increase in the number of people disconnected and motivated to pursue personal gain at any cost to the country.

    1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

      FRANKLY: “… situated in Spain and included traveling through some of the antonymous communities.”

      Autonomous?

      One thing to keep in mind with Spain is that, although Franco tried to make it a Castilian country, it has always been multi-lingual in regions. The Basque language is very different from “Spanish,” and it is not even a Romantic tongue. The primary languages of Andalusia and Catalonia have never been the same as that in Castile. Additionally, even where Castilian is primary, there are very strong regional dialects, such as the Castilian spoken in Galicia.

      France has a similar history of having multiple languages in its various parts. However, with only a few minor exceptions, Napoleon Bonaparte was very successful in stamping out all the competitors to French–even though he spoke French with a Corsican-Italian accent. So in the 19th Century, France became for the first time a French-speaking country.

      Our language history in the U.S. is of course very uneven and full of diversity. It always has been. We have had large German-speaking regions where no children learned to speak English as their first language. (You ever wonder why Lawrence Welk spoke English with a thick German accent, despite the fact that he was born in Strasburg, North Dakota?) Today we have large Spanish-speaking regions, where it is hard to find anyone who is fluent in standard English.

      I think you and I likely agree that for the sake of national harmony, we should encourage everyone to speak fluent English in the U.S.; and we should have high standards in our schools to make sure every kid knows the difference between the words autonomous and antonymous. It also benefits those who come from non-English ethnic backgrounds to integrate and have a better chance at success if they can speak English well. But it doesn’t harm anyone if they are also fluent in the language of their grandparents’ homeland.

      1. Frankly

        Good catch.  Yes, wrong word.  I need a context-sensitive spell checker!  And yes, we need all children to be fluent in English.  But I think there is another larger issue at hand… one that maybe is mitigated by more speaking fluent English.  It is the existence of a binding culture.

        A utopian vision of society is one where everyone knows and follows the rules to live by without much conflict that cannot be resolved by simple mediation.   True utopia is never attainable, but it seems you move closer to it when everyone feels that he/she belongs to and is part of the community.  And that there is a feeling of ownership in the community.  Why would you trash something you own?  And why wouldn’t you be less considerate of the things you don’t feel ownership of?

  8. Tia Will

    Rich

    it doesn’t harm anyone if they are also fluent in the language of their grandparents’ homeland.”

    I would say it does much more. Being bilingual presents opportunities that those who are monolingual do not have. So should we make it a prerequisite that all students master at least two languages ?  I would argue that this would open many doors to our citizens that are currently firmly closed to them.

    1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

      我一直想在一家中国餐馆只能说中国订购的中国菜。不幸的是,我不能说中国话,并没有中国服务生,我知道理解像我这样的外国佬西班牙语口语。

      Note: I translated this back from Chinese to English on Google and it came back quite nonsensical. Of course, the original was a rather lame, scatterbrained attempt at humor.

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