Tag Archives: firefighters

Stopping the “Death Clock”

Over the course of a career, firefighters are relentlessly exposed to a hellish mix of toxins. These exposures put firefighters at a substantially greater risk of getting cancer — a reality documented in more than 80 peer-reviewed medical studies. Law enforcement officers – regularly exposed to toxins and often without breathing apparatus – pay a similarly heavy price.

Sacrificing your life to slow-motion poisoning from job-related exposure isn’t as dramatic as dying in a fiery instant, but for firefighters and police officers, it is every bit as noble and heroic.

For their families, time is especially important. Every day spent fighting for life is also another day with the family … another day with the hope of a cure. While they fight, stricken officers have the comfort of knowing that, should they die, their survivors will enjoy a modest safeguard in the form of workers’ comp death benefits.

But, believe it or not, those safeguards come with an expiration date.  

Because of a provision created in 1913, a firefighter or police officer stricken with job-related diseases must die within 240 weeks of his or her diagnosis in order for survivors to qualify for the death benefit. If a stricken officer lives one day longer than 240 weeks, their spouses and children lose out.

Closing this cruel loophole is at the heart of Assembly Bill 1373, Assembly Speaker John Perez’s measure that won overwhelming bipartisan approval in the Legislature last week.  AB 1373 narrowly modifies this 100-year-old “death clock”, extending the cutoff to 480 weeks while ensuring that the benefit goes to immediate dependents.

Sadly, a lot of active firefighters and police officers who are diagnosed with job-caused illnesses don’t get to test that limit – they die before it hits. But in the relatively few cases where modern medicine extends life, this outdated limit imposes a heartbreaking penalty on the survivors.

Last year, in the midst of a heated ballot campaign and under intense lobbying by special interests like the League of California Cities, Governor Brown vetoed similar legislation, citing its potential cost. With those concerns addressed, AB 1373 is back on the governor’s desk.

If you have just a minute, please go to this page to watch a short video and, if you’re so inclined, sign a petition urging the governor to sign AB 1373.

The Senate and Assembly votes to approve AB 1373 were overwhelming and bipartisan. Supporters included the full spectrum – from “fiscal wonks” to “big spenders.”  They understood that it’s not about unions, or firefighters, or police officers. It’s about families who shouldn’t be punished because their loved one didn’t die fast enough.

With more than half a decade of public safety downsizing under our belts, California first responders are no strangers to the tight budget times. But with or without the cost figures, basic humanity suggests that spouses and children shouldn’t be forced to pay a penalty for hoping that a loved one stays around a little longer.

Please urge Gov. Brown to sign AB 1373.

Republicans Admit Taxes Needed – Still Refuse To Allow Them

Dave Johnson, Speak Out California

California Republicans finally, finally submitted what they claim is a plan to attack the budget deficits, detailing specifics of the cuts they are demanding.  The plan they submitted only cuts the deficit in half, thereby admitting (but not admitting) the urgent need to raise taxes to cover the other half of the deficit.

The Republican plan guts public schools, community colleges, Medi-Cal, transit, mental health and many other programs.  And yet it still leaves half of the deficit in place.  So it isn’t really a “plan” at all.  It is just one more extremist demand that we gut public schools.

A phrase like “guts schools and programs” becomes abstract when it is heard often enough.  So what does this mean to the average Californian?  What kind of education will children receive as we push to 40 or more students per classroom?  Will they be safe if the district cannot afford crossing guards or buses?  Will any of us be safe after police and firefighters are cut back?  Do we go another decade without improving mass transit or even repairing roads and bridges?  Will epidemics spread as health care is cut back?  What about three-hour lines at the DMV?  And what happens to people’s ability to train for jobs when community colleges are cut way back?  

The Republicans demand that we sacrifice the education of an entire generation of school-aged Californians, so that a few wealthy people and corporations can become even wealthier!  Their benefactors are covered — with their kids are in $20,000-a-year private academies.  But what will this do to the economic future of the rest of this generation, and to the future of California?  They don’t care.

This process as it has unfolded over so many years has shown us that California is ungovernable until we remove the current 2/3-requirement system that allows a small group of extremists to hold the state hostage.

Click through to Speak Out California.

California’s Fires and Katrina’s Legacy

As David Dayen notes in the story just below this one, fires continue to burn across California, with the massive blazes in Goleta and Big Sur getting the focus of the state’s attention. And as he and other outlets have mentioned, California’s firefighting capacities have been strained beyond their limits.

More and more residents, especially in Big Sur, have noticed just how many fewer firefighters there seem to be for this blaze, as compared to previous fires in the area. As conservative demands for low taxes and budget cuts have helped slash available fire protection, residents in Big Sur increasingly feel they are on their own, though they appreciate the fire protection they have received. The legacy of Hurricane Katrina – when nobody came to help New Orleans – has led some residents to refuse to evacuate out of a belief that if they don’t protect their homes, nobody will.

It’s a frustrating and sometimes chaotic situation that is the direct product of conservative attacks on basic government services – they want people to fend for themselves, and often that is extremely difficult to do.

One of the most high profile Big Sur residents who has stayed behind to protect his property is Kirk Gafill, whose family opened the famous Nepenthe restaurant in 1949. As he and his employees stayed behind to put out burning embers themselves, he explained to a reporter why he stayed:

“We know fire officials don’t have the manpower to secure our properties,” Gafill said. “There are a lot of people in this community not following evacuation orders. Based on what we saw during Katrina and other disasters, we know we can only rely on ourselves and our neighbors.”

Such do-it-yourself firefighting led one Big Sur resident to be arrested for setting his own backfires. Another resident defended that person’s actions on the Ventana Wilderness Society’s forums, one of the main sources of community information on the fire:

We have been working on defending Apple Pie from this fire day and night since it started. We watched it grow over the coast ridge, down to the Big Sur River and up over Post Summit. The gov was not going to help defend the ranch even when our homes were about to burn. We didn’t think they would either. But they didn’t have any problem sending someone to arrest us. Our comminity just can’t accept actions like this. If we didn’t do what we did the ranch would be nothing but ashes. I say thank you to everyone who helped us and a thank you for all the firefighters, and pilots who TRIED to stop it from crossing the firebreaks to our homes.

Setting one’s own backfires is a desperate and even reckless act – but those who do not believe their government will or wants to help them are likely to resort to desperate measures.

Meanwhile California does not have enough money saved for firefighting efforts. Almost every year for the last ten years California has had to dip into reserves to pay for firefighting, but this year the SF Chronicle reports the gap is much wider:

But in the just-completed fiscal year, there was a big gap between the actual cost of firefighting and the budgeted amount. The state had set aside just $82 million for such emergencies, forcing it to spend more than $310 million from the state’s general fund cash reserves of $858 million.

California will have to continue dipping into its reserves until the Legislature and the governor approve a new budget for the fiscal year that began Tuesday…

But Assembly Republican Rick Keene from Chico said he opposes the fee proposal, arguing that fire protection is a basic service that the state should cover in its current budget.

“It’s something that our government system is already supposed to be paying for and we’re asking taxpayers to pay for it?” he said. “We’re hoping that our Democratic friends would just stop ringing the bell of raising taxes, raising taxes and raising taxes.”

And so California comes full circle. Hurricane Katrina became such a human catastrophe because conservative budget and spending cuts left New Orleans residents without adequate protection and aid. Californians in places like Big Sur, mindful of that experience and aware that firefighting is currently understaffed, are making increasingly risky efforts to try and protect themselves. Efforts to provide funding for adequate fire protection are opposed by conservatives who prioritize tax cuts over fire protection and who think schools and hospitals should be closed instead to pay for it.

California firefighting has already been badly neglected by decades of conservatism. It’s time we rebuilt our public services so that individuals do not feel the need to risk their lives to defend their property – at least not in these numbers.

Conservatives Continue to Oppose Fire Protection

I’ll be on KRXA 540 AM in Monterey at 8 AM Thursday morning to discuss this and other California-related topics

As you might remember from last fall, California conservatives tend to prefer low taxes to adequate fire protection. As Northern California is ablaze – with two huge fires burning out of control in the Big Sur mountains to the south of me – attention is again focused on providing adequate fire services. And as Democrats and Arnold Schwarzenegger debate the best way to fund it, conservative Republicans continue to fight the very concept. From the San Jose Mercury News:

Hoping to buy more fire engines and helicopters, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is proposing a statewide surcharge on property insurance of $6 to $12 a year. Another lawmaker, state Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, wants to charge a $50 yearly fee on the 900,000 homeowners living in rural areas to fund fire prevention….

The new engines were recommended by a state task force after massive wildfires in Southern California in 2003 killed 24 people and burned 3,600 homes.

The governor’s proposal would add a surcharge on property insurance for all commercial and residential structures statewide. In ZIP codes designated as “high-hazard zones” for earthquakes, fires or floods, the fee would be 1.4 percent, about $12.60 a household per year. In “low-hazard zones,” the surcharge would be 0.75 percent, or $6.75 a year.

The main debate between Kehoe’s and Arnold’s proposals is who should pay for the costs of fighting fires in the urban-wilderness interface. I like that Arnold’s plan would have higher rates for those in higher risk areas, but would still require all property owners to pay something. The fact is that even the brush fires are not exclusively a threat to folks who chose to live in fire-prone areas. Much of California is a fire-prone area, even the urban areas.

Last fall, the Santiago Fire in Orange County came within 1/4 mile of my grandparents’ home in Tustin and within a mile of the home where I grew up and where my parents still live. It’s on the coastal plain, not in the foothills, not in the brush. But a fire that gets started in the brush can easily get blown into a densely populated area. And of course, the large fires require departments from across the state to respond, but someone’s gotta stay behind. Since most fire departments in California are understaffed – such as here on the Monterey Peninsula – it is imperative we add the necessary equipment. And let us not forget the threat of earthquakes.

Of course, to conservative Republicans none of this matters, because omg it’s a hidden tax increase!!

Taxpayer groups and many Republican leaders oppose it.

“It’s not fair to the general taxpayer in an urban area,” said David Wolfe, legislative director for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “They are subsidizing people who are choosing to live in high fire danger areas.”

Critics also call the plan a ruse to cover up firefighting cuts Schwarzenegger suggested in his January budget proposal that contained 10 percent cuts of every department.

“Our state budget is $110 billion. If we can’t dedicate enough money for basic public safety, then what the hell is government doing with our money?” said Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries, R-Murrieta.

Remember that conservative Republicans pulled the same thing in Orange County in 2005, helping defeat a measure that would have channeled more of existing funds into the OC Fire Authority, which found itself shorthanded last fall when the Santiago Fire broke out.

It is common sense that we properly fund our fire services. Whether it’s Kehoe’s or Arnold’s plan we adopt, the conservative Republican attitude of “you’re on your own” must be firmly rejected.

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 440 Endorses Greg Pettis in CA 80th Assembly

XPosted 5/23/2008 1:14 AM PDT on MyDesert.com in Blog by BluePalmSpringsBoyz

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 440 has endorsed Pettis in his race to replace Bonnie Garcia.  IBEW Local 440 has long been active in Coachella Valley politics and Progressive Democratic circles.

Chuck McDaniel, an IBEW Local 440 leader and activist, had previously endorsed Pettis for the 80th AD.  McDaniel is also Vice-President of the newly formed Desert Hot Springs Democratic Club and is a member of the Riverside County Democratic Central Committee.

Garcia is termed out and cannot run for re-election.

More below the flip…

The good news for Proud Progressive Democrats is that the Coachella Valley is trending blue with last year’s wins by Steve Pougnet for Mayor of Palm Springs, by Rick Hutcheson in the Palm Springs City Council, by Karl Baker in the Desert Hot Springs City Council, by Greg Pettis in the Cathedral City City Council, by Craig Ewing in the Desert Water Agency, and No on C.  Garcia barely won re-election in the last race against a little-known candidate and poorly-funded, Steve Clute, who did not have the backing of all of the Democratic clubs because of his opposition to Marriage Equality.

In addition, Democrats now out-register Republicans by more than 15,000 voters!  The voter registration figures are also trending Democratic across the district from Desert Hot Springs, Palm Springs, and Cathedral City in the West Valley to Indio, Coachella, and even Rancho Mirage, La Quinta, and Palm Desert in Down Valley.  Add to this the fact that Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs, Cathedral City, Coachella, and Indio all went for Kerry/Edwards in 2004 makes the 80th AD ripe for the pickings of an experienced Progressive Democratic candidate with the credentials of Pettis.

Pettis has a well-funded, well-oiled candidacy and has already outraised and outspent all of his competitors combined in FundRace 2008!  in the last reporting period, Pettis also outraised his presumptive Republican opponent, Gary Jeandron.  In addition, Pettis already has endorsements from all of the local Democratic clubs who have endorsed, including the Pass Democratic Club, the Desert Hot Springs Democratic Club, the Desert Stonewall Democrats, Inland Stonewall Democrats, the Palm Springs Democratic Club, the San Diego Democratic Club, and the San Diego Democratic Women’s Club.

Other labor organizations already endorsing Pettis include the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the Building Trades of California, California AFL-CIO, Cathedral City Professional Firefighters, San Bernardino/Riverside Counties Central Labor Council, San Diego/Imperial Counties Central Labor Council, and Teamsters Joint Council 42.

Catalina Wildfire UPDATE

(Video courtesy of CatalinaPhotographer.com)

Here’s an update from today’s OC Register on the Catalina Wildfire:

A wildfire that has burned an estimated 4,200 acres of hillside brush on Santa Catalina Island is now about 50 percent contained, according to a report released this morning.

Full containment is expected sometime Monday, one day earlier than previously expected. Cool, moist weather assisted firefighters overnight in making progress on containing the fire.

Residents have been allowed to return but visitors are still barred from the island until further notice.

About 4,000 people were evacuated from Avalon on Thursday night and Friday morning, as officials worried about the fire possibly creeping into town. But fortunately, Avalon has mostly been spared. Only one home and six industrial buildings on the outskirts of town have so far been destroyed.

And thank goodness for all the brave firefighters who have been busy controlling this blazing inferno! Some 21 firefighters and 5 fire engines from Orange County have been assisting all the LA County firefighters in containing this blaze. Hopefully soon, all these courageous individuals will be allowed to come home once this fire is dead and gone.