Fortunately, An Adult in the Room

This is a story about selfishness, small-time greed and entitlement.

No, it’s not about my 3-year old nephew.

It’s about members of the Fullerton Fire Department and their Chief, Wolfgang “Wolf” Knabe and the culture of permissiveness overseen by our former City Manager Joe “Fast and Loose” Felz.

Back in September a couple of off-duty fire department employees managed to get themselves lost in Yosemite by foolishly trying to take a shortcut across some sort of moving water. The hue and cry went out – all the way to Fullerton. So members of the FFD drove City vehicles up north to show solidarity with their lost comrades who were discovered a day or two later.

What happened next may or may not surprise you depending on your familiarity with the sense of entitlement held by Fullerton’s “public safety” employees.

Chief Knabe, who makes well over $200,000 a year and is Fullerton’s highest paid employee, attempted to stick the taxpayers of Fullerton with the cost of gas, steak dinners and hotel accommodations for this purely elective field trip.

Here are the relevant documents.

Firefighters Javier Avelar, sixth from left, and Dave Brown, seventh from left, seen here joined on Sept. 13 by colleagues who trekked to Yosemite to help find them after they were reported missing by family.


Hero presser: Fullerton/Brea Fire Departments fire chief Wolfgang Kanabe explains during a press conference in Fullerton on Wednesday, how two Fullerton firefighters went missing in Yosemite during a six-day backpacking trip. They were supposed to return on Sunday. Searchers found them Tuesday. September 14, 2016. (Photo by Ken Steinhardt, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Knabe tried to justify the whole episode as some sort of job-related effort and a PR triumph for himself and his department, but fortunately our Finance Department Director, Julia James, was having none of it, and quite appropriately deemed such a reimbursement as a gift of public funds.

In the end Wolfie had to use a “donation” account (which is still public money), and which begs the question of whether or not donors are giving money to the department to pay for steak dinners for our Heroes.

F.F.D. Doesn’t Want Your Finger on the Pulse

Or Perhaps They’re Just Missing the Point of PulsePoint

Allow me to introduce you to PulsePoint.

When life is on the line every second matters. PulsePoint is designed to allow people with C.P.R. training to respond to emergencies. It’s brilliant.

According to their own website:

Through the use of modern, location-aware mobile devices PulsePoint is building applications that work with local public safety agencies to improve communications with citizens and empower them to help reduce the millions of annual deaths from Sudden Cardiac Arrest.

Know C.P.R.? Check a box and it’ll show you calls needing C.P.R. and notify you if you’re near.

Got it? The entire point is to allow people to respond to medical emergencies in a timely manner. The App is literally about saving lives. And I mean literally in the actual sense here.

Why am I writing this?

Because here’s a screenshot of Fullerton Fire Department activity from tonight:

And here’s a screenshot from the Orange County Fire Authority:

Did you catch what’s missing from the F.F.D. data?

Medical Calls. Literally the whole point of the App.

We share data with an App designed to help with medical calls and yet we, as a city, omit medical calls.

This is bureaucratic bureaucracy at it’s best. We’ll participate so long as we don’t have to actually, you know, participate. It’s not like this is about trying to save lives or anything.

Fullerton Fire Hero Goes Viral

Our famous firefighter video has become some sort of Internet sensation, bringing in tens of thousands of viewers and building some serious buzz. Oddly enough, the clip seems to be extra popular on computers within the halls of public agencies throughout the nation.

But just in case you missed it, here it is again:

And a special thank you to our anonymous friend, Mr. Oliver Stone. The popularity of this clip has inspired other cinematic greats such as “Cop Gets Schooled” and “Fire Chief Watches House Burn.” Keep ’em coming, Mr. Stone.

Firefighters Lose. How Much Do They Make, Anyway?

Here’s a fun repeat-post from last spring – featuring two of 4SD Observer’s favorite idols: emergency service providers and the dim-witted Pam Keller. For sheer fat-headedness, selfishness, and fiscal irresponsibility, you just can’t beat the ESP union.

– Joe Sipowicz

Pam Keller was the only city council member who did not have the guts to impose a %5 pay reduction on members of the Fullerton firefighter’s union after negotiations failed on Tuesday. The union refused to accept a deal similar to those offered to all other Fullerton employees.

The union says the pay cut is unfair. Is that true? Let’s see what firefighters actually took home last year:

View the 2009 Fullerton Fire Dept payroll

In addition to the gross pay numbers above, firefighters receive the following estimated benefits at the city’s expense:

Pension contribution: ~30% of base salary. Ranges from $15,000 to 28,000/yr, not including unfunded liabilities
Medical: $5,460 to $14,748/yr
Dental: $588 to $1,128/yr

Not a bad gig. It’s no wonder there are hundreds of applicants whenever a position opens up.

Does Keller really think that asking this highly compensated group of public employees to take the same pay cut as everyone else was “unfair?’

Us public employees gotta watch out for each other.

Or perhaps Pam is just sticking to what Pam does best: Helping folks suck as much as possible out of the public trough. By any means, at any cost.

Volunteer Firefighters Account for 1/3 of OC Fire Authority’s First Responders – Fullerton ZERO

The front page of the September 9, 2010 Orange County Register brings to light how a good idea is implemented poorly.

The article discusses a report from an un-named source that shares data on response times from reserve firefighting and medical units in Orange County. According to the article, there are 495 reserve positions with only 291 positions filled. Of the 291 positions, 41 will be laid off or fired.

Let’s put it in perspective. The Orange County Fire Authority employs 841 full-time firefighters/fire management personnel. They have budgeted 495 reserves for FY2009-10. That means that nearly 1/3 of total first responder capabilities rest in the hands of reserves. Fullerton has no reserve firefighters to help shore up minimum staffing requirements and minimize overtime. For a department which was founded as a volunteer fire department I find it ironic that they now have zero reserves on hand to help.

The OC Register article goes into the asset versus liability of having reserve fire units. Essentially, the report finds that several reserve units failed to respond to calls. That in and of itself is problematic but the real question that is missed is where has management been? You would think that management would notice pretty quickly that the reserves are not responding and then take corrective action. Apparently no one noticed.

Amazingly, the solution is quite simple. By integrating reserves with professionals in the same manner as law enforcement agencies, the reserve can be better managed and will have the opportunity to receive peer mentoring.

Why has management allowed reserves to have their own volunteer units and not an integrated approach? My guess is that the OCFA union would not allow it through their MOU or no one cared enough to explore the use and utility of having reserves. For that matter, why do we still have firefighters being paid to sleep in regional firehouses? No other public agency outside of fire service, would allow employees to sleep on the job.

I realize the thought of working an 8- or 12-hour shift might terrorize some firefighters but it would certainly make better sense than having dozens of high-paid public servants sleeping on the job. Other communities have already implemented 8-hour shifts. It would also address the argument that firefighters deserve their high pay and pension because they are away from their family more than other public employees. With that argument one would think our soldiers are millionaires considering the time they spend away from their families.

Firefighting has its own culture based largely on tradition. When those traditions negatively affect taxpayers, it is time to think if we want to continue down this costly “traditional” road or cut a brave new path that leads to improved services and lower costs.

Fullerton Fire Chief Rescues Entire City

When you think things can’t get any screwier at City Hall, look out! According to this story in the Voice of OC, the Fullerton Fire Department will save Brea taxpayers about $220,000 per year by sharing a battalion chief position that is now vacant.

Who would have guessed that Fullerton would come to the rescue of Brea , especially considering our serious budget problems and the deep cuts felt by many? Apparently, Fullerton Fire Chief Wolfgang Knabe must be feeling some brotherhood kindred spirit howling from the mall next door and has taken it upon himself to experiment at Fullerton ’s taxpayer’s expense. According to Knabe, maybe it will work and everyone will save money, or maybe it won’t and we all lose. Makes you feel good, doesn’t it!

Maintain radio silence

In all fairness, let’s hear him out and see what our City Council had to say about Knabe’s plan… (deafening silence) It would appear our own City Council didn’t know we were bailing out the City of Brea and their Fire Department. In fact, no one except a couple of Fire Chiefs seems to know anything about this experiment.

According to the Voice, we will be sharing a battalion chief which will help both cities fill their respective vacancies with the same person who can be in two places at once. Neat trick; I’d like to see it though.

I hear sirens coming and they sound like the Orange County Fire Authority! Ok, here is a trick question for you. Brea citizens and the Brea Fire Department staff wanted to have the department “disbanded”, as the Voice calls it, and have the OCFA take over. Why? Sure the taxpayers save money, but what’s in it for the would-be disbanded employees?

Fullerton’s $100,000 Pension Club Welcomes 15 New Members

It’s been almost a year since we published the original list of retired Fullerton public employees earning over $100,000 per year in pensions.

Since then we have learned that our state’s unfunded pension liability has grown to over $500 billion dollars. Our Friends over at California Pension Reform have updated their list of CalPERS pensions, bringing on fifteen new “hundred grand” members from Fullerton this year. That’s an increase of 40% in a single year.

So let’s see who is getting the most from largess from taxpayers. New members are in bold:

Name Annual Pension Position
JAMES “JIM” REED $166,781.88 Fire
GEOFFREY SPALDING $149,852.88 Police
GREGORY MAYES $148,889.40 Police
MICHAEL MAYNARD $140,317.20 Police
DANIEL CHIDESTER $139,416.72 Fire
FRANK PAUL DUDLEY $133,821.00 Development Services Director
ALLEN BURKS $133,782.36 Police
DOUGLAS CAVE $130,761.36 Police
GLENN STEINBRINK $127,533.00 Administrative Director
ANTONIO HERNANDEZ $127,402.20 Police
H SUSAN HUNT $126,970.80 Director of Park and Recreation
STEVEN MATSON $126,430.68 Police
RONNY ROWELL $125,168.40 Police
TERRY STRINGHAM $123,482.28 Fire
GEORGE NEWMAN $121,410.60
RICHARD RILEY $121,113.36
MARK FLANNERY $120,934.68 Director of Personnel
DAVID STANKO $120,279.84 Police
ROBERT HODSON $119,956.08 Director of Engineering
ROBERT “BOB” RICHARDSON $119,720.88 Police
PATRICK MCKINLEY $118,446.48 Chief of Police
DANIEL BECERRA $116,917.20 Police
NEAL BALDWIN $116,740.68 Police
PHILIP GOEHRING $115,076.04 Police
BRAD HOCKERSMITH $115,053.84 Fire
JEFFREY ROOP $113,618.88 Police
KURT BERTUZZI $109,255.08 Fire
LINDA KING $108,168.84 Police
DONALD “DON” PEARCE $107,972.76 Police
CAROLYN JOHNSON $107,179.80 Library Director
PAUL TURNEY $105,747.12
RONALD “RON” GILLETT $105,499.56 Police
ARTHUR WIECHMANN $104,153.76 Police
JONATHON “JON” MCAULAY $102,034.80 Fire
JOHN PIERSON $101,524.92
HUGH BERRY $100,488.84 Assistant City Manager
WILLIAM KENDRICK $100,194.48 Police

Remember… public employee pensions are negotiated between the unions and our city council. It’s time to figure out who has been representing the taxpayers and who has been sticking up for the unions.