(Note: I have asked a variety of people to submit an essay to me to be posted during the month of December, to be called “Looking Forward to 2008”. This entry was written by Jeff Caynon.)
I have been a proud member of the Houston Fire Department and the Houston Professional Firefighters Association for nearly fourteen years. I am honored to lead the 3800 members of nation’s fourth largest firefighter’s union. As the newly elected President of the HPFFA I’m looking forward to 2008 as the beginning of a new era for Houston firefighters. Along with the Board of Directors, I have the good fortune to lead the men and women of HFD who are committed to serving the public. We are committed to improving our membership’s lives and working conditions.
The Houston Fire Department is the largest and busiest fire department in the state of Texas responding to well over 250,000 calls annually. We are the largest ISO rated “1” department in the world which results in lower insurance rates for every citizen and business owner in the city. We have one of the nation’s highest cardiac arrest survival rates (see this USA Today article). We have been partners in numerous medical studies including Dr. James Grotta’s recent stroke study. We are a model for fire-based EMS Systems. The HFD Arson division has a case closure rate above the national average. We have built a successful partnership between HFD, building managers, the Building Department in Triad, which has been touted as a national model. Recently we have been successful in passing a sprinkler retrofit ordinance.
I say all this to demonstrate that in every measurable way except for one HFD comes out ahead of our peers. The one indicator that is consistently out of line with the rest is SALARY. Fire House magazine ranks paid professional fire departments annually. In my fire department career HFD has never made it into the top 150.
In what will likely be the most important issue of this union’s administration, we are preparing for our next Collective Bargaining Agreement with the city. The current agreement was negotiated on the heels of six years without a pay increase under the Brown Administration. At the time both city administration and union leadership agreed that after all the years of neglect the city could not close the gap in the very first Collective Bargaining Agreement. It is time to repair the damage. We continue to slip behind our professional peers.
Another high priority issue we have is also a distressing safety concern. In partnership with Fire department administration, we intend to restore some important safety related staffing. A decision in 1989 that had more to do with saving money than lives caused Incident Command Technicians (formerly known as Chief’s Aides) to be cut from the fire department budget. Labor and management have agreed since that time on the importance of the positions for not only the safety of the public, but firefighters as well. We need to have the IC techs back as soon as possible.
We are looking forward to 2008 to take a step forward while righting some of the wrongs of the past.
Jeff Caynon is the President of the Houston Professional Firefighters Association.