First, I want to correct a mistake I made when writing the IFPD Newsletter that appeared in last week’s Town Crier. In my haste to rewrite the newsletter at the request of the Town Crier publisher shortly before my deadline, I wrote that we should be setting aside $50,000 a year to replace our firefighter’s “turnouts.”

Of course, that’s ridiculous on its face. I should have said $5,000, not $50,000. Apparently, no one else noticed my rather obvious error, but that doesn’t make me any less embarrassed, and I apologize for my mistake.

Secondly, I feel compelled to comment on Town Crier Editor J.P. Crumrine’s column in last week’s edition wherein he criticized the contents of a “thank-you” letter signed by four IFPD commissioners, expressing our appreciation for the willingness of our firefighters to accept a freeze in their pay and benefits during 2011–12 and to begin paying a portion of their retirement benefits. Crumrine belittled the fact that the total savings were “only” $34,000. The correct figure (don’t laugh) is $36,505, or an average of $4,056 in lost pay and benefits for our nine career firefighters. Maybe that’s an insignificant amount to Crumrine, but I think most of us would feel otherwise.

Crumrine also criticized a statement in that letter saying our firefighters are significantly underpaid in comparison to their counterparts in other departments, “both near and far.” That’s a true statement, and Crumrine knows it because he’s been given information that backs it up. So what does he do?

He compares us with the U.S. Forest Service — the only agency whose personnel make less than our firefighters do. Forest Service firefighters are trained to fight wildland fires, but not structure fires, and while some Forest Service firefighters are EMTs, they are only required to be First Responders and CPR qualified, while all of IFPD’s firefighters are either paramedics (which includes all six captains and engineers) or EMTs.

Forest Service firefighters are required to work five 8-hour days and go home at night while our folks work two 24-hour days back-to-back and may not go home during their shift. I’m not saying that Forest Service firefighters don’t deserve more than they get, I’m just saying that J.P. is comparing apples to oranges.

Then, Crumrine points out that, on top of their salaries, Idyllwild firefighters can earn overtime, but ignores the fact that U.S. Forest Service firefighters can also earn overtime. He goes on to compare our fire chief’s salary with that of a Forest Service “division chief” who is two ranks below our chief. The Forest fire chief’s position has a salary range from $91,141 to $118,481.

I don’t know what motivates Crumrine to continually criticize IFPD (me in particular) about anything and everything. IFPD commissioners are volunteers who receive nothing for the time and effort they contribute, other than the satisfaction of knowing they are serving our community.

We do the best we can, but that doesn’t seem to satisfy the Town Crier.

Ben Killingsworth, Commissioner
Idyllwild Fire Protection District

Editor’s note: First, the necessity to rewrite the IFPD newsletter was a result of the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission’s staff review of the newletter.

We were trying to save the department money and legal action given they are in the midst of a political campaign over Measure G. Although they were responsible for putting the measure on the ballot, a public agency must still remain neutral.

Secondly, the Forest fire chief’s General Schedule pay range does begin about where IFPD pays its chief. The IFPD chief manages one station and nine firefighters. The Forest fire chief has responsibility for 25 fire stations and a staff of more than 100 personnel.

The San Jacinto District fire chief, whose pay range is below IFPD’s, manages seven fire stations and a staff of more than 50.

Comparing the title to evaluate “apples to apples” may be Ben’s right, but the comparison of responsibility suggests he is comparing a grape tomato with a beefsteak tomato.