Woods can’t take the heat from budget cuts, calls it quits

Did anyone else just start laughing when they read about Fire Chief Ken Woods’ retirement announcement?

Seriously, I couldn’t stop giggling. The part that I found particularly funny was how Woods made it seem like he was making a huge personal sacrifice. Thanks for retiring, Ken – you might be saving the City a lot of money on your salary, but exactly how much are you still going to be raking in via your pension?

Woods is right about one thing though – his retirement will be good for the community. That’s not a knock against him personally, nor a comment on his work as the Fire Chief. I’m sure he was doing a damned good job.

But I stopped laughing right around the time when I read that one person retiring and turning one full time job into a part time job will save the City $280,000. Nope, that’s not a joke kids.

That’s a very clear indication of how rampantly out of touch with reality that the compensation system for public servants has become here in Humboldt County. Kim Bergel’s comments that Woods isn’t getting a Golden Handshake is ridiculous – of course he is! EVERYONE making $100,000 plus in our current CALPERS funded pension system is getting a Golden Handshake.

See, I don’t think this one retirement is going to do much, and I sure as hell don’t think we should be looking at this like some kind of gallant act. One person leaving their overpaid position does not fix a system-wide problem of overpaying an entire department.

It further pissed me off that after all the hullaballoo about how badly Eureka’s budget cuts were going to effect public safety that Woods didn’t make much mention of it. In fact, he said “It’s just difficult for all of our firefighters to have to now shut down and brown out fire stations because of the city’s budget.”

Umm….difficult for the firefighters?? Exactly how many firefighters lost their jobs as a result of these budget cuts? Oh that’s right – none.

How about the budget cuts were difficult for the tax-paying public that are having a hard time fathoming why in the hell their tax burdens are continually going up and the powers that be in Humboldt County are continually screwing them over? How about, “It’s a shame we have to brown out Fire Station No. 4 because the public loses out,” rather than “it’s too bad Fire Station No. 4 closed because now firefighters will have less time on the street.” Which is Fire Chief-talk for “aww shucks, firefighters won’t be getting the same amount of overtime as last year.”

But you know what, I wish more department heads in Humboldt County would take Woods’ lead. It’s a generous admission on his part that he’s being paid way too much -if other public “servants” in this County took his lead and pulled their heads out of their asses, maybe they’d realize the same thing.

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24 Responses to Woods can’t take the heat from budget cuts, calls it quits

  1. ArmChairQB says:

    That isn’t the half of it. I have it on good authority that City Ambulance offered to put an ambulance in Station 4 at no charge to the taxpayers, and the City turned them down. I heard the decision was driven by the firefighter employee union who wants to keep their overtime. So when they brown out the Station, Silvercrest residents have the city reps to the JPA, Melinda Ciarabellini and Kim Bergel to thank when the ambulance is coming from halfway across town.

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  2. Nick says:

    Your anger is a bit misplaced. Chief Woods was a Volunteer Chief (as in no compensation) before being hired with Humboldt Fire District #1 and later becoming the Chief of Humboldt Bay Fire so his CalPers retirement will be small compared with someone who works a full 30 years. While he is not the most eloquent speaker, the issue of firefighters having a tough time with the browning out of stations comes down to not wanting to provide less services to the community. The overtime is built in to the budget because unlike “regular” jobs where an employee takes sick time or vacation and the position is left vacant in fire/EMS and law enforcement the position has to be filled or emergency service is compromised. FYI it is cheaper to pay overtime that hire more employees. The total money saved includes salary and benefits.

    What is the magic number for compensation?
    Would you like Fire/EMS and police to be paid minimum wage?

    The time it takes to become a public safety employee and the continuing training and the risk involved warrants fair compensation and by industry standards the pay in Humboldt County is very low. Better yet, lets replace them with volunteer firefighters! If you think being a volunteer firefighter is the same as a career firefighter you are very mistaken. While they can be effective volunteers, lack the training, experience, equipment and most importantly, the call volume that a professional department has. Volunteers might not be available for what ever reason and the have to respond from home to the station and then to the incident. Public safety is a job where seconds count. Consolidation of Humboldt Fire District #1 and Eureka Fire Department into Humboldt Bay Fire has saved money and more money will be saved with attrition over time. Plus the the State has addressed some of the issues with CalPers requiring 2.7% at 57 years old for all new employees.

    Do a bit of homework before venting and you wont come off as such a tool.

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    • “What is the magic number for compensation?
      Would you like Fire/EMS and police to be paid minimum wage?”

      Yo Nick! Thanks for stopping by! Really. One of our goals there at THC headquarters is to get people talking about whats happening in our community. Actually, headquarters is my Mom’s basement which is all we can afford but you get the idea. We like our firemen as much as a good argument. Honest. On the other hand we have a tough time justifying a job where you can retire at 50, pays $150,000 a year, comes with a health club membership, and allows you to get paid for sleeping. Particularly when it’s being paid by taxpayers with a household income of $30k. It just doesn’t seem fair. To answer your question; NO. We don’t think firemen should be paid minimum wage. We just don’t think we should go bankrupt trying to pay them 500% more than everybody else.

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    • Cousin Eddie says:

      OK Nick, let me stop you right here:
      “Chief Woods was a Volunteer Chief (as in no compensation) before being hired with Humboldt Fire District #1 and later becoming the Chief of Humboldt Bay Fire”

      And

      “If you think being a volunteer firefighter is the same as a career firefighter you are very mistaken. While they can be effective volunteers, lack the training, experience, equipment”

      Ummmm…… Not sure which way to go with this. Is Nick full of shit? Or is Chief woods -according to Nick – unqualified to be a firefighter?

      Good thing you’re not a fucking lawyer Nick.

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      • ArmChairQB says:

        Well said. PS: Fortuna has a fantastic volunteer department, and I’d put their professionalism against Eureka any day. Oh, and they have very nice equipment; mainly because they aren’t paying a bunch of staff to sleep. Or what about Samoa’s resident volunteers who sleep at the fire station? Seems like a pretty good model to me.

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  3. Seriously? says:

    It evidentially takes a fireman tool like Nick to try and convience us that paying firemen to sleep is a good value for our taxes. Jeeze, do all firemen think so little of the public that they believe they can talk us into dozing for dollars. CALPERS is breaking our state and anyone with a brain knows this. Just ask Jerry Brown, even he will admit the problem. Comments like yours insult us all and give real hard working firemen a bad name.

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  4. Guest says:

    He made roughly $150,000 a year as Chief but he didn’t get into the PERS system until 2008 so he has been in the system for 7 years. Since he was with the fire district, his PERS retirement is 2% at 50. Not the 3% at 50 rate that is bankrupting the system. So that makes his retirement from here a whopping 14% of his salary or $21,000 a year. So no, he is not going to be rakeing it in and yes, he is saving the taxpayers a lot of money. Get to know the facts before you start dragging someone you have never met before nor know anything about through the mud. You are a sad and pathetic individual.

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    • So Guest, we feel the need to ask just what kind of job, other than Government work gets you a retirement of $21k a year, forever, after just seven years on the job? Do you have any idea whatsoever how much an annuity like that would cost us regular taxpayin kind of folks? We couldn’t figure it out either but using simple interest it would take around $420,000 at 5% interest to earn Chief Woods paltry $21,000 a year. That means that the Chief actually got the equivalent of another $60,000 a year dumped into a retirement account for each of his seven years. Is this what we are supposed to feel sorry for? That brings the ever underpaid Chief up to $210,000 a year not counting the Cadillac health plan and of course lots and lots of overtime.

      Yup, we’re sure you’ll be quick to point out that PERS sometimes earns more than 5%. We’re equally sure that you’ll never remind us that it can also earn less. We apologize for the use of simple math but we never claimed to be as smart as a fireman. If we were we’d be getting paid to sleep too.

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      • Guest says:

        I’m not understanding why you think fire fighters get much sleep if any at all? Do you think people only get sick, injured, or fires only occur between 9 and 5? If you are ever awake at 3 am you would hear fire engines and ambulances running all night.

        You seem to be very sure an confident in your opinion, of which you are entitled to, but I have a hard time taking your point of view seriously. My question is do you actually know what a firefighter in this city actually does for a living? Do you know what their job entitles and what demands are made of them? Do you know a Humboldt Bay Firefighter and have you sat down and talked to him or her about what a day in their life at work is like? I may be wrong but I would venture to say you have not nor do you have the slightest clue on what they are asked to do on a daily basis. So is it fair to say they do not deserve their pension and salary because many people in this community do not? That’s apples and oranges to me. I would like to know more about the details of their job before passing judgment on what they do. For all you and I know they a severely under compensated and I’m not sure you can decide what they deserve from your mothers basement without truly knowing everything about them.

        I do know a small number of their pensions are 3% at 50 where most of them are 2% at 50 or 2.7% at 57 which is very resonable and sustainable for the department. Did you know that? Did you know all new hires are now 2.7% at 57? I did because I looked it up and it looks like the current department is making large strides to be smart with our money and is fixing the problem before you even knew their was one. Again, it just looks to me that you have now clue what you are talking about when it comes to the fire service.

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      • Mac Towner says:

        I knew I saw this here before. Seems like a good time to bring it back around.

        Like

    • ArmChairQB says:

      Wow. This post shows just how deluded these firefighters are. 21K a year for the next 20 years for 6-7 years of service is a deal for the taxpayers? My Gawd!

      Like

  5. Nick says:

    Allow me to retort, I am a firefighter and work hard to protect the community I live in and serve. I dont think the public is stupid just misinformed like you.

    Why 24 hr shifts?

    Fire engines, trucks, and paramedic ambulances are constantly staffed 24/7 so they are ready to respond to any calls for service at any time. Regardless of the shift worked by firefighters, we still need firefighters staffing the fire apparatus 24/7. Currently the fire service covers the 168 hours in a week with three shifts working 24-hour shifts. We work a 56-hour work week.

    Under an FLSA exemption, firefighters work 53 hours per week before they earn any overtime. Converting the firefighters to a 12-hour shift would require either the addition of another platoon of firefighters or paying the current firefighters overtime for any hours worked over 40 hours in a week. As a result, don’t anticipate any cost savings to converting to a 12-hour shift. While there are fire departments that don’t work 24- hour shifts, it has worked well for many years in allowing us to provide 24/7 protection to the communities we serve. in other words the cost are the same 12 or 24.

    Firefighters don’t just sit at the firehouse waiting for the next call. “Fire Department” is kind of a misnomer now in that the fire service is an all-risk emergency provider. As a result, we have stringent training requirements to stay current on the latest technology and standards of practice in several disciplines including firefighting, emergency medical services, hazardous materials, weapons of mass destruction, etc. In addition, prevention and education are part of our mission and are high priorities for firefighters. We are responsible for conducting fire inspections and school programs. In other words it is good value for our tax dollars.

    CalPERS?

    Dont throw the baby out with the bath water. CalPERS has 77 percent of the funds it needs to pay pension obligations over the long term. Many experts say an 80 percent funding level is tolerable, but 100 percent is ideal. CalPERS earned 18.4 percent in the latest fiscal year through investments, well above its official forecast of 7.5 percent. CalPers is not perfect and I’m not saying it is, but they are addressing issues. one big on was later retirement 57 years old for public safety employees, and less retirement percentage 2.7%. Let me ask you this: Do you really want to see a 57 year old stepping off the engine to put your fire out?…………………..I know I don’t.

    hope that helps…….

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    • Mac Towner says:

      “Currently the fire service covers the 168 hours in a week with three shifts working 24-hour shifts. We work a 56-hour work week.”

      You’re kidding right? You only work two and a third days a week? So do I have this straight? You get paid full time and only hypothetically work all day Monday and Tuesday and another eight hours on Wednesday morning. Then you get the rest of Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday off? Could you give us your schedule on an average day? I don’t think I would want my fireman responding to a dangerous call without a nights sleep. In the two and a third days you are on the job do you usually get eight hours sleep a night? I think that works out to about 20 of the 56 hours you’re on the clock. I’m sure I’m off somewhere but if it’s even in the ballpark we gotta make some changes.

      Thanks to THC for making us aware of this. BTW, I want my fireman paid well too, but come on, this is crazy.

      Like

    • triple g says:

      He said Weapons of mass destruction training……

      Like

      • Great catch Triple G. We’ve been up all night in Mom’s basement trying to calculate the budget savings to the City of Eureka if we were to assume that Humboldt County wasn’t on the top of either ISIL’s or North Korea’s must hit first list. This wild assumption would allow our firemen to totally stop training to protect us from a nuke heading for the Warfinger Building. We’re not sayin that this would solve the cities budget woe’s but it would sure help us to believe that somebody somewhere in the city power structure isn’t a total dweeb.

        In the mean time we’re going to spend the day digging sandbags and stealing Tsunami Warning signs to reinforce the basement just in case we’re wrong and Kim Jong Un really is going after the Brady Bunch.

        Sheesh. Do they really spend training dollars on WMD’s?

        Like

      • Guest says:

        You do realize that WMD’s can also be chemical and biological weapons. In fact Fortunate PD had an issue a few months ago with a disgruntled citizen sending a white powder he claimed to be anthrax and the Haz Mat team went to investigate. Ricin can also be sent through the mail and the post office has regular drills for it. It is alive and well in our county. Your ignorance when it comes to what the fire service does around here is astounding.

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      • Just A Worker Bee says:

        I think I’ll vote to save the WMD dollars and use it to fix a couple potholes. Somehow just cuz some nut in Fortuna sent some baby powder through the mail is not a reason to spend an extra million or two on training and equipment. I’ll take my chances and I bet most people would vote the same way. Hummm potholes – vs – WMD slushfund. Lets put it on the ballot.

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    • Sidelines says:

      So Nick. You can’t have it both ways. Either our local firefighters are “dozing for dollars”, making a bunch of money while they sleep and only work 9-10 days per month OR they don’t sleep because they are busy all night. Anyone up for 48 straight hours is not someone I want running medical aids or putting out fires in my community.

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  6. Just A Worker Bee says:

    I want qualified and well paid firemen too. Just because one person is under paid, in this case apparently this applies to the average Humboldt household, is no reason to underpay our firemen. On the other hand I’m not really sure that $125,000 isn’t a little overboard. I tried looking at the Transparency website and $125,000 or more seems to accurate. I know in tough times I tighten my belt a little. Maybe until our county get back on it’s feet and our taxpayers get decent jobs themselves our firefighters could do the same? Just a thought.

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  7. Cousin Eddie says:

    Great, now you guys chased Nick off with math and shit. Good job. I was looking forward to finding out if he was full of shit and Chief Woods was actually fit to be Chief, or if volunteers don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground and we really go fleeced, hiring an inexperienced know-nothing (Nick’s paraphrased words) volunteer to be chief for 7 years and then giving him 21K for-ev-er.

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  8. Julie Williams says:

    Wow. What a bunch of whining blow hards. If any of you that are being so all-knowing had half of the skills and temperament required to deal with all of the calls and the people injured etc. I would be really surprised. So KNOCK IT OFF and support your local emergency service providers – because in reality it is likely that YOU will need their services one day or a loved one of yours will. THANK the folks willing to step in harm’s way to protect people (no matter what their smell, state of mind or political affiliation) and personal property and neighborhoods. IF you do not like people here’s a suggestion: MOVE TO SIBERIA.

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    • Cousin Eddie says:

      Hey Julie,
      Do you think they should make 3 or 4x the rest of us – the ones paying the wages? I think they do a fine job, but the also make an ass-ton of money doing it. And we can’t really afford their retirement, now can we? I wonder what it would look like if some of these departments took a 15% across the board pay and benefit cut, rather than eliminating 15% of the positions? Gee—same budget + more people = better public service. You heard it here first.
      But we don’t cut government wages around here. No sir, we eliminate positions and then the public suffers and we can listen to everybody bitch about how they have to work twice as hard, blah blah blah. What the fuck did they think would happen when they started paying, firefighters and police more than attorneys and college professors?

      Like

      • Julie Williams says:

        Really, Eddie? Thank you.

        Fire fighters and police SHOULD get paid more for what they do. I’d rather pay them than a bunch of fat cat bureaucrats and politicians sitting on their behinds doing nothing other than blah, blah, blah.

        Just because we have not been in the habit of cutting government wages around here, does not mean we cannot start.

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    • Sidelines says:

      Julie, I am thankful for my emergency services. I am not thankful to the firefighter unions that put their self interest above public safety. You’ve no doubt done the math. There are several ways they could reduce overtime, hire more firefighters, and restructure to not be a top heavy organization, but they won’t do it. Do you really think a department with as many Batallion and Assistant Chiefs as firefighters is efficient? They refuse to run their department as it should be run, public safety be damned. And boxing the ambulance out of Station 4, even thought the residents of Silvercrest want them there? You don’t think they are putting self interest ahead of community? Really?

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