Northside SF  

By John Gollin

Since the fire in my home on December 29, 2008, I’ve taken a special interest in everything related to the San Francisco Fire Department.

I’ve been paying particular attention lately to the City’s budget process, which in part has focused on the Fire Department and Supervisor John Avalos’s intention to reinstitute brownouts in the City. Brownouts are an approach to managing firefighters’ work schedules that would frequently shut down neighborhood firehouses, as a way to trim the department’s budget.

On Tuesday, May 12, ignoring the opinions of the vast majority of the most knowledgeable fire-fighting professionals in the nation and city voters, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 7 to 3 to recommend to the mayor that he institute brownouts.

In his presentation to the full board urging them to support brownouts, Budget and Finance Committee chairman, Supervisor John Avalos, took City firefighters to task for their two-month campaign alerting San Francisco citizens to the potential that this Board of Supervisors might attempt to bring back brownouts.

Avalos was clearly annoyed that the firefighters had initiated their campaign as he said, “before there was any real discussion at the Board of Supervisors or in the budget committee about brownouts,” and that the firefighters had targeted “the Board of Supervisors as politicians who were playing with the public safety.”

The fact is that months ago word from City Hall was that certain members of the Board of Supervisors were talking about bringing back brownouts. When the firefighters got wind of this they took action. That’s what firefighters do: they take action. When they see or anticipate a threat to public safety, they take action. San Francisco firefighters (and a majority of San Franciscans) view brownouts as a serious threat to public safety.

After taking the firefighters to task for what has turned out to be an obviously necessary campaign, Avalos did what he said he wasn’t going to do: He began to play politics with the issue of brownouts.
He went through a list of other City departments and programs detailing their significant, and in some cases, devastating, cuts and layoffs. Then Avalos played the political card as he attempted to pit these departments against the Fire Department, referring to the other departments’ program cuts and job losses as “blackouts.” Then he said that if these departments have to endure blackouts, the Fire Department can surely accept brownouts, which in Avalos’s assessment would have minimal or no impact on public safety. He told his fellow board members that he believed brownouts could be done in a “precise” and “thoughtful” manner.

Avalos characterized the firefighters as unwilling to share the pain of other City departments. He complained that the Fire Department is “only” taking a 12.5 percent budget reduction while other departments are absorbing “upwards of 25 percent” in cuts. In his comparison, Avalos was suggesting that the Fire Department is looking after its own interests to the exclusion of those of the greater community, implying that San Francisco firefighters are solely concerned with protecting their own turf.

What Supervisor Avalos fails to understand is that the San Francisco Fire Department’s interests are our interests. Their turf is our turf. They are our first responders, our first line of defense against the utter devastation fires can potentially bring to anyone here in San Francisco, at any time. Fires are unpredictable. I know this firsthand.

John Avalos is wrong when he states with almost certainty that “brownouts of Fire Department services can be done with minimal or no impact to public safety.” Fires do not hold to any particular schedule or any particular pattern. San Francisco’s fire-fighting professionals, from Chief Joanne Hayes-White through the ranks, know this. That is why they are unanimous in their opposition to brownouts.

San Francisco’s citizens are very wise. We know that it makes good sense to listen to the professionals when it comes to fire preparedness and policy. It is not just firefighters who think that brownouts are bad policy. We the citizens of San Francisco think brownouts are bad policy. We made that very clear in the election of 2005, voting in landslide proportions of 58 percent to 42 percent against the implementation of brownouts. Instead of respecting that vote, the majority of this Board of Supervisors has chosen to ignore it. Supervisors Bevan Dufty, Michela Alioto-Pier and Sean Elsbernd were the three exceptions who chose to listen to San Francisco citizens and voted against brownouts. Supervisor Carmen Chu has a personal connection to the SFFD so she abstained from the vote, but most surely would have voted against brownouts.

The ball is now in Mayor Newsom’s court. He will decide the brownout issue. I urge you to contact him (415-554-6141 or Let him know that you support Chief Joanne Hayes-White and the firefighters of the San Francisco Fire Department in their opposition to brownouts.


When I was writing the story about the fire in my house, which appeared in the May issue of Northside San Francisco (“San Francisco firefighters save the day: A personal story”), I was planning to print the names of all the individual firefighters, who on December 29, 2008, fought the fire at 41 Barcelona Avenue and in my house at 33 Barcelona. I wanted to call them out individually, and include their names with the story as my way of thanking them for all that they had done for me. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to gather the names in time to make the deadline for the May issue. Thanks to the much-appreciated assistance of SFFD Public Information Officer, Lt. Mindy Talmadge, I can now share with you the names of all of those firefighters. This great group includes:

Lt. Brian Walsh
FF Kathleen McElheney
FF Kimberly Grinton
FF Edward Amit
Lt. Dennis Sullivan
FF Dee Lau
FF Rick Figari
FF George Kouremetis
Lt. Richard Gering
FF Thomas Fogle
FF Gerald Gauer
T/Lt. Annie Hoddinott
FF Jamie Boyle
FF Patricia Fallon
FF Todd Prakin
FF Leonardo Harris
BC Matt McNaughton
BC Monica Fields
ISS Al Joe
AC Johnny Lo
ISS Arnold Woo
T/Lt. Eric Botelho
FF Barry Lo
FF Jerry Chiang
PM Pedro Nuno Vieira
EMT Matthew Faris
Lt. Matthew Cannon
FF Dominic Shanley
FF Denise Pemberton
FF/PM Denise Bailey
RC Daniel Casey
T/Lt. Jason Mishler
FF Paul Saitz
FF Ramon Simon
FF Edgar Covarrubias
Capt. Patrick Mullaney
FF William Carle
FF/PM Frederick Putt
FF/PM Brook Mancinelli
T/Lt. Stephen Giacalone
FF Sean Visser
FF Privado Gumbay
FF John Stanfield
T/Lt. Aaron Stevenson
FF Denny Acosta
FF Theodore Creighton
FF Dewayne Eckerdt
Lt. Mark Castagnola
FF Henry Scoble
FF Brian Barden
FF Ivan Gomez
FF Paul Daijo
BC Rudy Castellanos
PM Joshua Hoyt
EMT Arthur King Jr.
Lt. Andrew Saitz
FF Colin Mackenzie
FF Keith Onishi
FF Conrad Brosas
T/Lt. Patricia Lui
FF Emmon Lew
FF Michael Kricken
FF Timothy Tiernan
Capt. Jonathan Low
FF Douglas Manguiat
FF Mariano Elias Jr.
FF Thomas Busby
Lt. Pierre Francois
FF Gil Jacobs Jr.
FF Michael Castain
FF Daniel Fleming
Lt. Frank Cercos IV
FF Mark Sikora
FF Timothy Sullivan
FF Chris Salas
FF/PM Brian Murphy
BC Dennis Sutter
RC Perry Saxton
Lt. Frank Hsieh
FF Brian Jesson
FF Deryk Lee
FF Dave DeJesus
FF Garret Lucier
PM Veronica Riddick
PM Joshua Smith
SC Sebastian Wong
And their companies are:

1st Alarm
Engine 21
Engine 10
Engine 5
Engine 38
Truck 10
Truck 5
Battalion 4
Battalion 2
Division 2
Rescue Squad 1
Medic 88
Rescue Captain 2

2nd Alarm
Engine 6
Engine 36
Engine 12
Engine 3
Truck 6
Battalion 7
Medic 67

3rd Alarm
Engine 1
Engine 41
Engine 7
Engine 40
Truck 3
Truck 12
Battalion 3
Rescue Captain 4



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