The updated Memorandum of Understanding with the Big Bear City Professional Firefighters’ Association, which Fire Chief Jeff Willis said was “two months in the making,” went before the Board of Directors of the Community Services District for approval last night. CSD’s miscellaneous staff was, in April, granted a 2% cost of living increase for 2010, but will forego raises during their two-year agreement. The firefighters’ bargaining unit opted to include in their MOU a distribution of allotted cost-of-living funds in the form of stipends to firefighter/paramedics—a group which, per Willis, is on the lowest tier on the fire department’s pay scale, yet a position which requires the most frequent, recurring education. As proposed, the Firefighters’ Association collectively agreed that, in place of 2% COLA for all members, the 13 paramedics would receive a $250 per month stipend on top of their salary. CSD Director Marge McDonald, who also serves on the Fire Committee, said, “For eight years, I have given the fire department everything they’ve asked for, but I cannot justify that to the people who voted for me.” McDonald reasoned that, given difficult financial times for her constituents and the fact that CSD has not raised rates and, thereby, is not giving raises to other employees, she would not be voting in favor of the updated MOU. As explained by Chief Willis to the CSD Board, “The guys have never asked to be top-paid, they’ve just asked not to be bottom-paid. We’ve gone round and round on this in closed session.” On behalf of the association, Captain Brian Parham pointed out, “The highest priority was making sure the solvency of this district was maintained—and, Marge, you have given us everything.” Parham went on to thank Chief Willis for his “sternness and understanding” before the MOU went to a vote, which passed 3-1.
In other fire department news, Chief Willis approached the CSD Board with a proposal to spend up to $6,000 from the Big Bear City Fire Department’s vehicle repair budget on parts and labor to repair the 1936 REO firetruck, which off-duty firemen have spent “literally thousands of hours” restoring since the early ’80s. The truck, the first for the fire department, was purchased 73 years ago, with funds raised by the Peter Pan Club, prompting Willis to add, “It is a big part of our history, and Big Bear’s history.” CSD Directors were unanimous in their support and, should it be ready in time, County Supervisor Neil Derry and his family will ride the Big Bear City Fire Department’s 1936 firetruck in this year’s Old Miners’ Days Parade.