1-7-2005 Putting out fire with gasoline

WARNING! This site contains circumlocution which a truly free society would neither fear nor suppress


Did you ever notice, when you put "The" and "IRS" together it spells "Theirs"?

The "VENT" is a SAYSO type column published daily on the pages of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The usual content in the "VENT" easily puts the blatherings from our mentally regressive ninnies to shame. It's really nobody's fault, though. What did we expect coming from backwards Culm County?

Backwards? Where you been damn flammit? We got us an Olive oil Garden and everything.

Putting out fire with gasoline.--David Blowie

From the e-mail inbox:

*******Hi Mark, How are you, Hope all in well with you and your family. Well after reading and hearing the ridiculous rumors that are going around I'd thought I would give you a little insight on the facts of the situation of the firehouse committee and maybe put an end to all the misinformation out there. I joined this committee in hopes of helping reopen the East Fire Station, when this committee was first mentioned at the city council meeting and formed I had thought that this would be something that everyone could work together and maybe come up with an idea or two to help reopen this station whether it be fundraising or helping clean it out. In no way shape or form did I ever have the idea that this was an opposition committee, after the first meeting everyone had decided that we would have a walk through of the firehouse to examine the property to see if it could be fixed what that walk through turned out to be was anything but that, it was a three ring circus, I am sorry but this is not how I choose to spend my time. After that day I decided to issue a statement at the next meeting, offering suggestions on how things should be handled so we do not look like a bunch of publicity seekers. Well all hell has broken out since then, I have been accused of "Dethroning" a committee member from their leadership, rumors have been circulating that I am being instructed by the administration ( God I wish I was that important, Lol)and now the letter that was posted about Rob standing up at a council meeting expressing now to discuss union issues when there was no union representation there. I would just like to let everyone know that I play politics with no one, anyone that knows me well would know that, I have been fighting the good fight for quite sometime now when others just stood in the background and I am a bit sick and tired of all the nonsense circulating just because I may have ruffled someone's feathers when I issued a statement at a committee meeting because I rather work with tactfulness, rather than a vicious circle. Bottom line, my husband worked out of this station for six years, it needs a hell of a lot more that just a roof, firefighters put their lives on the line day in and day out, so should they also be at risk in their own firehouse when the building my come down on them one day? I am very concerned that this firehouse is closed, but also it concerns me to put firefighters back into a dilapidated, pigeon shit infested building. Thanks for you time, Shelby Sudnick sshelby121@juno.com*******

Hey there! We're all good here and I hope you can say the same. It's been a while since we were in the political trenches together. When I read the accounts of the firehouse tour and the unbending position some on your committee seemed so willing to express; I always suspected that your's might just be a voice of reason emanating from inside of that citizen's outfit. Your's is kind of a unique perspective with your being not only a concerned nearby resident, but also a firefighter's better half.

You dethroned a committee member from their leadership position? See that? It's all politics, man. There's no escaping it. Did the mayor provide you with a satellite phone? Or are you wearing a wire? Seriously, it saddens me to hear that yet another concerned citizen's group may have been absorbed by the political BORG mindset to some degree. I was put off by the unmitigated tenacity of one of your fearless leaders as reported by the press. Where once fundraising and getting involved sounded so utterly noble, devolving to the point where automatic naysaying bordering on useless vitriol becomes one's focus suggests that some are more concerned with their press than the previously stated lofty goals.

For me, there are only two types of concerned citizen's groups. There are those that work selflessly and tirelessly to make some small but discernable difference. The Crime Watchers, the Downtown Residents Association and the mostly nameless folks who volunteered their time to clean the city this past Spring quickly come to mind.

And then there are the other groups. These types of groups seem to be satisfied with having their names spelled correctly in the newspapers and little else. The Nord End Concerned Citizens jumps out at me here. Well then. They met with a member of the police department and learned a helluva lot about crime. And they criticized the hell out of some elected official or another. But when it's all said and done, just what the hell did they accomplish other than generating some new clippings for their scrapbooks?

It sounds as if your group is a mish-mash of folks that need to be split into two distinct groups. Those who wish to make an honest difference through their own reasonable efforts. And those who know only how to criticize and get the lion's share of the attention from the press.

The mayor said the East Station needs a ton of expensive work. Some in your group all but called him a bald-faced liar for publication. And what is the current status of that station? Uh-huh.

There could have been a well-publicized bake sale with the proceeds going to the "Save the East Station Fund" at PNC Bank. Or maybe a hoagie sale. Or two. Or a car wash. Or two car washes. Or an all acoustic benefit concert at the Tavern on the Hill. The first annual "Wingin' it in the Heights," perhaps? Or seeking out some corporate donations from local big wigs. Or my personal favorite-a wet T-shirt contest. But no. There was none of that positive stuff.

No. From what I could gather, the approach seemed to be to rag on the mayor (who publicly stated he would not throw good money after bad) until he finally relented and did what he said we should not and just could not do. And the result of all of that negative press is that a firehouse in the Heights is still shuttered and dark. And the winner is...???

The mayor has obviously made protecting the bottom line priority #1 for the foreseeable future, so trying to apply some intense public pressure on him in an attempt to force him to spend money he doesn't want to spend helps in which way exactly? Maybe your citizen's group sorely needs some new leadership. Maybe it sorely needs someone who can adroitly read the political tea leaves. Maybe it needs someone who can add some modicum of practically and flexibility to the mix. There's the way we want it to be. And then there's the way it is. Will the generation of even more negative press achieve the desired results? Or is a new stratagem necessary at this point?

Or better yet, maybe your group needs to listen a bit more to someone like you who has a unique perspective to bring to this issue. You are a frustrated Wilkes-Barre resident. And as a city employee's spouse, you can also deliver insights as to what will, and will not work in a city struggling with serious budgetary restraints. Like it or not, you're on both sides of the creaking political fence to some degree. Who better qualified is there to seek the middle ground and make something positive happen up there in the Heights?

Make checks payable to: Save the East Station Fund


And if becoming a positive force for change does not resonate with your mates in the Heights, tell 'em I quoted Darth Vader by saying, (down a few octaves here) "I find your lack of faith disturbing."

From the e-mail inbox:

*******Hi Mark,

Thought I would clear some stuff up with you. I am not happy with willing to settle with only 2 on an Engine at East Station.

It scares me to think what if someone got hurt on that Engine because of not having that third man with them. I would like 3 men on that piece but in reality East Station or the apparatus is not equipped to handle 3 men. You have seen that small living quarters. It is tight with 2 men. The 2 newest Fire Engines only have 2 seats in them. For those reasons We are willing to allow only 2 at East Station if the City maintained 16 Fire Fighters on duty. I would prefer the City follow the recommendations from their own Fire Protection study that said there must be a minimum of 17 Fire fighters on duty with 4 Fire Engines in service. That would require either completely revamping East Station, build a new Fire House, or only have three Fire Houses open (HQ, South, and North) and run two Engines out of HQ. I feel the Heights needs a Fire House.

You keep saying that the language requiring three Firefighters is what started this mess. That language was included because the City was successful in deleting the language that required the City to maintain 88 Fire fighters. The City has taken advantage of that deletion to lower us to 79 Fire Fighters. The money they are saving can easily be used to adequately staff us. Because they will not maintain us, this required them to lower the shift manning level down to 14. That is the reason there are only 3 Engines in service when we are at 14. If they continued to man us at 17, (which is what we were at when we had 88 Fire fighters on the department), we could have 4 Engines in service. But they do not want to hire or pay overtime to maintain it. That is the reason, pure and simple. Yes, the language played a factor but lowering the level to 14 is the real cause. I stated at the September Council meeting that we would be willing to settle for only two at East Station. But the City has to maintain 16 so that we can have enough Fire Fighters on the Fire Scene quickly. If the City does not commit to 16, who is to stop them from putting 2 Fire Fighters on an Engine at East Station and then put the Engine at HQ out of service and lowering the level to 13. I am including out statement I read at the December 27th Council meeting. Feel free to post it.

As always, call me if you need a better understanding of our position. We just want to come to work and then go home. The odds are better when there are more of us on duty. Remember, I keep asking the City for the report or study that told them that lowering our level is acceptable. Their own study says differently. Feel free to print this also. It is nothing that I have not said publicly at a Council meeting.


December 27 Address to Council

We have been coming to the Council meetings for the past six or seven months to convince the administration and the council that the lowering of the minimum manning on the Fire Department from 17 to 14 is a wrong decision that affects the safety of the Fire Fighters and the Public we are sworn to protect. This decision lowers the amount of Fire Fighters on the Fire Scene during the important initial time and reduces the amount of Fire Engines in service from 4 to only 3. We have been told that while the City agrees that they wish they could properly staff us there simply is not any money because of the financial mess caused by the previous administration.

Now with the State of PA allowing the occupational tax to be increased to $52 to help support the essential Emergency Services, we have learned through the media and the Fire Chief that there are no plans to use some of this newly available money resource to restore the Fire Department to the appropriate level.

Again, because of the City pleading with us that they were indeed in a financial bind because of the previous administration’s administrative mishandling that they needed our help to reverse the course of the City going towards financially distressed. Even though through parity we would be entitled to a generous contract that the former Mayor gave to the Police Department shortly before the Primaries. More importantly, we were told that the Fire Department alone could not save the City. It would be through an effort by all City Employees. We had concern that any savings that our Fire Fighters caused through cooperation with the City would not be used to pay for the previous Mayor’s actions. We were assured that all employees would have to do their part.

As you know the Fire Fighters agreed to a contract that included no raise for 2004 and lower raises for 2005, 2006, and 2007 than what we would have been entitled to through parity. We also accepted changes in our Health Care Insurance that included higher costs for Prescription Drugs and even a $500 to $750 deductible for Medical expenses. I would like to point out that this deductible is not included in the Health Insurance plan that even the non-union Management and Council members have….yes, your plan is currently better that the Fire Fighters. Other concessions for New Hires will in effect save the City even more money in the future.

Again when the whole manning issue was started in the year 2000, the City maintained 17 Fire Fighters on duty and maintained that amount until after the 2003 primaries. Then in 2004 the City decided to lower the minimum level to 14. As I stated before, the Fire Fighters gave their pound of flesh with the concessions, now the City wanted our Blood. The minimum manning level is our Blood, our safety factor. The minimum level is needed at a Fire Scene to safely do all the jobs that are required. I have given you the two reports that show the minimum level must be 17. The one report actually states a higher number but the 17 number is stated in the City of Wilkes-Barre’s own Fire Protection study done around 1996. Our responses have always increased and we continue to provide more services. The City started with a plan that kept four Firehouses open but only 3 of them had a Fire Engine in service. Headquarters Station had only the Aerial Ladder. The Aerial Ladder does not have a pump, hoses, or tank water to put out a fire. The City even acknowledge that Center City and South W-B would be better served because Headquarters would again have a Fire Engine in service when they temporally closed East Station (Northampton Street Station) due to structure problem. We have heard from the Heights residents that they need fire protection. But if the City could only staff three Fire Engines that Headquarters (Ross Street), South Station (High Street), and North Station (currently on Scott St.) would be the ones to remain open and the City would be properly staffed.

While I agree that East Station is not equipped to handle 3 Fire Fighters, I cannot agree that we are properly staffed. I have had plenty of conversations with Chief Lisman concerning this issue and I am sure you have also. His actions on this subject speak louder than words. With S.O.P.’s limiting non traditional firefighting duties and an automatic call out on any confirmed structure fire, he may feel the city is not adequately protected by our current staffing. Chief Lisman may have told you that early in our careers we had conversations with Asst. Chief Robert Weale that he felt in time Wilkes-Barre would only have three Firehouses. I feel that this may have influenced his belief that only three would be ok. Chief Weale is a man and a firefighter both of us highly respected. But Chief Weale’s vision saw each of the three firehouses having two Fire Engines with 2 Fire Fighters on each of them. That was the accepted level at that time. We also had a lot more Fire Engines and Aerial Ladders in service and one of the reasons was to have enough men to do the job. If you ask Chief Weale he will tell you that even his plan called for a minimum of 17 and that was even before the 1995 Lloyd Study.

The most important item is that Fire fighters are the most important tool to put out a fire. Fire apparatus and fire houses are important….but Fire fighters put out the Fire. Fire Houses effect response times, which is why I feel that East Station must be reopened. This should not be reopened at the expense of South W-B and Center City. Chief John Tomchik, another highly respected Chief, will also tell you that Fire Fighters and East Station is important. Both agree that with the addition of the third man on the Fire Engine, Fire fighting operations are safer and more efficient.

The only ones who seem to disagree with that are the gentlemen from PFM. They feel that Fire Fighters are only an expense, for that matter, any city employee is an expense. I would guess that if PFM offered advice to an individual to help him get out of debt, that one thing would be to “brown bag” your lunch every day and it would be financially prudent not to eat out at all. All your meals are to be cooked at home. I do not think that they would tell you to drop your Health, Auto, Home, or Life insurance. This is what they are doing when they advise the City to lower the manpower level. It is only a gamble, and it is a gamble that our Fire Fighters should not have to take.

After convincing the firefighters that the City was indeed in financial trouble, the City claimed if they could maintain staffing levels, they would. Now, to be told that none of the new money would be used to restore our levels is simply unbelievable. At present we are down nine Fire Fighters in which the City is also saving money on salaries and benefits.

Still, every Fire Fighter is a Wilkes-Barre resident and pays Wilkes-Barre property tax if they own a home. We all get the 2.85% Earned income tax taken out of our paychecks. We all are even willing to pay the $52 Emergency Services tax even though we didn’t get a raise in 2004.

We even agree that W-B can use more Policemen. It is important to note that unlike our minimum level, theirs has not been reduced. Overtime does not seem to be an issue for cost savings as it was in the Fire Department.

I am asking you. Help the residents of the Heights sleep better by reopening their East Station. Help the residents of Center City, South W-B, the colleges, and even North W-B sleep better by maintaining a Fire Engine at HQ. And help the wives and children of the Fire Fighters sleep better by knowing that the City is maintaining the appropriate level.

Mayor Leighton has said he is keeping his word to the residents who voted him into office by making the tough decisions. I have said that lowering the min. level to 14 is not a tough decision but a wrong decision. I believe the tough decision is to realize that 16 or 17 is the level that has to be maintained and doing whatever to accomplish that task. That is the right decision. To not restore the level and reopen East Station after increasing the tax to $52 combined with all the cooperation the Fire Fighters have given this City is simply a wrong decision.


Okay, my turn.

Tom, you ignorant slut!!!

Kidding! I'm freakin' kidding! It's Dan Akroyd, man. Go easy.

You keep saying that the language requiring three Firefighters is what started this mess.

You are correct, sir. I do keep reverting back to that three man thing as being the apex of man's firefighting existance. Huh? Er, something like that. Wanna know why? Because trying to understand the finer points and corresponding contingencies and confusing whatnot of these union contracts with the city is quite often more difficult than trying to convince a liberally-minded person (fem) that their overbearing nanny state mentality is undeniably effeminate in nature. I'd rather have to teach someone how to construct a low-yield nuclear bomb with common items found in the local Family Dollar than to have to explain to them how our fire department came to be nearabout gutted. On most days, conjugating verbs in Polish slang right after a rip-roaring kegger would be preferable to explaining the nuances of the contracts that you folks hammer out. If not being able to recall exactly how we arrived where we arrived is proof of profligate ignorance, then I'll admit that I'm the mental equivalent of a seriously demented snail from the wrong side of the snail tracks.

But with all of that circumlocution having been perpetrated upon you, I do have to say that your e-mail and the attached statement is about as clearly stated as I can remember your current plight being stated. It's a keeper. I think I'll print it out for future reference.

And with the implementation of the $52 Emergency Services tax, your plea for increased staffing is certainly not a threadbare argument by any stretch of the imagination. As a matter of fact, when I heard that we were going to raise the tax and hire a slew of cops; I never even considered the current under-staffing of the fire department. Sorry, but I didn't. Somebody said something about hiring more cops and my antenna went right through the drop ceiling. Cops? Did someone say "more cops?"

Actually, after reading the text of your December 27th statement to council, I'm surprised it didn't recieve any serious attention from the press. Your's was a compelling argument, but it was never brought to the attention of the average resident. Basically, the two local newspapers accounts of council meetings amounts to little more than who snarled at who, and any other unexpected but hoped-for political fireworks. And they usually conclude their stories by stating that that tiresome Tom Makar was on hand again and said something or other about needing more manpower. Ho. Hum. And with that said, it is any wonder that the preponderance of the general public rarely supports the unionized employees in this city when they never really hear the employee's position eloquently stated?

I've learned two things by talking to those of you who suck soot for a living. 1. This is not about protecting union brothers and that sort of union stuff. It really is a genuine safety concern for the lot of you. 2. The general consensus from amongst your ranks seems to be that once the city eliminates something, it'll never, ever be reinstituted. It's gone. And I'm not taking issue with that. I realize that attitude is based totally on what has gone on in the past.

And as far as I'm concerned, therein lies the reason for the mis-trust of the administration and it's intentions whereas staffing levels and the closed firehouses are concerned. Some of our elected folks have stated that they want the closed firehouses reopened in some form or another. And we've been told that the staffing could increase at some point depending on the financial situation. The problem is, very many of you simply don't believe what they're saying. And it seems apparent (at least to me) that the same attitude has rubbed off on some of the residents that chose to get involved with the East Station imbroglio.

And you are correct in your assessment of the bean counters from PFM. When austerity becomes the necessary order of the day, employees and the associated costs instantly become liability #1. There are "fixed" costs and then there are "adjustable" costs. And you folks definately fall under the heading of the latter category. I've toiled on both sides of that austerity issue in the past and it's not fun for either side. The bean counters see only numbers, while the folks left to make the ultimate decisions see them as people trying to make a half-decent living. Regardless, when you're awash in a sea of red ink; tough decisions still need to be made.

I think the over-riding question is whether we choose to believe what we're being told by this administration, or whether we see this new mayor of ours as just a newer version of your Daddy's politician? Is he telling it like it is, or is he just another no good politician who can't be taken at his word?

Our last mayor was an extreme case for sure. But looking backwards before he took office, can anyone nominate any former mayor as a politician who worked tirelessly to drive the city forward to new heights? I kinda doubt it. Since the reconstruction following the '72 flood, the city was basically put on cruise control for three decades while costs spiraled upwards, and deficit spending was preferable to controlling any costs of note. And based on the thoroughly crumbled infrastructure, the obvious and disturbing reverse-gentrification of our once tight-knit neighborhoods and the complete lack of any viable options for drawing new businesses and new residents to this flailing city; can anyone make the argument that any of our mayors since 1975 were doing what Wilkes-Barre ultimately needed in a long-term sense? If so, I'd love to hear that argument. I really would.

And then we have Tom Leighton. During the tumultuous "make checks payable" days, there was a line of people stretching from here to fargin' Tarawa eager to tell me what a genuinely good man he was. (For those of you under forty years-old, Tarawa is a tiny island off the coast of Montana) And yet, here we are a scant few months later and he's suddenly being billed as "Tommy McKruger: The Sequel" by some. I find that to be stupifying. I know some of us are frustrated with some of his decisions, but by comparing him to our recently dethroned king; some folks are displaying their obvious lack of foresight.

But which is it already? Answer me this. Were we wrong when we pulled the voting levers on May 20, 2003, and again in November of '03? Or are we wrong now? Generally speaking, is Tom Leighton doing a good job? Is he taking us in the right direction? Or is he just another crooked politician in different wrapping? Despite all of the current grumbling, I think history will look upon him very kindly.

Whether we zoom to new heights or not, I can't remember anyone who tried so hard to drive Wilkes-Barre forward. I can't.

Whatever. Forever the optimist. I'm silly like that.

Don't sweat the petty things, and don't pet the sweatty things.

While that may not apply whereas public safety is concerned, it sure sounds cool enough.

I found this CD review...on Sue Henry's WILK web page:

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists: "Shake the Sheets" (Lookout Records) _ Ted Leo has been a fave of the college-aged set for a few years now. He's part of the ilk that you might imagine that still has time to shake the hands of his fans and maybe bum some smokes off them. However, this is a first class record that I understand was recorded in the spring of this year. The CD mixes politics and love. What's wrong with that? For people who like the Clash and a good current events rant. Hey! I know those types.

The Clash? Why, you can count me in. Thanx, Babs. Ebon and Peace are out and about on a shopping trip as I am typing this bilge and I am anxiously awaiting the delivery of my new Ted Leo CD. But...hmmm, if it sucks, will you be willing to refund my hard-earned money?

I'm the all night drug-prowling wolf
Who looks so sick in the sun
I'm the white man in the Palais
Just lookin' for fun