CDF: Don’t blame us

California Department of Forestry firefighters working in Butte County say they are confused and even a little hurt by the county’s recent suggestion that CDF is partially to blame for busting the county’s budget.

At last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting, county CAO Paul McIntosh affirmed his stance that CDF’s most recent labor contract, negotiated with the state in 2000, could cause the closure of rural fire stations as well as loss of other public safety services.

But CDF Fire Captain and employee representative Mike Lopez disputed that, saying that firefighters never got a pay raise. Their latest contract, he said, merely brings the firefighters into compliance with federal overtime standards. Firefighters typically work shifts of 56 hours and more at a time, but prior to 2000 they were paid only half their hourly rate for any work done after reaching the 40-hour mark. The 2000 contract granted firefighters time-and-a-half after 40 hours, just as most workers get. Lopez said workers were actually entitled to a 5 percent increase in base pay but turned it down because they knew it would hurt the county.

“It’s really upsetting to us to have people talk negatively about the Fire Department within the county,” Lopez said. “We’re the only fire department Butte County’s ever known.”

The issue is hot right now because the county is finalizing its budget and, facing a large shortfall, looking for places to cut services and lay blame. The county was considering closing three rural fire stations above the tree line, but anonymous sources said Tuesday that is not likely to happen. Instead, another station, possibly Richvale, could close.