Whining in Wine Country or legitimate tax payer concerns?

A well known vintner in California’s famed Napa Valley has gotten a bit of attention as of late for a letter he wrote to his local paper, the St. Helena Star.

In the letter (Read the full version HERE) he called out the salaries and benefits of his local firefighters in a manner very common recently.

“Had I had any real brains I would have become a firefighter. What a racket they have.

While I respect the work they do and the inherent dangers, they are greatly overpaid, work only two days a week (a third of which they sleep) and get to retire at 50 years old at 90 percent of their pay after working 30 years.

But maybe getting paid 90 percent of one’s maximum pay for another 25-30 years for doing nothing isn’t so unjust, as they received high salaries for working very little before they retired.”

The common misconception that firefighters are lounged back in recliners watching Judge Judy, all the while collecting outrageous salaries is supported by this man, Mr Sattui, and uses claims of salary and benefits, hours and activities as examples or firefighters wasting tax payer money.

Yet I still imagine the life of a winery owner as all relaxation and sipping fine wine with the social elite.  Clearly I have no clue as to the winery business, so I’ll leave my assumptions there.  Writing to my local paper about the excesses of the industry when I have no experience in it would indeed be foolish.

But my interest is not necessarily as a firefighter, or amateur wine snob.  You see, I didn’t read this in the St Helena Star, or on their website.  Not in the newspaper here at home or on the evening news, but it was on the dreaded facebook I first read these words and became angry.

It is his right and choice to write a letter of this nature, fact or fiction.  But something stuck with me, understandably. “How dare this man attack me!” was my first reaction, and that of a great many fans of the Anti-Sattui winery facebook group that sprouted almost out of nowhere.  Comments calling for his  resignation, and worse, were littered with persons names, department affiliations and very colorful opinions.

Opinions that could land one in hot water.

So then I began to wonder what Mr Sattui really meant when he wrote his letter to the editor.  Sure he makes sure not to blame the firefighters directly for being lazy holy cash cows (my words, not his) he blames the new bad guy, the career politician.

After all, the union contract that awards such salaries and benefits was agreed to by elected officials, so why not be upset at them?

As I was reading through the rants and raves in the facebook group, the membership continued to grow and suddenly, a response was posted by Mr Sattui “clarifying” his remarks.

Ted Appel at Watch Sonoma County reports that Mr Sattui wished to address the negative comments swirling through the interwebs machine (my words, not his).  Read the complete report at the above link.

“Napa cannot fix the roads, has chronically underfunded schools, has in some instances let sewage water that is not sufficiently treated spill out causing environmental damage because the county is so underfunded in its infrastructure needs that it cannot afford to fix it. Yet we have firefighters whose jobs are, according to them, identical in 90% of their duties to paramedics. But these Napa County paramedics make only about $50,000 a year with much lower benefits. The firefighters in Napa make about 140K on average and many make much more than that.”

He has a point that I think Mr Kaiser from Life Under the Lights has covered many a time over.  Not the part where firefighter’s benefits are constantly added to their salaries, as if the $26,000 healthcare tab is something I’m paid, or my vision plan, or my retirement contribution, etc etc, but the lack of competitive salaries for EMS providers.

It is comments from the public like this that inspire me more and more to redouble our efforts at public education into just what it is fire and EMS personnel do on a daily basis.

And to remind all of us that there is a section of the population that doesn’t like what you do, no matter what that is.

I went to the Watch Sonoma site and left my personal opinion and if this is a topic that inspires you to action, in either direction, please do so civilly and respectfully.

And another interesting thought as I leave you,

Without someone monitoring social media, would Mr Sattui have posted a response so quickly?

Clearly he will be watching the forums a bit more closely from now on.

Agree? Disagree? Have something to add? Why not leave a comment or subscribe to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader?

27 thoughts on “Whining in Wine Country or legitimate tax payer concerns?”

  1. Excellent post. While I also read on FB the same information (from the Boycott site) and agree that Mr. Sattui is under-informed, I’m not going to get into a shouting match with him about it. There is simply too much of that response going on from all sides of any argument these days.

    I know in our department, we earn what we get, and I think we deserve more since I see what these people do daily and I know that in our community, they are getting an excellent deal for the money. But I am also very aware that many people are struggling in these hard economic times and like you have said, and I’ve seen on blogs like Report on Conditions, there is a lot of resentment when Joe Firefighter is pulling his triple-engine boat behind his jacked up Hummer for two or three days off and one day of duty.

    These are not times for us to gloat about what we have, but to be grateful and to thank the community for supporting us while we in turn, do the job we love to do. I tell some of my less-than-motivated people; next time you feel like crap, go take a ride by the local spot where people are gathered to take on any job paying cash for labor, and ask yourself again just why it is you feel so entitled to your attitude.

    I’d invite Mr. Sattui any day to come East and hang out with us at our department and I can reassure him, we enjoy our jobs, but we work during our shift and provide an excellent service to our community and it seems like it to us at least, the community has been appreciative and helpful when it comes to supporting us.

    1. By the way, I don’t own a boat and I’m driving a 10-year old Trooper with 130K miles on it. With three kids and a mortgage, I don’t count in that crowd.

    2. By the way, I don’t own a boat and I’m driving a 10-year old Trooper with 130K miles on it. With three kids and a mortgage, I don’t count in that crowd.

  2. Excellent post. While I also read on FB the same information (from the Boycott site) and agree that Mr. Sattui is under-informed, I’m not going to get into a shouting match with him about it. There is simply too much of that response going on from all sides of any argument these days.

    I know in our department, we earn what we get, and I think we deserve more since I see what these people do daily and I know that in our community, they are getting an excellent deal for the money. But I am also very aware that many people are struggling in these hard economic times and like you have said, and I’ve seen on blogs like Report on Conditions, there is a lot of resentment when Joe Firefighter is pulling his triple-engine boat behind his jacked up Hummer for two or three days off and one day of duty.

    These are not times for us to gloat about what we have, but to be grateful and to thank the community for supporting us while we in turn, do the job we love to do. I tell some of my less-than-motivated people; next time you feel like crap, go take a ride by the local spot where people are gathered to take on any job paying cash for labor, and ask yourself again just why it is you feel so entitled to your attitude.

    I’d invite Mr. Sattui any day to come East and hang out with us at our department and I can reassure him, we enjoy our jobs, but we work during our shift and provide an excellent service to our community and it seems like it to us at least, the community has been appreciative and helpful when it comes to supporting us.

  3. I’m sorry to be the bad guy here, but the guy is right $140,000 a year is too much. When you consider that conservatively 80% of their calls are medical calls that the $50,000 a year Paramedics could handle just as well(and in some cities better) without them it just seems foolish to pay them like that. Now don’t get me wrong I am 100% a part of the EMS pay should be higher crowd, in most cased EMS salaries aren’t enough to live on and that is wrong. However for the amount of school and training we have we do not deserve $140,000 a year.

  4. I’m sorry to be the bad guy here, but the guy is right $140,000 a year is too much. When you consider that conservatively 80% of their calls are medical calls that the $50,000 a year Paramedics could handle just as well(and in some cities better) without them it just seems foolish to pay them like that. Now don’t get me wrong I am 100% a part of the EMS pay should be higher crowd, in most cased EMS salaries aren’t enough to live on and that is wrong. However for the amount of school and training we have we do not deserve $140,000 a year.

    1. Don’t misread my opinion, I am not against fire based EMS. I am against having both, if Fire is going to do EMS it should be 100% they need to have the ambulances and be EMS. When they just run an engine on medical calls to “assist”(actually usually just increase call volume to justify costs) the paramedic ambulance crew who is not affiliated at all with Fire I have an issue with that.

    2. Don’t misread my opinion, I am not against fire based EMS. I am against having both, if Fire is going to do EMS it should be 100% they need to have the ambulances and be EMS. When they just run an engine on medical calls to “assist”(actually usually just increase call volume to justify costs) the paramedic ambulance crew who is not affiliated at all with Fire I have an issue with that.

    3. The $140,000 number is reached using the same faulty logic used to claim auto union workers made upwards of $80/hour.
      The FF/EMTs in this district are well compensated, http://www.firehire.com/Consortium%20Test/american_canyon_job.htm, there’s a job announcement, and since they’re hiring, chances are there’s a lot of overtime available.
      Add in Kaiser insurance, plus their retirement contributions and maybe that number gets close to 140k a year, but that is not take home pay.

      Add your salary, your benefits paid by your employer and any other perks you get together and see what your “cost” to your agency is.

      Mine is over $150,000, mostly because of my retirement contributions and health benefits, neither of which do I see as cash.

    4. The $140,000 number is reached using the same faulty logic used to claim auto union workers made upwards of $80/hour.
      The FF/EMTs in this district are well compensated, http://www.firehire.com/Consortium%20Test/american_canyon_job.htm, there’s a job announcement, and since they’re hiring, chances are there’s a lot of overtime available.
      Add in Kaiser insurance, plus their retirement contributions and maybe that number gets close to 140k a year, but that is not take home pay.

      Add your salary, your benefits paid by your employer and any other perks you get together and see what your “cost” to your agency is.

      Mine is over $150,000, mostly because of my retirement contributions and health benefits, neither of which do I see as cash.

  5. Excellent post. While I also read on FB the same information (from the Boycott site) and agree that Mr. Sattui is under-informed, I'm not going to get into a shouting match with him about it. There is simply too much of that response going on from all sides of any argument these days.

    I know in our department, we earn what we get, and I think we deserve more since I see what these people do daily and I know that in our community, they are getting an excellent deal for the money. But I am also very aware that many people are struggling in these hard economic times and like you have said, and I've seen on blogs like Report on Conditions, there is a lot of resentment when Joe Firefighter is pulling his triple-engine boat behind his jacked up Hummer for two or three days off and one day of duty.

    These are not times for us to gloat about what we have, but to be grateful and to thank the community for supporting us while we in turn, do the job we love to do. I tell some of my less-than-motivated people; next time you feel like crap, go take a ride by the local spot where people are gathered to take on any job paying cash for labor, and ask yourself again just why it is you feel so entitled to your attitude.

    I'd invite Mr. Sattui any day to come East and hang out with us at our department and I can reassure him, we enjoy our jobs, but we work during our shift and provide an excellent service to our community and it seems like it to us at least, the community has been appreciative and helpful when it comes to supporting us.

  6. By the way, I don't own a boat and I'm driving a 10-year old Trooper with 130K miles on it. With three kids and a mortgage, I don't count in that crowd.

  7. I'm sorry to be the bad guy here, but the guy is right $140,000 a year is too much. When you consider that conservatively 80% of their calls are medical calls that the $50,000 a year Paramedics could handle just as well(and in some cities better) without them it just seems foolish to pay them like that. Now don't get me wrong I am 100% a part of the EMS pay should be higher crowd, in most cased EMS salaries aren't enough to live on and that is wrong. However for the amount of school and training we have we do not deserve $140,000 a year.

  8. Don't misread my opinion, I am not against fire based EMS. I am against having both, if Fire is going to do EMS it should be 100% they need to have the ambulances and be EMS. When they just run an engine on medical calls to “assist”(actually usually just increase call volume to justify costs) the paramedic ambulance crew who is not affiliated at all with Fire I have an issue with that.

  9. The $140,000 number is reached using the same faulty logic used to claim auto union workers made upwards of $80/hour.
    The FF/EMTs in this district are well compensated, http://www.firehire.com/Consortium%20Test/ameri…, there's a job announcement, and since they're hiring, chances are there's a lot of overtime available.
    Add in Kaiser insurance, plus their retirement contributions and maybe that number gets close to 140k a year, but that is not take home pay.

    Add your salary, your benefits paid by your employer and any other perks you get together and see what your “cost” to your agency is.

    Mine is over $150,000, mostly because of my retirement contributions and health benefits, neither of which do I see as cash.

  10. That sounds better, I had the wrong impression from what I had read. I’m not going to figure my salary and benefits because I am currently employed by a private for profit ambulance and its best for me not to think about my pay if I want to avoid depression. I totally agree that EMS pay is stupid low, unfortunately it’ll be a while yet before that changes.

  11. That sounds better, I had the wrong impression from what I had read. I’m not going to figure my salary and benefits because I am currently employed by a private for profit ambulance and its best for me not to think about my pay if I want to avoid depression. I totally agree that EMS pay is stupid low, unfortunately it’ll be a while yet before that changes.

  12. That sounds better, I had the wrong impression from what I had read. I'm not going to figure my salary and benefits because I am currently employed by a private for profit ambulance and its best for me not to think about my pay if I want to avoid depression. I totally agree that EMS pay is stupid low, unfortunately it'll be a while yet before that changes.

  13. Some people will always be angry — it’s in their DNA. A lot of angry people, though, are uninformed and I imagine this letter writer falls into that category. What is he uninformed about? The work the fire department does.

    Just three days ago, I had a citizen come up to me at a community event and make a statement inferring that we don’t make many runs. He meant no ill will, he just honestly thought that firemen sat in fire stations, played checkers and waited for the bell to go off. When I explained that our small, two-station suburban department makes 1,300+ runs a year, he was obviously surprised (and that’s not even close to “busy” for a FD).

    My department works hard to explain to people what we do and there are still scores of citizens clueless about our operations. They see red trucks in the station and think all is well. I can only imagine what it’s like in cities where the fire department does no public relations work at all. I wonder if that’s the case in Napa for Mr. Winery-owner, who is convinced firefighters lead the good life.

    Of course, we can sometimes be our own worse enemy. When we go out into our district, we don’t pay attention to every single person we pass on the street. However, many of them are paying attention to us. We’re in the big red truck, after all. They’re watching what we do and how we act and making judgments based on those observations. If you look like you’re leading a life of rainbows and roses, it’s easy to see how misinformed and angry citizens can make the wrong assumption about our careers and whether we earn our money.

  14. Some people will always be angry — it’s in their DNA. A lot of angry people, though, are uninformed and I imagine this letter writer falls into that category. What is he uninformed about? The work the fire department does.

    Just three days ago, I had a citizen come up to me at a community event and make a statement inferring that we don’t make many runs. He meant no ill will, he just honestly thought that firemen sat in fire stations, played checkers and waited for the bell to go off. When I explained that our small, two-station suburban department makes 1,300+ runs a year, he was obviously surprised (and that’s not even close to “busy” for a FD).

    My department works hard to explain to people what we do and there are still scores of citizens clueless about our operations. They see red trucks in the station and think all is well. I can only imagine what it’s like in cities where the fire department does no public relations work at all. I wonder if that’s the case in Napa for Mr. Winery-owner, who is convinced firefighters lead the good life.

    Of course, we can sometimes be our own worse enemy. When we go out into our district, we don’t pay attention to every single person we pass on the street. However, many of them are paying attention to us. We’re in the big red truck, after all. They’re watching what we do and how we act and making judgments based on those observations. If you look like you’re leading a life of rainbows and roses, it’s easy to see how misinformed and angry citizens can make the wrong assumption about our careers and whether we earn our money.

  15. Some people will always be angry — it's in their DNA. A lot of angry people, though, are uninformed and I imagine this letter writer falls into that category. What is he uninformed about? The work the fire department does.

    Just three days ago, I had a citizen come up to me at a community event and make a statement inferring that we don't make many runs. He meant no ill will, he just honestly thought that firemen sat in fire stations, played checkers and waited for the bell to go off. When I explained that our small, two-station suburban department makes 1,300+ runs a year, he was obviously surprised (and that's not even close to “busy” for a FD).

    My department works hard to explain to people what we do and there are still scores of citizens clueless about our operations. They see red trucks in the station and think all is well. I can only imagine what it's like in cities where the fire department does no public relations work at all. I wonder if that's the case in Napa for Mr. Winery-owner, who is convinced firefighters lead the good life.

    Of course, we can sometimes be our own worse enemy. When we go out into our district, we don't pay attention to every single person we pass on the street. However, many of them are paying attention to us. We're in the big red truck, after all. They're watching what we do and how we act and making judgments based on those observations. If you look like you're leading a life of rainbows and roses, it's easy to see how misinformed and angry citizens can make the wrong assumption about our careers and whether we earn our money.

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