By Emilie St. John
COMPTON — Local firefighters held a rally Sept. 6 to bring awareness to what they call poor working conditions, the lack of a new labor agreement and the lack of equipment needed to perform their jobs.
The rally fell on the same day that City Council meetings resumed after the city’s annual August break.
“At times it is very, very difficult to do our job,” said Antonio Chavez, a Compton firefighter and the vice president of their union, Local 2216. “We are having to work eight days straight, so we’re talking eight 24-hour shifts.
“We have a staffing shortage which has our current staff working eight 24-hour shifts without stop with a 12-hour break in between just to come right back and work another 8 days which is not safe for them or our community.
“Our stations are broken down, our equipment is broken down. We’re not hiring. We’re not looking into why we’re having retention issues,” Chavez said.
“If we have any significant or major alarm, we have to rely on outside agencies to provide that aerial capability,” said Daniel Salazar, a Compton firefighter and president of Local 2216.
It is due to the ladder not being certified to go above a certain level which is of concern with new housing developments being approved which exceed levels the ladder is capable of reaching.
Mayor Emma Sharif told a local news station she is aware of the issues but money remains a problem despite the passage of an increased sales tax under Measure P, which was heavily promoted by the city’s former mayor as a way to pay to enhance the infrastructure and emergency services.
“We just don’t have the money to do everything at one time, so we’re trying to put a plan in place to address the concerns of the fire department,” Sharif said.
City financial figures show that the Compton Fire Department has seen a 23% decrease in funds from about $19.2 million in fiscal year 2019 to $14.7 million in fiscal year 2022. All this, for a department that’s among the top five busiest in the state, responding to an average of about 10,000 calls per year, according to the city’s website.
City Manager Thomas Thomas said the city is currently in negotiations with Local 2216 with the mayor stressing the entire City Council is dedicated to public safety.
During the council meeting more than two dozen speakers came forward to speak in support of the fire department including a representative from U.S. Rep. Nanette Barragán’s office, who read a prepared statement from the congresswoman.
“I stand in solidarity with the Compton Firefighters Local 2216 in support of their call for a new contract,” she stated. “These men and women are integral to the safety and well-being of this community. Each year our Compton firefighters respond to over 12,500 emergency calls and routinely arrive on the scene faster than the national average response time and with the city’s plan to add new developments the call volume will continue to increase.”
“The Compton City Council must prioritize the concerns of our firefighters by putting an end to all unfair labor practices and address the severe understaffing and poor work conditions.”
She urged them to bargain in good faith.
The majority of the speakers came from members of the Fire Department and their families.
“I make a request to your sense of fairness and sense of equity to give the fire department what they need,” said the department’s captain. “It is my understanding if there isn’t a quorum for the council meetings you can cancel the meeting. Firefighters have to respond to every 911 call.”
“All of the men and women of Compton fire department are my brothers and sisters so today I come before you fighting for my family,” said Brittney McReynolds, whose husband has been with the city for 13 years. “The forced overtime in the department is absolutely egregious where they are confined to dilapidated station conditions with inadequate equipment.”
Speakers spoke of the potential deadly ramifications for residents of senior citizens facilities, particularly Rosecrans or South Bay Manor. If a fire broke out above the third floor the current ladder isn’t certified to go that high and lives could be lost.
“I started my career with the fire department explorer program at age 14 and was hired in 2015 as a firefighter with Compton,” said Paul Scott. “Our fire stations have never been updated or retrofitted despite doing major development with global brands and major housing developers. No attention, focus, or funds have been prioritized to the fire department.”
Longtime resident Robert Ray regularly heaps praise on the fire department for saving his life.
“If it weren’t for the fire department I wouldn’t be alive,” Ray said.
Emilie St. John is a freelance journalist covering the areas of Carson, Compton, Inglewood and Willowbrook. Send tips to her at email@example.com.