How many members of the Los Angeles Fire Department live outside of California and commute to work?
Late last week, Cheryl Getuiza, LAFD’s director of public information, put the number at roughly a dozen. But when my column ran on Sunday, I heard from an LAFD captain who said that was way low, and off “by an order of magnitude.”
So I checked back with Getuiza, who said her math was “horrific,” and she’d misplaced a decimal point in her initial computation.
So here’s the correction:
“Currently,” she said, “a little more than 100 members, or 3% out of 3,300 live out of state.”
That’s a lot of rubber on the road, and as I said on Sunday, one of the long-distance travelers is Capt. Cristian Granucci, who lives in Texas.
He’s the guy who put out a video in which he said he was so “hopping mad” about the city’s mandatory vaccination order, “my head could pop.” And he was quoted in a 2018 Texas online news article in which he said, “I moved to Texas … for the freedoms that it offers.”
Not everyone loved my column, by the way. Take this guy:
“You’re a sick human being for writing that piece on Captain Granucci,” said an L.A. County firefighter who told me he lives in Texas, too, so now I'm going to have to track down how many county firefighters have ditched California. This guy said he had COVID-19 and recovered, adding, "I’m not vaccinated, I don’t wear a mask, and I’ll never get vaccinated.”
It's the bravado that gets you, isn't it? A deadly pandemic has gripped the entire world, and this true patriot is planting a flag against simple, lifesaving, commonsense remedies.
He wasn't the only one, by the way, who suggested that if you’ve had COVID-19, your natural immunity is better than what the vaccine provides, so you don’t need the shot.
I’m not sold on that. Different studies have reached different conclusions, but as CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said last month, “If you have had COVID-19 before, please still get vaccinated.” She cited a study indicating that “you are twice as likely to get infected again if you are unvaccinated.”
First responders, of all people, ought to be as fully protected as possible, no ifs, ands or buts. But will city officials have the nerve to stand up to resisters like Capt. Granucci? Hard to say, but reforming the LAFD has never been easy, given the “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” culture that exists between the department, the firefighters union, the City Council and the mayor’s office.
But let’s get back to firefighters who live out of state, which raises all sorts of questions, beginning with this one:
Should local tax dollars support pay and overtime compensation that is among the highest in the nation (Granucci made $247,000 last year with OT), or should such jobs be reserved for local residents?
One LAFD source told me firefighters with long commutes can use liberal scheduling rules to work many consecutive days and then be gone for even longer stretches. In the case of a captain who’s frequently gone for long periods, the source said, department efficiency can suffer.
“It is widely known that stations that have these absentee captains are more likely to have personnel issues, poor station upkeep and lack of training,” said the source.
Another concern is that when firefighters work multiple consecutive shifts, they might not be rested and alert enough to be at their best when answering the demands of fighting wildfires, entering burning buildings and responding to accidents and medical emergencies.
But living out of state is not a new phenomenon. Twenty-five years ago, The Times reported that nearly two dozen city firefighters lived out of state.
“For their taxpayer-subsidized lifestyles,” the article said, “these out-of-towners can thank a free-wheeling scheduling system that some fire experts warn may not be healthy for the firefighters or the public.”
Getuiza said in an email that LAFD “is assessing the need to require new firefighters to live within a certain distance of our city.”
Notice she said new firefighters, not existing ones.
“In the case of a large-scale emergency, firefighters who live a great distance from the city may have a difficult time quickly returning, posing challenges to the department’s operations,” Getuiza said.
And while I can understand the appeal of lower-cost housing in other states, you don’t have to leave California to escape exorbitant real estate prices.
One department source told me there’s a contingent of conservative firefighters who “hate California,” which celebrates its diversity. Another source told me many firefighters believe the state’s “elites” have aligned themselves with “the lower class and actively work against middle-class interests.” They are “choosing to relocate to areas where the community is more conservative.”
OK, but they are the middle class, and they’re prospering. The one thing they don’t seem to hate about L.A. is how easy it is here to make more than $100,000 a year, and just as much in overtime (LAFD paid a record $220 million in OT in 2020).
I guess you need a lot of money for gas when you work in Los Angeles and live in Texas.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.