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Friday, June 10, 2011

The Cost of a Funeral

Posted By on Fri, Jun 10, 2011 at 4:37 PM

click to enlarge ALBERT LAW
  • Albert Law

Huge red ladder trucks from Alameda were parked along the Embarcadero this morning, and it wasn't difficult to figure out why. It's traditional that firefighters come from miles away to parade their apparatus at funerals. It's also traditional for them to park in front of churches and cross their trucks' ladders as a salute to a fallen comrade, as if they were crossing swords.

There is another tradition among fire departments: Employees ― sometimes thousands of them ― from around the city and state get paid not to work and to attend the funerals of someone many of them didn't know. Off-duty firefighters can be called in to cover all those shifts ― and you would assume overtime is involved. (Our calls to the San Francisco Fire Department and Alameda Fire Department have not been returned.)

While many readers may think this is a crass approach to a tragedy where two San Francisco firefighters lost their lives, so be it. Of course, there is no way to put a price on the worth of the men who died doing their duty. But I think the question regarding the cost of the tribute is worth asking when the city and the fire department are facing huge budget cuts that may affect service and firefighter jobs.

I wondered: How could the Alameda Fire Department afford to have its employees here when it couldn't afford to have them trained in water rescue, which resulted in one man recently taking his own life while standing chest-deep in water with fire department personnel standing by?

The cost in fuel for dozens -- hundreds? -- of trucks in attendance from around the Bay Area and state had to be thousands of dollars. I know of no way to estimate the cost of the hundreds of firefighters attending. State and municipal employees and their bosses and even Gov. Jerry Brown will also be there. Yes, private-sector employees get time off for funerals, but usually for immediate family members only; otherwise they must use vacation or personal days. They aren't granted leave to attend the funerals of people in the same profession, much less in another part of the state.

Perhaps it would be better to allow all the members of the affected fire station and a few representatives of the department to attend the funeral and then thank other departments from around the state for their thoughts during this time.

Another issue today is that traffic will be tied up for hours as the funeral procession moves through the city during afternoon rush hour. The 280 freeway will be closed for several hours, making it difficult for residents of the southern sections of the city to get home. Meanwhile, extra police and highway patrol officers will be on duty at added cost.

The traffic congestion issue -- which also adds to city pollution -- got me to thinking that the best time for a funeral like this would be midday on Saturday or Sunday. That would allow thousands of municipal employees to attend without taking off a workday.

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Tom Walsh

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