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?