International Association of Firefighters Local 4577, which represents Patterson’s career firefighters, announced its endorsements this week after personally interviewing most of the candidates.
“We’re actually pretty excited about getting involved in the political process a little bit,” said Mike McLaughlin, president of IAFF Local 4577.
Firefighters say they worry about staffing shortages that have led one of the city’s fire stations to be regularly left empty, as well as a service agreement that prevents them from being the first responders to emergencies just outside city limits.
“We felt we needed to get involved politically to help educate people, including candidates and council members, about these important issues,” McLaughlin said.
Firefighters said they chose Smith because of her “practical idealism,” as well as her support for firefighters over the years. In a prepared statement, McLaughlin described her as a strong advocate of proper training, equipment and protective clothing for firefighters, adding that she played a key role in hiring the most recent six career firefighters added to the department.
Smith also told firefighters she will work to hire another nine firefighters to be consistent with the city’s general plan goal of one career firefighter per 1,000 people, McLaughlin said.
“Since she was first appointed to the council in July 2006 and then elected in November 2008 to a new four-year term, Annette Smith has been an energetic and consistent advocate of helping our firefighters better protect the public from the ravages of fire and other disasters,” McLaughlin said.
The firefighters picked Buehner because he has made public safety a top priority and hopes to revisit a shared services agreement between the city and the West Stanislaus Fire Protection District, McLaughlin said.
The city’s paid firefighters have become frustrated at times when they are at Station 2 in west Patterson and can see an accident on Interstate 5, but contractually must wait until West Stanislaus Fire Protection District responds, McLaughlin said. West Stanislaus uses the same fire chiefs who work for the city of Patterson, as well as Patterson-area volunteer firefighters. While the volunteers do a wonderful job, McLaughlin said, paid firefighters wish they could respond right away when things happen just outside of city limits.
In addition to praising Smith and Buehner, McLaughlin described Novelli as a strong supporter of firefighters and a tireless advocate for their safety.
“Deborah’s endless energy and positive attitude is just what the council needs to help tackle the important issues it faces,” he said.
The local fire union president said he thought it was critical to get involved in this election, given the challenges fire crews face these days.
In addition to the service agreement, the fire department has had to temporarily close Station 1 on Las Palmas Avenue — called a brownout — when there are too few firefighters on duty, because of vacations or illness. While volunteer firefighters who spend the night at Station 1 have helped, he estimated that the station is empty about 30 percent of the time, and the only firefighters on duty during those times are at Station 2 in west Patterson. McLaughlin also has advocated for a general increase in hiring to meet quotas called for by the general plan.
“We are critically understaffed for career firefighters,” he said.
Smith said she was honored to be endorsed by the firefighters.
“It’s a huge, huge gap in public safety, she said.
Novelli also said public safety is a huge priority, and both she and Smith said they worried about the brownouts at Station 1.
“I was just delighted, honored and thrilled to have (firefighters’) endorsement,” Novelli said.
Buehner said after Monday’s candidates forum that he did not think much of the endorsements at first, but he thinks public safety is important, and he wants to speak with representatives of all city departments.
Meanwhile, mayoral candidate Luis Molina questioned the endorsements of Novelli, Buehner and Smith as a group, saying there was a perceived alliance among those candidates. Buehner told the Irrigator in a questionnaire last week that he thought having him and Novelli on the council and Smith as mayor would make for a cohesive council, and all three candidates’ campaign signs often appear close together throughout town.
McLaughlin did not know what was wrong with the candidates being potentially aligned, adding that firefighters did not realize some of the candidates were supporting each other until reading the responses to questionnaires they had given them.
Still, he said the firefighters simply endorsed candidates whose priorities most reflected their own.
“We definitely took each of the candidates on their own merits,” he said.
In addition to providing candidates with an extensive questionnaire, a three-person committee from IAFF Local 4577 interviewed candidates individually before making their endorsements, McLaughlin said.
He said he was pleased with the lineup of candidates this year.
“It was very difficult (to make a decision), because there were very good candidates for council and mayor,” he said.
• Contact Jonathan Partridge at 892-6187 or firstname.lastname@example.org.