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SPECIAL COVERAGE: Living With Wildfires: San Diego Firestorm 10 Years Later

DeMaio, Fire Chief Spar Over EMT Pay

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A San Diego city councilman says the fire department is wasting millions of dollars a year. Now the fire chief is lashing back.

— A San Diego city councilman says the fire department is wasting millions of dollars a year. Now the fire chief is lashing back.

Councilman Carl DeMaio is calling on the San Diego Fire Department to cut $5.4 million from its personnel budget. The money is distributed among firefighters who are certified Emergency Medical Technicians. But all firefighters must be EMT certified. DeMaio said firefighters shouldn’t get paid what he calls a bonus for a basic job qualification.

"This would be like opening up the newspaper or going on Craig’s List for a help-wanted ad," he said. "And it says law firm seeks lawyer, attractive compensation package And if you have a law degree, a bonus is provided!"

DeMaio said the money should be eliminated when it comes up for renewal this summer. He said in the meantime the money should go toward restoring fire services that have been cut.

But Fire Chief Javier Mainar strongly disagrees with DeMaio’s characterization of the money. He said it was negotiated with the firefighters’ union in the 80s when EMT services were added to firefighter duties. He said it's part of their basic pay even though it’s a separate budget line item. He said San Diego firefighters are already among some of the lowest paid in the country. And Mainar said DeMaio knows all of that.

"Quite frankly much of what he comes up regarding my department is inaccurate. And he’s finally crossed the line from inaccurate to the point where’s he defaming a lot of us by what he’s saying," he said. "If he wants to have an honest conversation he knows where my office is."

Mainar has outlined $7 million in cuts his department may have to make if voters reject a proposed sales tax increase on the ballot this November. DeMaio said cutting what he calls the EMT bonus would cover 75 percent of that.

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