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Fire Department Fundraiser Sparks Concern Over Misuse of Public Funds

May 11th event raised money for burn victims, but some say city employees should not be engaged in private fundraising while on the clock

A recent fundraiser for child burn victims complete with a parade of fire trucks through downtown Petaluma, has prompted some to ask why public resources are being used to support a private foundation, especially at a time when the city’s finances are strained.

On May 11th, fire departments from around the North Bay, including Petaluma’s, held a burn relay, an annual event benefitting The Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation, which raises money to send child burn victims to camps in the Sierras.

Although the relay started in Healdsburg, the Petaluma Fire Department engine met up with the group at Old Redwood Highway and accompanied the fire trucks to the D Street station, where it presented the group with a donation of $1,000, according to Captain Phil Sutsos, the Petaluma representative to the foundation.

The trucks then continued down to Novato—sans Petaluma Fire trucks-- before ending the day in Sausalito. They raised a total of $34,295 for the organization.

Sounds innocent enough, but critics say the use of “on the clock” fire fighters, gas and engines for a private fundraiser is inappropriate.

“At a time when teachers are being laid off, state parks are being closed, how can the state of California justify using public vehicles for a private fundraiser?” said Janice Cader-Thompson, a Petaluma resident and former city councilwoman. “Using city time, uniforms and other resources is not acceptable.” 

Captain Sutsos said that the Petaluma firefighters who participated were indeed on duty, but they never left their jurisdiction and actually had to peel off to respond to a medical call during the event. He said the Petaluma portion of the fundraiser lasted no more than half an hour.

“This is for children, to help them forget their injuries and feel normal,” Captain Sutsos said. “If people don’t know the whole story, they tend to jump to conclusions.”

Cheri voisine May 23, 2011 at 03:01 PM
Firefighters offer educational programs to private groups all the time. Who hasn't had a private preschool group visit a fire station? Activities like this are considered public education about burn and fire safety and are in the accepted realm of community activities for public employees. While firefighters may reach 100 children at a safety fair to teach stop, drop and roll. An event like this, draws attention to the tragedy of burn injuries and gets everyone talking about how to prevent them. An event well worth the use of public funds.
David Miller May 23, 2011 at 09:19 PM
The minimal cost of participation in the event is greatly outweighed by the public benefit of burn prevention education. Fires and burns cost our State millions each year and this type of activity supports prevention efforts throughout the state. Many of the fire engines were back up engines or out of service and the firefighters when needed clearly respond to calls. The donated funds are raised by the firefighters throughout the year in a variety of ways and this is a great way for them to show the public what they have done. We should be cheering for these firefighters and the great work they are doing in the community.
Craig Marston May 24, 2011 at 06:05 PM
The use of public funds is always a great topic for discussion, some have great insight and some Don't. There was a cost to the tax payers for the Petaluma Fire dept to participate, Yes. Fire Engines cost $5-7 per mile to operate in there lifetime (100,000 mi. ) This is the only cost. Is that too much , for all the good this event does ? Really $ 28 spread out over 20 years. This is truly a great public scandal. Who are the Past/present leaders in this community questioning this public spending ? Maybe Legal fees the city spends defending it's self needs more attention. Millions vs. $28 Thats leadership.
Active Thinker July 08, 2012 at 07:40 AM
Leave the guys alone...they are helping out people who need at as always...come on...the city will waste so much money on so many lame old school practices and this is what people get into...fire fighters are there to help you out in time of need and do things others simply can not....give them a break. I say good job to all of them for helping out....
Patrick M. July 08, 2012 at 03:20 PM
Didn't think my opinion of Barrett could sink any further...I was wrong. Thank you Janice for taking a break from standing in front of tractors to pick on the firefighters.

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