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Expensive Free Time

January 29, 1994

It's clear that the role of the city's firefighters has to be changed. Police officers are overwhelmed. They cannot finish searching and booking one prisoner before the dispatchers are calling them to hurry because they have other calls waiting for them.

By contrast, firefighters spend perhaps five to six hours out of 24 responding to calls. They do have 1.5 hours for "physical fitness," if they want it. This taxpayer time is spent jogging, playing volleyball, basketball, or even golf.

Many of us have observed the firefighters drive their $400,000 truck to go grocery shopping at Lucky or Ralph's, after which they go back to the station to cook it, eat and clean up--all on taxpayer time.

Firefighters spend about three hours a day in training. A couple of years ago when the city was looking at cutting a training captain, the fire chief told the City Council that training was very important since they do not have enough real fires to keep his people proficient at their jobs. Isn't that amazing? How many businesses would keep employees if there wasn't enough work to keep them qualified?

The firefighters have what they call free time. Of course it is not free to the taxpayers, and we've all read about the firefighters who think they should be able to read Penthouse or watch the Playboy Channel on this so-called free time.

The city's idea to cross-train police officers and firefighters may not be a good plan, but something has to change. As a taxpayer, I expect government employees to provide valuable services, professionally and courteously. I also expect them to be busy. If they can't help police officers with public safety, they better find something productive to do.

JOHN STONE

Oxnard

The Ventura County Edition of The Times welcomes the views of readers. Letters should be as brief as possible and are subject to condensation. They must include signature, valid mailing address and telephone number. Pseudonyms and initials will not be used. Send letters to: Ventura County Editor, Los Angeles Times, 5200 Valentine Road, Suite 140, Ventura 93003.

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