From Hank Oleson, (Local 3573 President from April 1, 1994 to November 30, 2003) ~ The first meetings to organize the firefighters of the Sun City Fire Department were held on June 17 and 18, 1993. There was no single motivating factor at that meeting, they ran the gamete; from wanting to have a red sticker in your rear window, pay and benefit issues (no COLA that year, no PSPRS Pension), the fear of Rural coming back, to some who didn't care and were happy as we were, to some who were afraid that a union could actually hurt us. At that time we didn't know if we were to be part of Local 493, be on our own or just have a non-unionized employee organization. We didn't know how we would tell the Fire Board, the Chief or the public, we didn’t know what we would call ourselves, we didn't know who would lead us. We really didn't even know what a union was. A lot of questions without answers. We ended those meetings doing two things, electing our first representatives, and giving ourselves a name, "The Sun City Fire Fighters Association".
My motives for calling that meeting were simple. There was a lot of talk going around at that time that we should unionize, some of the people talking the loudest had already made contact with 493. I felt it was inevitable, enough of our members wanted one and a union was coming. I didn't feel it would hurt us but the wrong person saying the wrong thing at the wrong time could. Simply put, I wanted it done right.
Over the last 10 years we have come a long way together. We answered all those questions and more. 38 members to 250+; 1 chapter to 5; being an unknown in the state organization to being dubbed the ''Westside Warriors", zero political process to having had a positive involvement in elections and building relationships with elected officials and administrations in every district or city we work in. Every one of us has benefited from this journey with better pay, benefits, pensions and a safer work environment. Some highlights have been; El Mirage joined our union making $18,000 year now their pay scales are one of the highest; Sun City has received pay increases equal to over 50%; passing SB 1355 so Sun City, then Sun City West could enter PSPRS and buy their time back; passing Meet and Confer in El Mirage and Surprise; Daisy Mountain, already with a MOU, with annexation and growth issues; We have strive to a fault to ensure that all our members are treated fairly and with respect in the disciplinary process and the many day to day issues that have been handled are to numerous to even remember let alone mention. I do not take any credit for any of these issues because none of these things could have been possible without the support of all of you. But I can say, it was done right (submitted to all members of the local on November 14, 2003).
From T.J. MacKay (Local 3573 President from December 1, 2003 to Present) ~
Hank’s letter was delivered during a time of transition for our organization as the three chapters who left other IAFF Locals to join ours decided to form their own group and initiated the creation of a new IAFF Local in late 2003 (one chapter recently relocated to their 4th Local). This movement required a significant reorganization of our operations and was particularly daunting based on the many positive gains established in such a short period of time by our growing organization. As Hank mentioned previously, many firefighters in the state did not have the ability to join the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System, including all of the firefighters in Sun City and Sun City West. This was actually the first committee I chaired for the Local and working with fire station 102 neighbor Senator Edward J. Cirillo, we were able to fend off all of our opponents and pass this critical piece of legislation, which drastically improved the benefits package of both districts for all of our members. The ‘Westside Warriors’ started with four of us (2 from Sun City West / 2 from Glendale) having breakfast at a Village Inn restaurant in Glendale and blossomed into one of the most effective grassroots political organizations the state had ever seen. Our Local specifically was actively engaged and successful at every level of government; ranging from obtaining meet and confer / MOU agreements for El Mirage and Surprise to convincing every single member of the Arizona Congressional Delegation to support key IAFF legislative initiatives (resulting in millions of dollars in grants to our departments, communities, and neighbors). Without substantially increasing dues, we could no longer afford to support our ‘brick and mortar’ hall, offices, or educational center and were compelled to develop another plan to reach our ultimate goal; sidelining many of the programs hosted by our ‘West Wisconsin’ headquarters until we are able to continue such pursuits again.
While slowed, our progress has continued despite reduced membership numbers and resources over the last fifteen years. Increasing our ranks during the housing market collapse and the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression was an implausible goal in and of itself, but attempting such actions in direct conflict with the ‘Axe the Tax’ coalition, the ‘Arizona Prop 13’ group, the ‘Prop 117’ initiative, and myriad of anti-tax aficionados traversing the nexus of Koch Industry subsidiaries to local ‘watchdogs’ appeared a measure of true insanity. Despite these challenges, record losses in assessed valuations, skyrocketing mil rates, and an almost endless line of complicating factors, our members were able to overcome all barriers presented to them and actually increase service to our citizens, communities, and neighbors. Innovative programs, creative approaches to longstanding industry problems, and International accreditation / reaccreditation notwithstanding, perhaps the most tangible example of this evolution derives from our members creating the first and only ISO Class One fire department in the State of Arizona.
As Hank mentioned in his letter, The United Sun Cities Firefighters Association, IAFF Local 3573 was first organized in January of 1994 and formally charted on April 1, 1994 (we did confirm that it was not an elaborate April Fool's Day prank). The firefighters of Sun City served as the founders of the organization, with XXXX signing the original charter. This group was joined by the firefighters of Sun City West a year later, grew to five chapters before returning to two, then increased in membership numbers by absorbing the Wittman chapter of United Valley Firefighters IAFF Local XXXX in 2016 and merging the United Sun Lakes Firefighters IAFF Local 3560 in 2017. The evolution of our organization coupled with the dynamic changes throughout our nation has required an adjustment to our operations and a delay in accomplishing all of our lofty goals during our long history. Slowly but surely, we are approaching our previous membership highs with only two chapters and have moved closer to some of our significant milestones.
Since the inception of our organization, we feel that we have paced the nation in providing the most diverse and highest quality service available while helping to create some of the most progressive fire departments in the world, which constantly evolve to meet the ever-changing needs of our customers and communities. To accomplish that mission today, we believe that our mission can best be accomplished by taking a proactive stance; meaning that our efforts should primarily focus on providing those we serve with the information necessary to prevent, reduce, and avoid emergency situations themselves, rather than focusing on our ability to respond to and control emergencies after they occur. We will always be there when you need help; we just want to help you avoid the pain that comes with needing our help. When emergencies do occur, we know that minutes mean lives. Responding to your emergency with experienced providers and appropriate equipment must be accomplished within a specific period of time for a successful outcome to be realized. Retaining experienced providers, strategically locating resources, and having adequate equipment available is paramount to successfully managing any emergency.
The aforementioned vision has been developed by the hundreds of years of combined experience that our organization enjoys coupled with an in-depth study of industry and national standards that provide the framework for creating safer communities. With these facts in mind, we are compelled to seek out and support creative members of our communities to serve as elected officials for our respective Fire Districts. We only endorse those individuals who will dedicate themselves to managing emergency services in a fiscally responsible manner that provides for the protection of the lives and property of their fellow citizens.