In Memoriam: Paul Wallace, 5th District Vice President Emeritus

Paul Wallace was part of the “Greatest Generation” when he served with the Army Air Corps during World War II, and part of another “greatest generation” of firefighter union officials ushering in an era of better pay, benefits and respect for first responders.

Last August, Brother Wallace answered his final call at the age of 92, dying peacefully of natural causes.

“Paul Wallace played an important role in bringing federal firefighters into the proud firefighter labor movement, and he tirelessly fought for decades to make the lives of all our members better,” said Mike Massone, CPF 5th District Vice President. “His commitment helped ensure that federal firefighters would have a voice and his work helped build our proud state organization.”

Born and raised in San Francisco, Wallace enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1941 – before Pearl Harbor – and served with distinction. After his service, he owned his own bakery supply company, but in 1965, at age 43, he changed careers and joined the Treasure Island Federal Fire Department. Four years later, he helped organize the department into the IAFF with formation of Presidio Firefighters Local F-145.

In 1973, Wallace was elected 5th District Vice President of what was then called Federated Fire Fighters of California – later California Professional Firefighters. At the time of his election, Federated Fire Fighters had just emerged from trusteeship, and Wallace set about re-organizing federal locals back into the group. “I went around to the federal locals and asked them to re-up … to trust us,” Wallace recalled in a 2013 interview. “Eventually we got back to over 600 members.”

“I truly believe that, without his perseverance, federal firefighters might have left the labor movement and given up,” recalled CPF President Emeritus Dan Terry. “Paul would not let that happen.”

As 5th District VP and president of his local, Wallace led a three-year effort to shorten the 72-hour work week imposed on federal firefighters. Legislation actively pushed by Wallace through IAFF and Federated Fire Fighters got all the way through Congress, only to be vetoed by then-President Jimmy Carter. Wallace continued to make shortening the federal firefighters work week a crusade. He was also a tireless advocate of CPF and the importance of staying engaged in the state association.

“Back then, (CPF) was the only place where we could come together … a place where we were organized,” Wallace said. “If you weren’t part of (CPF), you were off in your own direction. It gave us a voice.”

Wallace retired from the fire service in 1986, and left the CPF Executive Board four years later, in 1990. He was subsequently unanimously approved as 5th District Vice President Emeritus. Both on the job and in retirement, Wallace was active in San Francisco’s civic and political life. He knew Speaker Pelosi personally and never stopped using those connections to improve the lot of federal firefighters.

“Whether it was the FLSA, contracting out federal jobs or correcting Department of Defense overtime policies, Paul never quit,” said Terry. “To all of us who knew him, Paul was a giant.”