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Fire staffing vote was no surprise

RichRifkinW

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From page A6 | May 08, 2013 | 16 Comments

In my March 13 column, I wrote, “it is clear, when listening to (City Council members) Dan Wolk and Lucas Frerichs, both ambitious young Democrats, that they are willing to bend over backwards to not come across as anti-union. They know that label could imperil their futures in higher office.”

I was explaining why Wolk and Frerichs voted to kill the 3-3-3-2 fire staffing model recommended by Scott Kenley, our former interim fire chief. They both voiced support for the 4-4-4 scheme favored by the firefighters’ union.

After that column was published, Lucas requested that we chat. He wanted to explain his position in person. He was unhappy I had insinuated that his priority was neither public safety nor the city’s fiscal health.

We had a pleasant discussion for more than an hour on the deck outside the Cloud Forest Café on D Street. Lucas is a charming and pleasant person.

One thing I could not get out of him, however, was a cogent argument why the 4-4-4 union model, put in place by former Chief Rose Conroy — who, according to the city’s ombudsman, was exceedingly deferential to the union — was better from a public safety perspective than 3-3-3-2.

Under 4-4-4, we have three engine companies, each staffed with four firefighters. Under 3-3-3-2, we have three engines staffed with three firefighters plus a rescue truck staffed with two firefighters.

The example Lucas came up with was “a major crash on I-80, out toward the Causeway.” He said, if we have only three firefighters in South Davis, they won’t be able to do as much as having four, imperiling lives.

Unfortunately for Lucas, his one example of what’s wrong with the Kenley model is actually a good example of its superiority. Yes, three firefighters would arrive on Engine 33. But immediately thereafter, two more would come on Rescue Truck 31.

That is exactly what the two in 3-3-3-2 creates: a decoupled rescue truck that can respond independently of Engine 31.

So if there were a big crash near the Causeway, the city of Davis could dispatch five personnel and still have two engines ready if needed. Under the union model, that crash on I-80 would only get four firefighters on scene, and those four would be coming from downtown, if South Davis had another call.

The staffing issue came back to the City Council last week, and fortunately, a majority overrode Wolk and Frerichs and adopted the Kenley plan.

In its Sunday editorial, The Enterprise wrote, “We’re extremely disappointed that Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wolk and Councilman Lucas Frerichs didn’t see the wisdom in making this change.”

Disappointed, perhaps. But no one should have been surprised.

Dan and Lucas understand that it’s next to impossible to climb the political ladder in their party if they stood up to the firefighters.

No one knows the power of the firefighters better than Dan’s mother, Sen. Lois Wolk. After she once voted against them in the state Senate, the firefighters stripped her committee assignments to punish her.

One thing I know from talking with Dan Wolk — another exceedingly nice person — is that Dan is not dumb. He’s a Stanford graduate and has a law degree from Boalt Hall.

Yet when it came time to defend 4-4-4 over 3-3-3-2 last week, he could not articulate anything coherently. At one point, during the round of council questions, Dan asked why we couldn’t keep four people on each of the three engines and still have a decoupled rescue truck.

Everyone stared at Dan with an expression of “Are you serious?” until Mayor Joe Krovoza — who, along with City Manager Steve Pinkerton deserves great praise for leadership on this issue — explained that 4-4-4-2 would mean Davis would have to pay two more firefighters per shift than we do now.

“Oh,” Dan replied, aware that would be tough, considering Davis is now drowning in red ink.

Councilman Wolk also tried to contend that the problem we now have with simultaneous calls — where one-third or more of Davis has no coverage part of every day — will be entirely solved by the adoption of the boundary drop with UC Davis.

Alas, it won’t. Under 4-4-4 with the boundary drop, if Engine 31 (Central Davis) is on a call, say on Sycamore Lane, one of Engine 32 (West) or Engine 33 (South) will still be positioned downtown. The city’s dispatchers cannot move Engine 34 (UCD) off campus to await city calls.

Neither of the ambitious young Democrats bothered to argue that we are not better off with a decoupled rescue truck. They did, however, state the obvious that, all else held equal, “four is better than three.”

But if that is their argument, then five is better than four. Perhaps we should have eight union jobs per engine?

The question all along has been how can we most efficiently use the limited resources we have to provide for public safety and other needs in Davis?

Because the council majority did adopt the Kenley plan, we will save hundreds of thousands of dollars per year and we will improve public safety. We will have faster average response times to all calls, including first-alarm fires, which make up just 1.54 percent of Davis Fire Department responses, and medical emergencies, 65.12 percent.

Thanks to the power of the unions, however, that majority could not include the two Democrats on this council whose political interests trumped the city’s interests. Theirs was no profile in courage.

— Rich Rifkin is a Davis resident; his column is published every other week. Reach him at Lxartist@yahoo.com

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Discussion | 16 comments

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  • Neal BoysenMay 08, 2013 - 9:05 pm

    The councils recent decision to reduce fire staffing brings the daily staffing to 1985 levels. In 1985 there were 25,000 fewer people within the city limits of Davis, fire districts not included. A staffing issue that has not been talked about is 1 Firefighter position was cut, eliminated, several years ago. Last year between June 2012 and December 2012, 3 Firefighters and 2 Captains retired and there is no plan to rehire for those positions. With the councils recent decision, I suspect those positions will be eliminated. Another point is 3 Captains were promoted to vacant Division Chief positions within the last year. The bottom line is this, 9 line Firefighter positons have been lost, and most likely will not be filled. I would suggest with 9 fewer positions the Fire Department has done their share in helping with the city's budget "crisis". In the interest of full disclosure, I am 1 of those Fire Captains that retired in December of 2012. I proudly served the City, citizens and community of Davis for 27 years. I battled and survived worked related bladder cancer and was able to return to full duty. I am also a member union member. My hope now is that the good people of Davis tire of Mr Rifkins personal vendetta against the Fire Department and the Firefighters Union and say, enough is enough, and make public safety a priority.

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  • Rich RifkinMay 08, 2013 - 9:26 pm

    Capt. Boysen claims, "The council's recent decision to reduce fire staffing brings the daily staffing to 1985 levels." ... That is untrue. In 1999, before the Rose Conroy and union put in the current 4-4-4 system, we had a 3-3-3 system for daily staffing. Under the Kenley reform plan, we will have 3-3-3-2, which is 2 more per shift than in the late 1990s. Also, for the last 20+ years, the union has vigorously fought against dropping the UCD boundary, preventing Engine 34, which has 3 ff's and a student trainee aboard, from responding first to medical and other calls for the fire department in the City of Davis. But Mayor Krovoza successfully defeated the union this year on that, and so in short order Davis will have 15 ready responders (11 from the DFD and 4 from the UCDFD), which is 3 more than the Conroy-Weist scheme employed. ...

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  • Neal BoysenMay 09, 2013 - 9:03 am

    You are wrong about about the 3-3-3 fire staffing. After the West Davis fire station opened fire staffing was 3 in West Davis, 3 in South Davis, and 3 on the engine,2 on the rescue downtown. Downtown was allowed to drop to 4 minimum which was most often the norm. The "new" fire staffing model is indeed 1985 fire staffing levels.

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  • Rich RifkinMay 08, 2013 - 9:27 pm

    Captain Boysen writes, "Another point is 3 Captains were promoted to vacant Division Chief positions within the last year." This is misleading. Those 3 'vacant' positions were just created. They didn't exist before those promotions. ...

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  • Neal BoysenMay 09, 2013 - 9:13 am

    The new Division Chief positions were "created" by the loss of the Fire Marshall and 2 Assistance Chiefs. Those positions were formally titled Division Chief. The new, restructured, Division Chief positions have reduced salary and benefits. These are not new positions, they replaced those 3 positions. The Division Chiefs are also management and are not represented by the Firefighter Union.

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  • Rich RifkinMay 08, 2013 - 9:28 pm

    Capt. Boysen adds, "The bottom line is this, 9 line Firefighter positons have been lost, and most likely will not be filled." ... When he says 'positions,' he means union jobs. Those are not 9 fewer people on duty to respond. The Kenley Plan will reduce the DFD staff by 1. It will improve service and lower response times. Notice that Capt. Boysen has no argument against that main point. And with the boundary drop, the larger Davis area will have 15, not 12 ff's, who can be first responders to fires and medical in Davis.

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  • Rich RifkinMay 08, 2013 - 9:30 pm

    Capt. Boysen next says, "I would suggest with 9 fewer positions the Fire Department has done their share in helping with the city's budget 'crisis.'" .. That is wrong in all respects. Mostly importantly, much of our 'crisis' is due to the firefighters making so much in total compensation. At the FF and captain level, the average total comp is about $170,000 this year, and it is going up fast as pension funding goes up. The real question is why do firefighters make 33% more than Davis police officers?

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  • Rich RifkinMay 08, 2013 - 9:32 pm

    Captain Boysen plays the final ad hominem attack card: "My hope now is that the good people of Davis tire of Mr Rifkin's personal vendetta against the Fire Department and the Firefighters Union and say, enough is enough, and make public safety a priority." ... I have no vendetta against anyone, certainly not against the Davis Fire Department. I think it is the union's job to represent its membership and to ask for everything, including the kitchen sink, in negotiations. Our problem over the last 20 years is we had for most of that time a fire chief who believed her allegiance was to the union, not the residents, and the result was inefficient staffing and many other problems laid out by the city ombudsman, Bob Aaronson; and we have had corrupt elected city councils which took cash contributions from Mr. Boysen and Mr. Weist and the other union members and then the Council paid them back by giving them unreasonable increases in total comp and that is why we are in such a bind now and will be for another 10 to 20 years.

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  • Neal BoysenMay 09, 2013 - 9:21 am

    You do not attack any other city department or employee group as you do the Fire Department and Firefighter Union. You use your column to blame the Fire Department and Union for all the cities problems. You even name members of the Union and Department in your attacks. I stand by my word. You have a personal vendetta against the Fire Department and the Firefighter union.

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  • Tom Mcmasters-StoneMay 09, 2013 - 2:09 pm

    It is a simple issue. There is only one justification for having four firefighters on an engine- if the number of structure fires AND the amount of time an engine would typically have to spend on structure a scene "alone" justifies it. Having 4 firefighters on an engine allows for an immediate interior attack, which should be done as soon as possible from tank water, no dallying at the hydrant (usually). If there are few structure fires, and/or a single engine spends little or no time on scene alone, the public will always be better served by more units on duty, because of overlapping calls- whether it is 3-3-3-2 or 3-3-3-3. And, yes, I do know a little something about it.

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  • jeffMay 09, 2013 - 2:10 pm

    Neal, you go ahead and "stand by your word" that you think Rich focuses too much on the firefighters. That doesn't mean he's wrong.

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  • DaveMay 09, 2013 - 4:33 pm

    I agree with Rich and Jeff, the reason that people are focusing on the fire department is because the fire department and its union have pushed their costs beyond sustainable limits for the city. The city now needs to get costs down due to budget limitations and this is one area that clearly needs to be reformed. Neal and Tom, we appreciate your service, however times have changed. In the past the union could bribe or bully council members into doing their bidding, however the global economic crisis has called all municipalities to examine their budgets and their priorities. We as citizens do not want Davis to end up like Valljo or Stockton. It would be great to have fire trucks on every corner staffed by 6 firefighters, but it makes no financial sense. Hopefully this reduction to the 3-3-3-2 model works out. Given the numerous applicants for fire positions, I would hope that the council now looks at fire pay. When you have so many people trying to get a job, it clearly indicates that the pay/benefits are too high. All we as citizens ask for is common sense. We are not firemen haters, we just need to do whats right for the whole city, not just one group. I am tired of the exhorbitant cost of fire services starving out other city services.

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  • Rich RifkinMay 09, 2013 - 6:46 pm

    Captain Boysen writes, "You do not attack any other city department or employee group as you do the Fire Department and Firefighter Union." ... First, you cannot name a single example of my ever "attacking the Fire Department," because I have never attacked the department. On the other hand, I have repeatedly said that your union is behaving exactly as it was set up to behave: to better the financial and other material prospects of the union firefighters. My attack, as such, has not been against the union, but against those in positions of responsibility, such as former Chief Rose conroy and elected members of the City Council who failed to understand that what the union wants and what is in the best interests of the residents of Davis are not necessarily the same, and it is the job of these responsible parties to represent the residents' interests at all times. ... Boysen then says, "You use your column to blame the Fire Department and Union for all the cit's problems." ... Even you know that I have never done that or anything approximating that. However, it is fair to say that the excessive pay, benefits and pensions given to the fire union by our elected officials do represent a major part of the city's financial problems. ... Just so readers of this understand how excessive these benefits are: When a fire captain like Neal Boysen retires, the Present Value of his pension and lifetime medical benefits for himself and his spouse and children up to age 26 are worth around $4 million, depending on how long he lives and if he has dependents. We have unfunded debts in Davis to the employees worth around $150 million for pensions and medical. It is beyond clear that unless we change course much more than we have so far, our city will go bankrupt, as most cities and counties now are headed in that direction. ... Boysen repeats, "You have a personal vendetta against the Fire Department and the Firefighter union." ... Again, that charge is false. What I will concede is that I love my home town. Whereas more than 80% of the union firefighters in Davis live in other cities, many live very far from here the 20 days a month they are off duty, this is my home town. I am 49 years old, Neal. I moved hear when I was just 1 year old in 1965. I have no plans to leave. All I want is the best, uncorrupted public policies for my city. I am tired of irresponsible labor contracts which have doomed us. Those contracts are the result of corruption. And you should know this perfectly well: Your union gave campaign contributions to those corrupt members of the City Council so that they would give you that $4 million retirement package.

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  • DaveMay 09, 2013 - 7:54 pm

    Sign me up for the $4 million retirement package!! I have 2 masters degrees and work in the private sector. My company gives ZERO contribution to my 401k, if I'm lucky I will have about $1 million when I retire. In addition, I will have to pay for all of my medical costs....what Boysen and others need to realize is that they should just be quiet. We are now paying attention, these fat cat deals of the past will not slip through again. Also, pay attention to Stockton, if the debtors in Stockton are able to win their case, they will be able to clawback some of those pensions. It is in your best interest to have a financially solvent city of Davis, if you don't think so you might want to do a little research on the unfunded pension liabilities that Rich has highlighted.

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  • Rich RifkinMay 09, 2013 - 6:58 pm

    By the way, anyone notice that no one--not Boysen or Frerichs or Wolk or Weist, et al.--has made any case at all for why the union's preferred 4-4-4 staffing model is better for public safety than Kenley's 3-3-3-2 model. Capt. Boysen can make all the personal attacks against me he likes, and make up bull#@^t about vendettas, but it is increasingly clear that he cannot make a coherent case for 4-4-4 over 3-3-3-2. So it stands: We have improved public safety by adopting the Kenley model, no matter the exasperated rantings of those who lost the debate.

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  • DaveMay 09, 2013 - 7:57 pm

    Wolk and Frerichs should be ashamed...luckily we have enough people on the council with common sense. There are enough tough decisions to make, this one was a slam dunk and they sold us out! Just embarrassing.

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