Friday, April 18, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
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We value our firefighters

By Alan Fernandes, Lori Duisenberg, Gina Nunes and Sean Cowan

Every time we hear the wail of a siren, or jog past the fire station, or hear news of a local tragedy; we are thankful for our first responders, and in particular the firefighters in Davis.

There are only 36 firefighters in Davis who work in shifts around the clock to protect our community from all manner of danger — from fires to medical emergencies to traffic collisions.

It makes little sense why three City Council members recently sided with a small, but vocal, number of people in our city who have chosen to second-guess our firefighters and devise their own plan for how Davis ought to be protected. Under the guise of saving approximately $400,000 a year, some city officials have decided we ought to shuffle our firefighters like a deck of cards, repositioning them with smaller crews and a diminished ability to save lives and property.

A few hundred thousand dollars is nothing to scoff at, of course, but it deserves to be put into perspective. What is the cost of saving a family’s home, or an apartment complex or a business from complete destruction? What is the cost of saving a life? Or, more coldly, what is the value of $400,000 in balancing the city’s annual budget?

That one’s a bit easier to put a number on: it’s about 0.4 percent. With a city budget of approximately $100 million, $400,000 doesn’t make a dent. However, that amount of money could make a significant impact on a person’s life or livelihood.

What the debate at City Hall comes down to is this: Our city’s fire stations are each staffed by four firefighters and now they will have only have three. Davis has three fire stations. There’s one downtown, one in South Davis, and one in West Davis. Each is staffed by four firefighters working 24-hour shifts. With that staffing level, our Fire Department covers an area of 133 square miles that experienced nearly 4,400 emergency calls last year.

As our city continues to grow, we need more firefighters, not fewer. Indeed, as our city has grown over the years, the city has not added additional firefighters or an additional station since 1985! During the development of the Wildhorse neighborhood, the need for an additional fire station was identified but no changes were made. As a result, Wildhorse and other parts of North and East Davis are located outside the desired 911 call response time. Rather than addressing this problem, three of our City Council members voted to cut service by reducing the number of firefighters per shift.

The three council members voting to cut first-responder service to pre-1980 service levels merely provided lip service to the 911 response issue. Their answer is to “look at adding or relocating” the fire station in downtown Davis (where most of our community’s most valuable assets exist!) to North Davis, or finally building a new station someday in the future. Where will that money come from if the city is already in such dire straits?  They provided no answer to this question because they have no answer, as they know it likely will never happen.

In practical terms, decreasing our fire crews from four people to three, sadly, will mean more loss of property and potentially lives lost. There’s a safety rule imposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that requires four firefighters on a scene before any can enter a burning structure. It’s called the “two-in, two-out” rule, and it’s there for the safety of the firefighters.

That means every time there is a fire in the city, the closest fire crew of three people will respond with lights and sirens, but  under the recently adopted plan, when they get there they will have to wait for another crew in order to do everything in their power to save the home or business.

Aside from this rule, common sense tells you that fewer firefighters responding to serious medical calls likely will result in less successful outcomes. Every council member admitted this proposal to be a reduction of service, noting that four firefighters at each station would be better than three. Nevertheless, three City Council members charged ahead to cut our most important public safety service — first response — because of budget cost pressures for other spending priorities such as potholes (as suggested by one council member).  We can think of nothing more important than public safety.

The city budget was the reason offered for this reckless action, and we believe the City Council should reconsider this decision during the adoption of its annual budget. Only then should a decision to save 0.004 of the city budget, and compromise the safety of Davis residents, be rightly compared against other city priorities. We believe the larger public has a right to see the choice between fewer fire and medical response services compared to a few fixed potholes.

Thank you to Councilman Lucas Frerichs and Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wolk for doing their homework and for their courage to stand up in the best interests of the safety of all Davis residents.

— Alan Fernandes, Lori Duisenberg, Gina Nunes and Sean Cowan are East Davis residents.

Special to The Enterprise

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Discussion | 29 comments

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  • Davis NeighborMay 05, 2013 - 8:00 am

    This commentary is right on the money, so to speak. The City Council should look for savings elsewhere since the prime function of our city government is to keep our families and property safe.

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  • Perry WhiteMay 05, 2013 - 10:24 am

    Interesting article. "We Value Our Firefighters;" and if you don't agree with the union shills who wrote this, then you don't. I not only value our firefighters, I also respect their competence, and I suspect they can do as good a job as the firemen in Sacramento and other cities who do just fine with 3 men on a rig. It may be true that 3 city councilmen sided with a "vocal minority" (although I would suspect it is a majority)but it is also true that two city councilmen decided to replace Steve and Ruth as being beholden to union dollars rather than city solvency. Come election day we'll see what the majority thinks.

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  • Richards Blvd. ResidentMay 05, 2013 - 11:34 pm

    Actually, it's not just unions that support 4 person teams -- the National Association of Fire Chiefs (management) think so to. As for "city solvency," as the commentary notes, the amount of money here is tiny. But when your house or business burns to the ground, or a family member gets injured, the price of that can be quite high.

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  • Rich RifkinMay 06, 2013 - 6:56 pm

    The authors of this piece have an "independent" website where the give every single bullet point of the firefighters' union. It sure is good to have an "independent" point of view, where these so-called "residents" just happen to agree with the union. It must be a coincidence that the person who registered the website of these "indpendent" shills is Bobby Weist, the president of the firefighters' union, Local 3494. Weist even lists his union's PO Box as the contact address for their "independent" website. But I guess it's all a coincidence. It's not as if these four so-called "residents" are not paid shills for the public employee unions in our state.

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  • Wendy BennerMay 06, 2013 - 7:57 pm

    Public safety is and should be first and foremost in our budget. Our City Manager, Interim Chief Kinley and the city council men and women who voted against keeping this priority should be ashamed of themselves.

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  • Rich RifkinMay 07, 2013 - 9:45 am

    The fact is that public safety in Davis will IMPROVE under the Kenley plan, because the Rescue Truck will now be decoupled from attending to emergencies with an Engine. The average response time to fires and medical calls and all other calls will now decrease, and that makes all of us in Davis safer, especially those living in far West and far East Davis. The real shame is that there are now people in Davis, not just those who are being paid by the fire union, who don't understand the facts. They have been fooled by the fire union and the shills for the union into believing that the Weist-Conroy fire staffing scheme is superior, just because it costs more money. The truth is, Wendy, the union plan is good for the union, not good for public safety. And if you doubt me, then please explain how the slower response times under Weist-Conroy are better for public safety? And please explain how leaving 1/3rd of Davis uncovered part of every day under Weist-Conroy is better for public safety?

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  • ConcernedMay 09, 2013 - 2:13 pm

    Rich: It's clear that you are anti-union, and your columns are less about public safety and more about union-bashing. Now you've resorted to name calling? Pretty sad. Your vitriol has blinded you to the undisputed fact that this move by the City Council will put our homes and property MORE at risk unnecessarily. Nobody except you seems to dispute that.

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  • Concerned Davis CitizenMay 13, 2013 - 4:39 pm

    It's clear the city's purpose in reducing staffing is to save money, not improve safety as claimed. To make reductions in staffing below what is recommended by the National Fire Protection Association to save 0.1% of the city's budget is short-sighted and could be costly in terms of property and lives. I agree with K. Beck.. "It's unconscionable the City Council thinks it's okay that a city with a population of 66,000 deserves only 36 around-the-clock firefighters. The city keeps expanding and yet public safety personnel keeps shrinking.” According to the NFP Association, for U.S. cities with populations of 50,000 to 99,999, average staffing size is 1.3 firefighters per 1,000 people. Based on the 66,000 / 36 firefighter figures, Davis’ average staffing is 0.55 per 1,000. What were our councilmen thinking? Mr. Rifkin points fingers and claims it's a union plot. Actually, it doesn’t really matter to this Davis citizen. What matters is public safety. FYI, I have no association with any union.

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  • K BeckMay 07, 2013 - 10:48 am

    It's unconscionable the City Council thinks it's okay that a city with a population of 66,000 deserves only 36 around-the-clock firefighters. The city keeps expanding and yet public safety personnel keeps shrinking. That makes no sense. I'm skeptical of the argument that "well, if other cities can reduce their staffing ...". It's absurd to tell the residents of Davis, This is the best we can do. We're going to compromise your safety because other cities do it. We're going to compromise your safety for $400,000, or 0.4% of the annual budget. The safety of firefighters and the public is not some "union talking points". The danger is out there. We need our firefighters. The residents of Davis reserve better!

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  • Rich RifkinMay 07, 2013 - 3:23 pm

    K Beck, can you give an example where the Kenley plan, which the Council adopted, makes anyone unsafe or less safe compared with the union plan? It's strange that you and the others who parrot the union say, "We're going to compromise your safety," but you cannot give a reasonable real world example where public safety is actually compromised by Chief Kenley's plan. In fact, the Kenley plan improves public safety, because it decouples the Rescue Truck. The union plan which we now have is endangering public safety. But apparently union jobs are more important to you and the other union parrots than actual public safety.

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  • Margaret LiuMay 07, 2013 - 11:58 pm

    Very short sighted indeed. This is about us (the citizens) and firefighters safety. Public safety should always come first.

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  • Kevin KellyMay 08, 2013 - 9:13 am

    DAVIS FIREFIGHTERS THANKS FOR DOING WHAT YOU DO ! THANKS FOR KEEPING DAVIS SAFE ! YOUR THE BEST THERE IS ! HOLD YOUR HEADS HIGH !

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  • WTFDWKAMay 09, 2013 - 6:09 pm

    Very good article. Rifkin definitely has his own agenda, so be it. It doesnt change the fact that he and the three city council members who made such a poor decision don't know anything about the fire service. Who, in their right mind, would make such a big decision in such a short amount of time with such minimal, false information? Of course, they had the Kenley report to refer to, a report written by an individual who probably never even attended a live training. No one was breathing down the councils' neck pushing them to make a decision with such reckless abandon, well, save for the 6-8 Davis residents who obviously dislike the fire department. It's really sad that this decision was made without an active Fire Chief to fully demonstrate the effectiveness of four person engine companies. You couldn't find one fire department that would say that having 3 person engine companies would be just as effective as 4. You wouldn't find one resident who would believe that having 3 fire fighters responding to their loved ones is better than 4. The fire department is just another scapegoat for another city council and city manager hiding behind a vail of financial despair.

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  • JaniceMay 09, 2013 - 8:40 pm

    I find it interesting that Davis refuses to hire a full time professional Fire Chief but will throw money away by hiring a known axe man, Scott Kenley. He was brought in to tear down the fire department, just like he does in EVERY community he works in. The citizens of Davis and the people who pass through our community everyday DESERVE to have a professional Fire Chief. Our firefighters are PROFESSIONALS and they have always provided PROFESSIONAL service to our community. It is wrong for Rifkin, Greenwald, several city council members and the Enterprise to continue to bash our firefighters. When did all of you become professional Fire Chiefs? None of you have any idea what is needed to run a professional fire department. You are playing with the safety of our firefighters and the citizens of our community, shame on you.

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  • JaniceMay 09, 2013 - 8:56 pm

    I find it interesting that Davis refuses to hire a full time professional Fire Chief but will throw money away by hiring a known axe man, Scott Kenley. He was brought in to tear down the fire department, just like he does in EVERY community he works in. The citizens of Davis and the people who pass through our community everyday DESERVE to have a professional Fire Chief. Our firefighters are PROFESSIONALS and they have always provided PROFESSIONAL service to our community. It is wrong for Rifkin, Greenwald, Pinkerton, several city council members and the Enterprise to continue to bash our firefighters. When did all of you become professional Fire Chiefs? None of you have any idea what is needed to run a professional fire department. You are playing with the safety of our firefighters and the citizens of our community, shame on you.

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  • Rich RifkinMay 10, 2013 - 3:18 pm

    " It is wrong for Rifkin, Greenwald, Pinkerton, several city council members and the Enterprise to continue to bash our firefighters." ... No one on that list, myself included, has ever said the firefighters do not provide a valuable service to the people of Davis or that when they are called into action, they do not perform their jobs admirably. However, it is perfectly reasonable for citizens--I have lived in Davis most of the time since 1965 and I care deeply about doing what is best for my city--and especially important for public officials to question whether we are using our finite resources to provide public safety as wisely as possible. Thanks to Chief Kenley--who has been a professiional firefighter for some 40 years--we learned that there was a much better way to staff the firefighters such that public safety will be improved, and his plan will cost the city less money, and thereby allow the city over time to pay down some of the $150 million debt we have built up with unfuned pensions and unfunded retiree medical and perhaps some of the tens of millions of dollars we need to repair our crumbling roads and sidewalks. If you, Janice, consider the Kenley plan, which improves our fire service, as bashing the firefighters, I believe you are terribly misguided. If you believe that the Kenley plan, which decouples the Rescue Truck, will increase the time it takes to get to fire and medical calls, then you are basing your belief on wrong information. ... One final anecdote: When a car knocked me off of my bike last summer on Road 29, and an AMR ambulance rushed me to the trauma center at Kaiser Vacaville, I am told that while I was knocked out on the pavement, a Davis Fire Dept. crew attended to me first. Although I have no memory of that part of my ordeal, I am thankful they came to my aide. I cannot imagine ever bashing them for that or for any other professional services they render to our community.

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  • Jerry JonesMay 10, 2013 - 3:21 pm

    Thank you Councilmember Lucas Frerichs and Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wolk for standing up for safety in this town. I hear people say that safety is number one but I don't feel that is the case. When our town council votes to reduce the number of firefighters as the population continues to grow, I feel we have made egregious misstep. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 17% of our workforces is off shift. That does not include firefighters. They need to be at their best at all times and understaffing them does not help firefighters meet that goal. I hope it doesn't take someones home burning to the ground or a death in order for the council to reconsider their decision.

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  • CynthiaMay 11, 2013 - 12:35 pm

    Thank you Dan and Lucas for voting against reduction in service level. Anyway you look at it, less is not more. Rifkin has his own agenda and that's that. We deserve better and Davis should do better. Firefighters' and citizens' safety should always come first.

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  • KarolMay 11, 2013 - 12:44 pm

    Firefighters and police officers are the ones keeping our community safe and that' why people live here. To strip firefighters of their staffing level is playing with fire. Someone will get hurt and it is just not worth it.

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  • JacksonMay 11, 2013 - 12:57 pm

    Its a sad sad day when elected officials choose roads over the safety of our citizens and firefighters. Fortunately, its not ALL elected officials, thank you Dan and Lucas for doing the right thing.

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  • TierneyMay 11, 2013 - 1:11 pm

    I guess Pinkerton finally found one fire chief who's willing to cut the fire department and make it sound like it is the best thing ever! Best part, majority of council bought it. Our firefighters need 4 to effectively do their job and the idea that they will simply do the best with what they are given is an insult to their profesion. It's not an improvement in service no matter how hard they try to sell it that way. Good for Dan and Lucas for understanding simple math and doing the right thing.

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  • SarahMay 11, 2013 - 1:22 pm

    Until you experience the need for 911, you will never understand how valuable our firefighters are. My friends baby stopped breathing and firefighters came (yes, all 4 of them) and saved her life. Firefighters are there not because they have pretty trucks, they are there because "stuff" happens. Give them the people And the tools they need so they can continue to be there for us.

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  • MattMay 11, 2013 - 1:40 pm

    Mayor pro temp wolk and lucas, you done good. All of my neighbors agree. Shame on the rest of you!

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  • KelleyMay 11, 2013 - 1:55 pm

    Roads before public safety, wow, never thought that could happen. Especially in Davis, where people are forward thinking and progressive and pro labor. Guess people have lost roots. The big reasons why this university town have a such a safe reputation are because of our strong fire department and police department. Good for you, Dan and Lucas, I am sorry the rest of them wouldn't do what is right.

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  • SusanMay 11, 2013 - 2:03 pm

    City already cut 10 firefighter positions and now 3 more? How is that better service? It's a rhetorical question Rich. Thank you again and again Dan and Lucas for not putting the citizens and firefighters' lives in danger.

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  • Rich RifkinMay 11, 2013 - 4:23 pm

    Susan, clearly you don't understand the benefits to public safety in the Kenley Plan. If you, or anyone else reading this comment section, would like to meet with me in person, so I can explain to you what is lacking in the union-preferred plan and what is superior in the Kenley plan, please write me an email, lxartist@yahoo.com, and I would be happy to inform you. ... It is painfully clear that all of you who are "thanking Lucas and Dan" have been misinformed by the fire union, or perhaps you are in the union or are a family member of someone in that union. If it is the latter, then of course you will take the union's point of view. That is well within your rights. But it's unethical to pretend that you are motivated by the public interest and not motivated by personal gain, when clearly the fire union does not have an interest in this case in doing what is best for the residents of Davis, and it is all the worse because 80% of the members of that union don't even live in Davis.

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  • Kirk TalonMay 13, 2013 - 5:18 pm

    I have just retired from the Davis Fire Department after 30 years of service. I am disheartened that the citizens who's houses I have entered and where I did my best to help them through illness, death, fires and any situation deemed necessary, have been sold a filthy lie by the city council and Rifkin. Rifkin a man so devoid of that filter that most people have that makes them ashamed of lying. I don't know what happened in your sad little life to hate people who would put their life's in jeopardy to save yours. Maybe it's your lack of courage that causes you to malign brave women and men. Kinley is an ax man, a little man, a man who bragged while interim chief with the city about how much money he was taking the city for. The citizens are at risk, the firefighters are at risk, and services will decrease no matter how hard the Fire Department strives to do more with less. Shame, shame, shame!

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  • Rich RifkinMay 13, 2013 - 7:57 pm

    "I am disheartened that the citizens whose houses I have entered and where I did my best to help them through illness, death, fires and any situation deemed necessary, have been sold a filthy lie by the city council and Rifkin." ... Kirk, it's nice of you to call me a liar. Unfortunately, in all of your commentary, you never once point to a lie I told. .... "I don't know what happened in your sad little life to hate people who would put their life's in jeopardy to save yours." .... I am not a man of hate, Kirk, and I don't hate firefighters. I appreciate and respect their work. It is interesting that your style of argument is to call me names (a liar, a coward, a hater, etc.), but offer up no proof of those claims. You seem to want to attack me because I have the guts to challenge the firefighters union? Kirk, keep in mind that my perspective is the big picture. I understand the realities of our city's budget, that we are very quickly going broke giving away salaries, pensions, benefits and retiree medical which we cannot afford. I am aware that we need tens of millions of dollars just to repair our crumbling roads. So yes, I will stand up to your union, if that's what it takes. ... "Maybe it's your lack of courage that causes you to malign brave women and men." .... I have enough guts to speak the truth, Kirk. You, on the other hand, have accused me of all sorts of dastardly traits but not one of your accusations is backed up by a single fact, Kirk. Seems to me your bravery in attacking me is based on your lack of knowledge about me, Kirk. .... "Retired Fire Chief Scott Kenley is an ax man, a little man, a man who bragged while interim chief with the city about how much money he was taking the city for." .... Excuse me, Kirk, but exactly where is your source for that "bragging" accusation against Chief Kenley? It seems to me that you are just making up your claims, but you have no facts to base them on, and this bogus bragging attack against Chief Kenley is right in line with your false accusations against me. .... "The citizens are at risk, the firefighters are at risk, and services will decrease no matter how hard the Fire Department strives to do more with less." ... Please explain a scenario in which citizens are at greater risk under the Kenley reform staffing model compared with the Conroy-Weist staffing model? As you know, the average response time under Kenley will fall for all types of fire service calls, including the 60+ percent which are medical emergencies. It seems clear to me that having faster response times for fire and medical emergencies means we will have better service for residents, not worse. And in terms of firefighter safety, it needs to be understood that the same OSHA standards and California fire standards apply. As such, there is no logical reason to think that firefighters will be in greater danger. .... Kirk, I'd be happy to meet with you. If you are not afraid of me, send me an email: lxartist@yahoo.com. I am ready to speak with you or others in the fire department. In fact, I have a number of retired Davis firefighters who regularly keep me informed of your union's past activities. ... Let me close by saying this, Kirk: I don't blame you for taking your massive pension, which starts at 90% of your last salary. You will likely have that and free medical care for the next 40 years. Good for you. Who wouldn't take that if their employer is giving it away? The only problem from the perspective of my home town is that we are going broke. So while you live with a golden retirement plan that you did not pay for, our city will fall apart paying its debts.

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  • Concerned CitizenMay 13, 2013 - 8:16 pm

    It's clear the city's purpose in reducing staffing is to save money, not improve safety as claimed. To make reductions in staffing below what is recommended by the National Fire Protection Association to save 0.1% of the city's budget is short-sighted and could be costly in terms of property and lives. I agree with K. Beck.. "It's unconscionable the City Council thinks it's okay that a city with a population of 66,000 deserves only 36 around-the-clock firefighters. The city keeps expanding and yet public safety personnel keeps shrinking.” According to the NFP Association, for U.S. cities with populations of 50,000 to 99,999, average staffing size is 1.3 firefighters per 1,000 people. Based on the 66,000 / 36 firefighter figures, Davis’ average staffing is 0.55 per 1,000. Can someone explain why Davis firefighter staffing is so low compared to other cities and why this is a good thing?

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