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.