The issue: Money-saving change will not jeopardize public safety
Despite protestations that Davis’ public safety will be compromised, a majority of the Davis City Council took a courageous stand Tuesday and voted to adopt a new fire staffing model. The move, which had been recommended in an audit prepared last fall by then-Interim Fire Chief Scott Kenley, slightly trims the fire crews but saves the city approximately $437,000 a year.
The majority of the savings from the reduction, which also was supported by City Manager Steve Pinkerton, will be realized through cutting vacant positions in the Fire Department and limiting overtime. No firefighters will be laid off.
WHAT DOES THIS mean for public safety? Currently, each of the city’s three fire stations is staffed with four firefighters per shift. Under the new, more flexible configuration, three firefighters will man each station — in Central, West and South Davis — and a second, two-person crew will staff a rescue truck stationed downtown that will serve as an emergency rover.
While all concerned acknowledge that four firefighters are better than three, this configuration actually will provide more stable emergency service throughout Davis. Currently, when an emergency call (fire or medical) comes into the Central Davis station, that crew will respond, and dispatch will reposition either Engine 32 (West Davis) or Engine 33 (South Davis) downtown. That’s done because the center of town gets a lot more calls than the outlying areas, and dispatch cannot leave the busiest area of town with no crew ready for the next call.
But the flaw with this model — why it provides inferior service — is that it leaves one-third of the city with no prompt coverage any time there are simultaneous calls. According to Chief Kenley, we create service vacuums like that every day,
“Again, 130 times a year, at a minimum, Station 33 is left uncovered having to cover the central area (for example). What we’re trying to do is minimize that,” Pinkerton told the council Tuesday. “… what we’re attempting to do is keep apparatus available out in East (and West) Davis as frequently as possible.”
FIREFIGHTERS ALSO lobbied for retaining the four-person staff because it conforms to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s “two-in, two-out” policy, which requires two emergency responders to be stationed outside ready to assist when firefighters have entered a building on fire.
Remember that two-person “rover” rescue truck? That’s the backup crew that will respond if there’s a first-alarm fire. And until that crew arrives, the firefighters on scene won’t be twiddling their thumbs. They’ll be doing their job — attacking a fire from the exterior until they can safely enter the building.
The three-person fire staffing model works quite well in Woodland, Vacaville, Roseville, Chico, Fairfield and Napa, and it can work for Davis, too — especially because we have another fire department in our back yard, on the UC Davis campus.
TAKING ON THE powerful firefighters union is no easy task for a local politician. We give a pat on the back to Mayor Joe Krovoza and Council members Rochelle Swanson and Brett Lee for their votes Tuesday in favor of necessary frugalism. We’re extremely disappointed that Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wolk and Councilman Lucas Frerichs didn’t see the wisdom in making this change.
“I’m disturbed by the tenor by some … that doing anything but status quo is anti-fire and anti-fire personnel and that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Swanson said. “Sure, four is better than three; if we can do best-case for everything we would have that across the board. … I just think we have to realize efficiencies.”
Efficiencies, indeed. Our city faces a huge bill for street maintenance, higher water costs and, of course, the elephant in the room — massive ongoing costs for retirees’ pensions and medical bills. If Davis expect to stay out of bankruptcy court, our council members need to be smart with the budget. Trimming the fire staffing is just the first step.