Our View

It’s time to trim our fire crews

By From page A16 | March 03, 2013

The issue: Money-saving change will not jeopardize public safety

Davis City Council members will resume their discussion of proposed money-saving changes at the Davis Fire Department on Tuesday evening. And while all eyes will be on results coming in from the Measure I election on the surface water project, we hope the council will give plenty of serious attention to these necessary changes.

AN EXTENSIVE AUDIT prepared last fall by then-Interim Fire Chief Scott Kenley makes several recommendations, among them a modification of the city’s response-time goal, a shared-management plan with the UC Davis Fire Department and a possible service boundary drop between the city and the university.

All three of those suggestions got a green light from the council, passing in late January with relatively little controversy. But a decision on a recommendation to revert to three-person fire crews won’t be quite as easy.

City leaders approved four-person fire crews in 1999 after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued its “two-in, two-out” mandate for firefighters in emergency situations. But that was long before the country’s economic downturn, and critics say the fire staffing levels are no longer compatible with Davis’ financial reality.

Under Kenley’s recommendation, the Fire Department’s daily staffing levels would go from 12 firefighters to 11, with three-person engine crews at the downtown, West Davis and South Davis fire stations, as well as a two-person crew on a rescue unit assigned to the Fifth Street headquarters. Estimated savings: $360,000 per year.

Typically dispatched in tandem with a fire engine, the rescue vehicle could be designated a stand-alone unit and could respond to incidents with the West and South Davis fire engines if needed, Kenley suggests.

BUT MEMBERS of Davis Firefighters Local 3494 have opposed the reduction, saying it would increase safety risks to firefighters and damage to burning structures if fire crews, waiting for backup to arrive, are delayed in making their initial attack on a blaze.

They have taken their case to the public, knocking on doors and speaking with neighborhood groups in an effort to drum up residents’ support.

“When it comes to public safety, $300,000 is not a significant amount of money,” Bobby Weist, a fire captain and president of the firefighters’ union, told The Enterprise.

We’re all for public safety, of course, but the savings are important as well. 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 UCD campus.

Our City Council needs to heed Kenley’s advice and make the switch.

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