Members of Davis Firefighters Local 3494 are taking their quest to maintain four-person fire crews to the public.
Firefighters have been knocking on doors and speaking with neighborhood groups — including at a forum held Tuesday night at Pioneer Elementary School — about a proposal to reduce Davis’ fire engine crews from four personnel to three.
The reduction could achieve $360,000 in annual savings for the Fire Department, according to an extensive audit prepared last fall by then-Interim Fire Chief Scott Kenley. The Davis City Council is scheduled to vote on the issue at its meeting next Tuesday following the second of two round-table discussions.
Already, the council has agreed to pursue several other changes in Fire Department policy, including a modification of the city’s response-time goal from five minutes to a more “realistic” six (and six minutes, 20 seconds for first-alarm fires), a shared-management plan with the UC Davis Fire Department, and a possible service boundary drop between the city and university.
While those issues passed with little fanfare, the staffing issue is expected to be much more contentious. In a flier advertising the Pioneer forum, the firefighters’ union claims the reduction from four-person engines to three could result in longer response times, delayed entry into burning buildings and increased chances of large property losses.
The flier encourages residents to either attend next week’s council meeting or voice their concerns to council members.
“The reason we’re doing (the outreach) is because there doesn’t seem to be a lot of public discussion,” said Bobby Weist, a fire captain and president of the firefighters’ union. “There’s more discussion about naming a park than there is about whether we should cut fire services.”
At issue is the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s “two-in, two-out” mandate, which served as the basis for Davis’ increase to four-person fire crews in 1999. It says that for every two firefighters who enter a burning building or emergency situation, two others must be prepared to help outside unless there is a rescue situation at hand.
But then the economy crashed, and the cash-strapped city began looking for ways to make across-the-board spending cuts.
Kenley has recommended that the city reduce its fire personnel from 12 firefighters per shift to 11, with three-person engines at each of the city’s three fire stations in Central, West and South Davis, along with a two-person rescue unit stationed at the Fifth Street headquarters that could be dispatched separately to outlying areas as needed.
That, along with the proposed boundary drop with UCD, would increase the level of service to the community while also saving money, Kenley has said.
But Weist contends the scenario would jeopardize firefighter safety and leave West and South Davis neighborhoods more vulnerable, as crews there would still have to wait for a second unit to arrive before attacking a structure fire.
“When it comes to public safety, $300,000 is not a significant amount of money,” he said.
Next Tuesday’s City Council meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. in the Davis Community Chambers at City Hall, 23 Russell Blvd. Although a time for the fire staffing issue has not yet been set, it is expected to be the only major item on the agenda in light of that day’s Measure I election.
— Reach Lauren Keene at email@example.com or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene