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City manager responds to fire union’s no-confidence vote

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From page A1 | July 18, 2013 | 21 Comments

Amid unresolved labor contract negotiations, controversial changes to city fire operations and the announcement that six more months will pass before a full-time chief is in place, the relationship between Davis firefighters and city management appears to have stumbled firmly onto shaky ground.

The rift may have reached its lowest point this week when the fire union, Davis Professional Firefighters Association Local 3494, announced that its 31 members unanimously voted “no confidence” in Police Chief Landy Black and longtime Assistant Police Chief Steve Pierce, both of whom have been asked to run the Fire Department until January.

Black is the interim public safety director and Pierce is the interim fire chief.

Bobby Weist, president of the fire union, said Wednesday that while the vote is nothing personal against Black and Pierce and that he respects each of them as police administrators, they’re simply not qualified to command the city’s Fire Department.

“The city indicated that (Black and Pierce’s) assignments would be temporary and would not impact the fire services provided to the community,” Weist said in an email announcing the no-confidence vote.

“California state law is very clear about the required qualifications of a city fire chief. Government code section 38611 requires that a ‘fire department shall be under the charge of a chief who shall have had previous training and experience as a fireman.’ While Chiefs Black and Pierce are both good people — and probably excellent police administrators — neither have had any previous training or experience as firefighters.”

Weist further explained that the union does not have confidence in Black and Pierce because they lack training in fire management, organization and emergency operations; they lack knowledge of Fire Department policies; they recently assigned an “unqualified fire marshal” without notice to supervise emergencies; and because general communication has been lacking.

“For the reasons specified above and general discontent with chiefs who do not possess any experience in fire service, morale within the Fire Department is at an all-time low and line personnel have lost trust in Chiefs Black and Pierce,” Weist said in the email.

The two police commanders have been at the helm of the Fire Department since January when then-Interim Fire Chief Scott Kenley was forced to step down after he’d exhausted the maximum amount of hours he could work for the city as a retired public employee.

In response to the union Wednesday, the city manager’s office released a statement to say that the city was surprised by the vote, saying “it is somewhat unusual to have a ‘no confidence’ vote regarding interim managers.”

“These were temporary appointments to allow the city to complete its analysis of how and what level fire services should be provided for the future,” the release said, paraphrasing City Manager Steve Pinkerton.

As to the union’s assertion that Black and Pierce can’t lawfully run the Davis Fire Department, Pinkerton said: “The city analyzed the legal propriety of having (Black) and (Pierce) oversee Fire Department management prior to their taking over these roles in January.

“Since that time, Black and Pierce have worked in tandem with the Fire Department’s four fire division chiefs regarding all fire operations issues. The division chiefs, who have a combined total of 88 years of experience as trained firefighters, have operational authority and control over fire incidents and emergency responses provided by the Davis Fire Department.”

Pinkerton also said city leaders plan to sit down with members of the firefighters union to understand and to “clarify information stated in their press release, which the city believes is either inaccurate or misleading.”

The city manager concluded by reiterating that in the fall the city will determine whether it is feasible to share management of fire services with UC Davis. If it isn’t, the search will begin for a full-time chief, he said.

The city’s last full-time chief, Rose Conroy, retired in February 2010.

“We hope the city takes the Fire Department seriously and what we do seriously,” Weist said Wednesday before the city issued its news release. ” (The city) says that they’ll hire a chief in six months. … Well, they said that six months ago and they said that six months before that.”

On the subject of sharing management with the university, Weist said he believes it’s a good idea as long as the two agencies administer a full merger and not attempt a piecemeal approach.

— Reach Tom Sakash at tsakash@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash

Tom Sakash

Tom Sakash covers the city beat for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at tsakash@davisenterprise.net, (530) 747-8057 or @TomSakash.
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Discussion | 21 comments

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  • Robert HammondJuly 18, 2013 - 11:13 am

    I understand that part of the issue of fully integrating the UCD and city fire departments is the fact that City fire fighters are paid more than their UC counterparts. Is there any reason why we couldn't dissolve out fire department and contract those services out to UCD? I am really getting tired of hearing about our fire union. I want fire safety at a reasonable cost. The union has jeapordized that.

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  • RyanJuly 18, 2013 - 1:12 pm

    Fire safety at reasonable cost? The cost to run the entire fire department is about 4% of the city budget. That includes salaries, benefits and operating costs. I am proud of the firefighters and the service they provide to this city! UC Davis has a FF union too, FYI.

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  • Robert HammondJuly 18, 2013 - 1:40 pm

    Ryan, if you went into Starbucks and the menu said a latte costs 4% of the money you had in your bank account" how would I know if that latte was reasonably priced? If I'm paying $10 million for something and could get basically the exact same thing somewhere else for $9 million would I still want to spend 10? No, I would not. BTW - The fire dept is 20% of the City's general fund budget. But, again, the percentage doesn't matter. What matters is whether we are paying more than we should. Unions aren't the problem, this particular union is the problem. FYI

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  • RyanJuly 18, 2013 - 2:08 pm

    I would go to Peet's and pay more for a better latte. Just like I would pay more to ensure I get better fire protection. The city recently reduced staffing and the level of service in West and South Davis and everyone is still paying the same. Specifically The East Davis Fire Protection District who contracts with the city and still pays the same with a reduction in their service. You still need a fire chief if there is a management merger. The police chief would not be able to run 3 totally different organizations. Hire a FIRE chief who is familiar with Davis and absorb the university. I don't know why it has taken 3 years to make that happen.

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  • Rich RifkinJuly 18, 2013 - 4:15 pm

    Ryan, you have this entirely wrong. ...... "The city recently reduced staffing and the level of service in West and South Davis and everyone is still paying the same." ...... The staffing change to 3-3-3-2 from 4-4-4 greatly IMPROVES the service for the entire city, but no area's service will improve as much as those who live near Engine 32 (West Davis) or Engine 33 (South Davis). The degree of improvement in service to those areas is dramatic. They will have much faster response times for fire and medical, because they will no longer have no coverage parts of every day, as they get with 4-4-4. ...... It needs to be pointed out that, while the union (for its own purposes) falsely claimed there would be reduced service, not one person in any public debate ever made a cogent case for why there would be reduced service with the far more efficient 3-3-3-2 staffing structure. If you think you can mount such a case, let's hear it.

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  • Rich RifkinJuly 18, 2013 - 4:26 pm

    "Hire a FIRE chief who is familiar with Davis and absorb the university. I don't know why it has taken 3 years to make that happen." ...... The primary reason this has not happened is because the city pays far more in total compensation to its firefighters than the UCD fire professionals make. As a result, it is very hard to integrate the departments. UCD does not have any interest in doubling the pay of its employees, and the city of Davis firefighters, naturally, are not interested in a big cut in pay. However, from what I have seen from the outside, UCDFD Chief Nathan Trauernicht is qualified and would be capable of being the chief of both departments (which is something his predecessor, Bill Weisgerber, did for some time). Having said that, I was told by a second-hand source that Bobby Weist and some members of his union have very negative feelings about Chief Trauernicht. I have not heard that directly from any Davis firefighters, though. And I am not sure it really matters how the union feels about Trauernicht, if he is qualified and capable.

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  • RyanJuly 18, 2013 - 5:29 pm

    How are 3 FF better than 4 FF in south and west Davis? That sounds like a question on "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader." How many move-ups occur a year? What was the average duration of the move ups? I would say average is prob around 20 minutes (just a guess). Most of that time is traveling through their respective districts to get to 31's. Move ups are still going to occur no matter what the staffing level is. Engine 33 has to wait an additional 5-7 minutes for the rescue to provide extrication for patients trapped in a vehicle(33 covers the majority of I80). 3 people on a CPR call will drastically reduce what that crew can do for the patient and family/friends who are witnessing that tragic and horrific event. The 2in-2out argument is pretty clear and speaks for itself. Every time the rescue responds to a call solo another engine has to respond with it so an officer can be on scene...great distribution of resources. It is a reduction in service regardless of how you spin it. Even a 5th grader could nail that one.

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  • Rich RifkinJuly 18, 2013 - 7:14 pm

    "How are 3 FF better than 4 FF in south and west Davis?" ...... They will get to fire and medical calls faster because R31 will be deployed independently, and therefore E32 and E33 will not have to cover for E31. For that reason, it will be much, much safer for residents of South and West Davis, and frankly better for all of Davis ...... "How many move-ups occur a year?" ...... There must have been more than 700 for the year studied by Chief Kenley. He said they reposition to central Davis on average one time per day. I am surprised it is not higher. ...... "What was the average duration of the move ups?" ...... I don't know. However, it adds signficantly to the response time for fire and medical for South and West Davis. ...... "Move ups are still going to occur no matter what the staffing level is." ....... This is false. All engine repositioning will be avoided for medical calls responded to by R31. Those represent the majority of emergency calls to the DFD. ...... "3 people on a CPR call will drastically reduce what that crew can do for the patient and family/friends who are witnessing that tragic and horrific event." ...... There is zero evidence that fire departments with 4 per engine have better results responding to medical emergencies than those which have 3. In fact, almost all fire departments in our state, including Woodland and Vacaville, have 3 per engine. Also, ambulances will be deployed, bringing the minimum number to 5. And if needed, R31 could be sent, too, bringing the number to 7, all without a second engine. ...... "The 2in-2out argument is pretty clear and speaks for itself." ...... Because the first responding fire engine will now get to calls much faster on average, fire response, even when 2-in, 2-out is in play, will be faster. The first arriving engine comnpany with 3 will be setting up when the second engine arrives. If someone is in need of rescue inside a burning building, the first engine company does not need to wait to save the person.

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  • RyanJuly 19, 2013 - 1:54 pm

    Contrary to what you and the public were led to believe the rescue is not "decoupled." Although it may not be coupled with 31, whenever it is dispatched to a call on its own (second call in 31's district) an engine must be dispatched along with it so an officer can be on scene (there is no officer on the rescue), because of that the other engine has to move up. Even when the boundary drop occurs an engine will still be dispatched with rescue 31. So now the rescue is coupled with 32, 33 and soon 34.

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  • D FranklinJuly 18, 2013 - 5:24 pm

    What I understand is that you don't understand the issue. In no part of this article are they discussing the merger of two fire departments. They are discussing the merger of UC and City of Davis administrations. What the issue we have now is our city has not have stability in the Fire Department for over three years. We now have an Assistant Police Chief in charge of the Fire Department, by the vote of City Council and recommendation of Pinkerton, during a time of change. Now the question is who is overseeing how our fire departnent is operating during this critical change of number of personnel on a fire truck? A Police Chief? Is that using good sense? Is it not imperative to have a Fire Chief in place to oversee this extensive change within our fire department?

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  • Rich RifkinJuly 18, 2013 - 6:57 pm

    "What I understand is that you don't understand the issue. In no part of this article are they discussing the merger of two fire departments." ...... Ryan brought this up; and I responded to him. In fact, Davis and UCD have been looking at a merger of their fire departments for many years. I explained above the principal reason it has not happened.

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  • D FranklinJuly 18, 2013 - 7:33 pm

    I was referring to Robert's comment. I tend not to waste my time with you as you are too closed minded and seem to have an agenda. For instance although Ryan got way off topic you continue with that topic instead of the topic at hand. So answer this, who is in charge of operational changes going from four person to three person since we have no Fire Chief? If you say the four Division Chiefs then who makes the final decision if they do not agree? You see Firefighters, and Police Officers for that matter, are para-military. There needs to be a person of knowledge making the final decision. So who is it? Police Chief Black? Assistant Police Chief Pierce? Two people with no knowledge of firefighting.

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  • RyanJuly 18, 2013 - 8:43 pm

    It's the 2 people with no knowledge of firefighting. The city has budgeted for and started the recruitment of a fire chief, so hire one. This person could help facilitate a management merger (if there is one), have fire service knowledge (not PD), be in it for the long haul, and provide stability/leadership within the fire department. And based off the vote of no confidence it doesn't sound like there is any. I think 3 years is long enough! And Rich, I am sure UCDFD Chief Nathan Trauernicht could apply.

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  • RyanJuly 18, 2013 - 9:14 pm

    The full time chief could prob do everything that the rehired consultant Kenley is doing. That would save the city and taxpayers some money.

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  • Rich RifkinJuly 19, 2013 - 11:18 am

    "you are too closed minded and seem to have an agenda." ....... You will never meet anyone more open minded to facts and logical argument than I am. I am completely non-ideological. If you or any of the other firefighters or fire-unionists have facts or logic which suggest a different and better policy, I would gladly change my opinion. I have done that in the past with regard to the DFD. ...... My only expectation is that the city uses its limited resources wisely and efficiently, that the public interest is best served, and that the city's long-term budget is sustainable. Unfortunately, hitherto, my expectations have not been met.

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  • Rich RifkinJuly 18, 2013 - 4:36 pm

    "... because they will no longer have no coverage parts of every day." ...... I need to clarify that. I meant to say, "because they will no longer have no nearby coverage parts of every day." As you know, we have a South Davis station and a West Davis station. What you may not realize is that, due to regular repositioning of the fire engines, under 4-4-4 there is often no one in the South Davis station or likewise no one in the West Davis station. They move down to 5th & E to cover central Davis when Engine 31 is busy. As it happens, I saw Engine 32 (West Davis station) at 5th & E at about 10:30 this morning. According to dispatch records, Engine 31 was then responding to a medical call on Cantrill Drive. (I should note that there may have been some other reason for E32 to be out of West Davis.)

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  • So tired.......July 19, 2013 - 1:37 pm

    Rich, last i checked you are a writer for the news paper NOT a Fire Figher, NOT a Fire Captain, NOT a Division Chief or a Fire Chief. You're not a policy maker, council member or the CIty Manager. So please, STOP TALKING!!! I get so tired of listening to you talk talk talk talk talk about all the ways you think are best to run a fire department. How the "system" works. You know nothing! You have NO clue what a fire fighter does or how to operate a fire department. The whole 4-4-4 vs 3-3-3-2. The best way to operate without a doubt for the City of Davis, not Woodland, not West Sac, not Sacramento but Davis is with 4-4-4-4. That's right, add another 4 with a truck company. Since we do not have a truck company in Davis I'm ok with 2.....on the rescue. It's not 3-3-3-2. Having all 3 stations staffed with 4 Fire Fighters and the Rescue with 2 is far and above the best for Davis. Davis does not have the luxury of mulitple stations within 3-4 minutes to help when we need it. The 3-3-3-2 is NOT more efficient. You don't get to calls faster. You are reducing the level of service to the City.....PERIOD. 3 fire fighters is NOT better than 4. It's rediculous to hear you argue about how efficient this concept is. Really? How would you know? Do you work for the Fire Department as a Fire Fighter, a Captain, a Chief? No, you don't so how the heck would you know? How would you know the best way to use the resources? You're a writer, not a Fire Chief. I'm not here telling you how to write. Put 4 FIre Fighters on the engines and staff the rescue with 2. That is efficient! That justifies all your concerns about staffing,responses, move ups, etc... How would I know? Because this IS my job. I do this job 56 hours a week. 224 hours a month and 2,688 hours a year. Since we're on the topic I'd be happy to do the math for you, but if you extend out the hours a fire fighter works over a 30 year period, based on our yearly hours worked, we actually put in 45 years of work compared to the "average" person working a 40 hour work week in a 30 year career. So when you talk about fire fighter only working 10 days a month......get your facts straight. We work 15 years longer then the "average" person in the same 30 year span. I've heard you talk about how important these issues are to you because Davis is "your town". How important is it to you? How important is it that you are willing to support a system that is outdated 30 years? I've been here with the City when we had 3 person engines. Back in 1985 the staffing was 36 fire fighters and Davis ran 1200 calls a year. We are back to 36 fire fighters and we run over 4000 calls a year. Seriously? I Just getting so tired of reading your thought on a subject you know nothing about. So please, just stop.

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  • RyanJuly 19, 2013 - 1:58 pm

    ...Boom!

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  • fiscally fitJuly 18, 2013 - 4:39 pm

    Today Detroit filed bankruptcy....in a few years, thanks to the firefighter's union, it will be City of Davis' turn.

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  • D FrankilnJuly 18, 2013 - 5:32 pm

    Fear mongering is not the answer. To compare Davis to Detroit is asinine.

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  • So tired.......July 19, 2013 - 7:55 pm

    Fiscally Fit: How about some facts regarding the City of Detroit which couldn't be more opposite then the City of Davis but since you brought it up..... -Population of Detroit has fallen from 1.86 million in 1950 to 700 thousand today. -Some 47% of properties are deliquint in paying their taxes -Manufacturing jobs in the City have slide from a peak of 200,000 to just 20,000 today -Nearly 80,000 buildings have been abandoned and many are unsecured. -The City owes money to over 100,000 creditors I'm guessing these facts about the City of Detroit have much to do with the City filling backruptcy not the Local Fire Union of the Detroit Fire Department.

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