Crime, Fire + Courts

Community group formed to fight for firefighters

By From page A1 | April 11, 2013

As the debate continues over whether city leaders should approve a recommended change to Davis’ four-person fire crews, some local residents have formed a community group supporting the firefighters.

While there was no specific mention of the proposed reduction to three-person crews in a news release issued earlier this week, Friends of Davis Firefighters say their mission is “to educate the community about the ongoing efforts of the Davis Fire Department to ensure the safety of the city of Davis’ 69,000 residents through its emergency and preventive services.”

At issue is an audit prepared last fall by former Interim Fire Chief Scott Kenley that suggested the cash-strapped city could achieve $360,000 in annual savings by reducing the city’s four-person fire crews to three personnel at each of the fire stations in downtown, West and South Davis, as well as adding a two-person rescue unit downtown that could respond to incidents separately, instead of in tandem with a fire engine.

The firefighters’ union, Local 3494, opposes the recommendation, saying it would reduce public safety and increase property loss by forcing firefighters to wait for a second crew to arrive on scene before entering a burning structure, in keeping with the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s “two-in, two-out” mandate enacted in 1999.

“Davis firefighters work around the clock to ensure our safety yet they are under attack by a vocal minority in our community,” said member Alan Fernandes, described in the news release as a Wildhorse resident and community volunteer. “As a resident of a neighborhood which is outside the desired 911 response time, it is important that this group educate city officials and other citizens about the value of the firefighters and the level of service they provide to our community.”

Fernandes finished third in the race for two seats on the Davis Board of Education last fall. An attorney, he is a lobbyist for Los Angeles County.

“The last thing these brave men and women need is someone playing Monday morning quarterback about the hard-earned benefits they deserve for being on the front lines of every emergency that comes Davis’ way,” added Gina Nunes, a parent and school volunteer. “The Friends of Davis Firefighters is a group of concerned residents who are willing to say ‘enough is enough’ and show that the overwhelming majority of Davis citizens appreciate the hard work of these public servants.”

Nunes said the group plans to launch a public-awareness campaign using social media, local advertising and a website.

A Google search shows the website’s domain name, friendsofdavisfirefighters.com, was registered to Bobby Weist, the president of Davis Firefighters Local 3494, on Feb. 1.

But Weist said in an interview Wednesday that the union is not a part of the community group, which he said the firefighters learned of as they walked precincts in anticipation of a March council discussion of the staffing issue.

“They’re basically running the show,” Weist said. “Because we have mutual goals, we’re happy to offer them some resources to get their information out. We’re grateful that there’s a grassroots group of folks out there that supports what we support.”

The citizens’ group also has launched an online petition on thepetitionsite.com, titled “Stand Up for Davis Firefighters,” with a 1,000-signature goal.

City staff, meanwhile, have maintained that they support Kenley’s recommendations.

“We have a very good report that (Kenley) put together and now we’re scheduled for the council to make a decision,” City Manager Steve Pinkerton said Tuesday. “We stand by Kenley’s recommendations and if you look in the context of our budget, you can see why.”

“We also see (the change in staffing levels) as an improvement in service, not as a (detriment),” Pinkerton added.

Pinkerton and the city’s negotiating team also have yet to strike deals with the Local 3494 labor group. The union’s contract expired in June.

The city already has locked in new agreements with the Davis Police Officers’ Association and the Program, Administrative and Support Employee Association that make sizable cuts to city pension contributions, health benefits and retiree medical benefits.

Already, the Davis City Council has approved several other changes to 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 potential service boundary drop between the city and university.

A decision regarding fire staffing was delayed once in January due to the lateness of that night’s council meeting, and a second time in March when council members voted to consider the matter during their discussions of the proposed 2013-14 budget, which was slated to be unveiled this week.

The council set a June 30 deadline to vote on the issue, with a mandatory “check-in” date of May 14.

— Enterprise staff writer Tom Sakash contributed to this report. Reach Lauren Keene at [email protected] or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @LaurenKeene

Lauren Keene

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