The East Contra Costa Fire Protect District (ECCFPD) will hold a very important meeting tonight which has three major topics of discussion which includes potentially moving towards an elected board, provide an overview of a volunteer firefighter program, while they Adopt Preliminary Operating Budget for Fiscal Year 2012-2013
Each of these topics could take hours to discuss but I’ll try and hit you with the talking points as prep for tonight’s meeting. I’d encourage many in East County to show up to se the board in action.
Elected Board Discussion
I wrote about this in detail on June 23 and I believe this will be a great thing; however, it’s a two-step process with the public having to approve the change in November with elections of new board members next June.
What should be interesting here is the discussion that will take place on how to break up the future board. Will they decide to select an “at large” model which means the top 9 candidates out of the entire District create the new board. Or, choose a model similar to the current makeup of the board which is done by Districts by way of population. Currently, the board is made up of 4 members from Brentwood, 3 from Oakley and two from the rural parts of the District based on population. Personally, I’d prefer the current make up of Districts based on population. It ensures a fair representation based off population and the deck can’t be stacked in favor of a single area.
It should be noted that looking at the budget, it’s a now or wait a while decision as it appears the money is there now and will not be available going forward.
Overview of a volunteer firefighter program
For months now, there have been cries from the public that the District should move towards a volunteer based District. While I am all for a volunteer program, it should be noted there are costs involved as its not free and I firmly believe it should only be used as a subsidy at best to our current firefighters as we need full-time career firefighters.
According to the Staff Report:
A volunteer firefighter program would consist of members of the community that live or work within the District.
The difference between a volunteer firefighter program and a paid on-call program is that within a paid on-call program, the firefighters are paid per hour for training and emergency responses.
The following steps would be needed to implement a volunteer program:
- Recruitment: 30-40 days of advertisement, accepting applications
- Selection Process: Application review, interviews, background checks, medical review
- Training: 240 hours of initial fire training, 60 hours of medical training, 100 hours of driving emergency apparatus training; 240 hours of annual refresh/updates
- Safety Equipment: One set of structure firefighting turnouts, one set of wild land firefighting gear, self-contained breathing apparatus mask, personal medical safety bag, uniforms
- Workers Compensation Policy: A separate policy for volunteers is required by the District’s Workers Compensation insurance carrier.
- $1000 – Recruitment (per each recruitment process)
- $1500 – Selection Process (per volunteer)
- $1500 – Training (per volunteer)
- $6000 – Safety Equipment (per volunteer)
- $ 500 – Workers Compensation Policy
Timeline would be to have first volunteers completely trained and ready to implement within 180 days of the beginning of the process.
Implementation of a volunteer program is not currently included in the preliminary operational budget. It would need to be budgeted in September 2012 when the Operational Budget is approved.
What jumps out to me first is doing the math as it costs $10,500 per volunteer which isn’t much, but it’s also not exactly free like some in East County have proclaimed.
But what is not clear within the staff report is how many volunteers are needed for a successful volunteer program. According to an email from Chief Henderson, the goal is 40-50 volunteer firefighters (it’s unclear if this is per station or for the entire volunteer program).
If the District was to hit this goal of 50, the total cost for this program set-up is roughly $525,000 which isn’t exactly free. In a best case scenario, the volunteers could begin working in the District come Jan/Feb 2013 according to the Chief.
But here is the kicker; the District could put the investment forward in resources and its still volunteers. Meaning the District can’t make them show up. More to the point, this isn’t the 1970’s where stores shut down and workers are right around the corner, it’s just not the reality anymore as people cannot simply get up and leave.
Imagine a Home Depot clerk getting the call and having to leave. Imagine a mom and pop store owner getting a call with customers inside, they are not going to close down. More to the point, we live in a commuter area where most volunteers will be working 20-30 minutes away at best. By the time they get back to the area, the emergency/fire is larger or it’s over.
Adopt Preliminary Operating Budget for Fiscal Year 2012-2013
According to the staff report, on June 11, 2012 the Board received various staffing scenario options and their estimated associated costs for a Balanced Operating Budget for FY (fiscal year) 2012-13 and directed staff to prepare a preliminary Operating Budget based upon a 27 suppression personnel and 3 station staffing model.
The preliminary FY 2011-12 Operating Budget identifies anticipated expenses under the following staffing model:
- 27 full time fire suppression personnel
- 3 stations: staffed with three personnel
- 4 management positions
- 1 administrative position
This one is a real eye opener and bit scary at the same time considering the layoffs and closed stations will have occurred and the District will still be running at a small deficit. This will be covered using what little reserve funds are available. The revenue over (under) expenditures shows a deficit of $45,012 for 2012-2013 with reserves of $759,059 remaining.
In 2013-2014, the bottom line jumps to a projected deficit spending of -$325,418 with reserves dropping to $433,641. After that, in the 2014-2015 project budgets the reserves are gone and the entire district is underwater with a deficit of -$241,512.
The Agenda and staff report for tonight’s meeting can be found on the ECCFPD website.