Last night’s ECCFPD meeting offered a lot of interesting discussions where the Board could have acted, but chose to be cautious for obvious reasons. The board did decide to look into the community interest for a volunteer program while while the idea of an elected board may prove to be to costly given the budget and it may turn out to be board members handpicking their own replacements.
Receive Overview of a Volunteer Firefighter Program
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 while volunteer is what it is, a volunteer and unpaid.
Volunteers would have to go through 240 hours of initial fire training, 60 hours of medical training, 100 hours of driving emergency apparatus training and 240 hours of annual updates—it would essentially cost the District $10,500 per volunteer in training.
Jim Frazier: How many volunteers are we talking about? The chief explained about 40-50 volunteers but if a true first out-first in program was set up, it would need to be 40-50 per station (150 total).
Jim Frazier followed up asking how many have volunteered since Measure S failed? The chief responded he got a couple calls, but zero have volunteered.
Jim Frazier asked if implemented, would this be used a stepping stone for other districts? Since we are paying for training and making the investment, what is the investment and commitment to us upon completion? The chief responded there is no commitment as he explained you are going to have your group of people who stay long term, others drop midway through training, some only like it for a few months and drop out—essentially, it’s a big mix of situations where it fades over time.
Steve Barr asked if the safety equipment belongs to the district? The chief responded yes it does. If someone leaves we can re-use it, but it would have to fit a new volunteer. He explained firefighters now are given two sets of equipment, but volunteers would be given one. Equipment is good for 10-years.
Steve Barr wanted to confirm that if we take away equipment, its $4000 in training cost? The chief confirmed Director Barr was correct in that assumption.
Gill Guerrero stated today I am a captain and as of Saturday I will be demoted. He urged the board to take into consideration the level of training is so difficult and different than other districts. He stated if this is the direction the board wants to take, the firefighters won’t stand in the way but the district needs to be clear in what this program is. Stated he was a Paid On Call (POC) and knows the demand of the program and how its changed as people cannot get to the stations in time anymore.
Bob Mankin stated he appreciates the volunteer program, but there are a lot of caveats that go along with the program and urge the board to consider it before making a decision.
Jim Frazier stated we should see the level of interest the community has prior to a decision. We should put out a call and see who signs up.
Kevin Romick asked the chief to explain where this was going. The chief responded based on Jim Frazier’s comment, could you put out an advertisement to start the process which would take about 30 days.
Steve Barr suggested a minimum number to move forward and a quota should be reached. He agreed with the Chief that 40 should be the minimum.
Pat Anderson explained just because they sign up doesn’t mean they understand all it entails. It needs to be clear so they understand what they are signing up for.
Jim Frazier opposed this number as being too low and suggest 60 as once they signup, they may decide it’s not for them and those who sign up may not even want to move forward. Suggested if the number drops to low, it should be cancelled.
Bob Kenny stated he has done the volunteer thing in the past and no one showed up. Stated before we make a commitment to them, they need to make a commitment to us
Motion passed for a quota of 40 by vote of 6-3 with Anderson, Frazier and Kenny voting no.
Process for Changing from Appointed to Elected Board
It was confirmed that this will be a two-step process if the Board was to go to an elected board. First, it would have to be on November Ballot for voters to approve the change followed by an election in June of 9-members. The cost was a concern to the Board where it was between $100-200k in anticipated costs for November plus any sort of setting up districts within the District for an election.
Kevin Romick asked if the City Council could appoint their replacements since the board of Supervisors already appoints two at-large board members from rural East County. It was explained to the board by legal that the statue would allow for this to occur.
My impression is rather than spend the money, the Board seemed like this would be the cheapest and best way to go forward, but were hesitant to move forward without discussing it at the City Council.
Erick Stonebarger stated, “I want to get to an elected board sooner rather than later. My recommendation would be for the council to appoint citizens”. He further explained he wanted to accelerate the process.
First off Mr. Stonebarger, appointing citizens does not make it an elected board, but I do agree with him it’s time to get councilmembers off the board. Also, accelerating the process may not be a good thing if it’s not thought out. This is essentially a one-shot attempt or moving to an elected board won’t happen as the funds are not there going forward (if ever).
Pat Anderson suggested she wants the council to discuss it and then come back to the board.
I agree with Ms. Anderson that its best to get council thoughts prior to a decision as the way it’s set up now is for Council to replace other councilmembers. If a change was to occur with citizen appointments, it may require need some change in language to allow it to occur.
Adopt Preliminary Operating Budget for Fiscal Year 2012-2013
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
Essentially, for the upcoming year the district is running in the red by -$45,000 while reserve funds will cover this loss with a remaining reserve balance of $759k. According to the Chief, the budget does not account for the 20% reserve policy.
Jim Frazier asked if there has been any discussion if CONFIRE is called for mutual aid, will they be billing us for calls? The chief said no discussion yet.
Erick Stonebarger explained we should seriously consider not renewing the month to month lease and put the administration in an empty station (Savings of $40k or so). He explained the District should be very concerned with retirement costs. He also reiterated his support of a 4-station hybrid model while struggling to support the budget.
Jim Frazier asked about the Sunshine Station and if that gives us 4-stations. If that is the case, can we pull resources from CALFIRE from that station? The chief explained that for six months in the winter, they could technically pull those resources over to this side of the District.
Steve Barr said he was concerned with the Accessed Assumptions as he didn’t see anywhere it was flat. He urged the District to tweak the model so that there is at least one year of flat revenue before seeing an increase.
Robert Brockman said the budget did not include the potential cost for volunteer training
Jim Frazier chimed in that due to Mr. Brockmans comment, the budget also does not consider the cost for an elected board. He urged the District to look into ways to consider implementing sources of re-occurring income.
Approve Year-End Fiscal Year 2011-12 Operating Budget Amendments.
The budget amendment was approved 9-0.
The total expenditures are estimated at $11,560,791. During the fiscal year ending June 30, the District will have used $3,350,515 in reserves to cover its expenditures. As of July 1, 2012, the District’s projected fund balance, including remaining reserves, will be $804,070.
Jim Frazier asked the Chief for a ballpark number if the district did not respond to medical emergency what would be saved? The chief responded with less than $50,000 because you are paying for staff already and all that would be saved is fuel and wear and tear on vehicles and equipment.
Approved by vote of 8-1 with Stonebarger being the “no” vote.
Christine Thresh (Bethel Island): Stated that July 1 will be a scary and sad day when the Bethel Island station closes. Stated that with the building closed she would like to work towards making the station a historical building and file the appropriate paperwork that would allow a volunteer group who will be supervised by a contractor to go in and fix the building. The purpose was the station is needed as a staging area.
My thoughts on this is it’s a great idea in theory, but now you are asking the District to spend resources on this pet project when the focus should be on providing resources for fire services. Where was this volunteer help when the station was open and our firefighters were living in a FEMA trailer? Why was their never this effort when the station was open to preserve the station for actual firefighter use? No disrespect to Ms. Thresh or others, but where was this effort when you actually had a station?
Gary Steinberg (Discovery Bay): Stated he would like the Board to reconsider the 4-station model based on geography stating “we can get the job done with two-man crews”. He explained the more crews the better and go that direction based on calls being mostly for medical.
Carissa Pillows (Brentwood): She stated her disappointment with the failure of the Yes on S campaign. She explained that Brentwood needs its second station because they pay 48% of the District and will be receiving 33% of the services. She thought the 4-station hybrid model was a solid option. She went on to explain that the District should stop responding to medical calls as firefighters should be fighting fires while AMR should handle medical. She stated she realized she was asking the District to drop 90% of their service calls. She moved onto to discussion about not wanting funds going towards an elected Board and how it should be a citizen appointed committee while instead of a volunteer firefighter program it should be invested in a volunteer first response service.
My thoughts on Ms. Pillows comments could take hours to respond with data that proves she is dead wrong on her opinion. More to the point, the District is not set up for a “return to source” because it’s a District, not Brenwtood so her argument of paying 48% for the 33% for services doesn’t fly. Not to be blunt, but this whole idea of not responding to medical calls is flat out stupid if you ask me. According to the Chief, by not responding to medicals you are saving on fuel and wear and tear on vehicles (around $50k)—I believe saving a life is more important than fuel and vehicle tear. According to Bob Mankin, he did the research and it’s about $45k per station.
More importantly, by not responding to medicals, you are essentially paying firefighters to sit in big comfy chairs and watch TV or play poker waiting for a fire. Imagine the public relations nightmare if little Timmy is 7 years old dies by choking on a hot dog and the firefighters could have been there but didn’t respond because they no longer respond to medicals.
The media asks, “What were you doing?” The captain responds, “Nothing, we were waiting to be called on a fire call and couldn’t risk using our resources for a medical call in case there was a fire”.
Meanwhile, little Timmy is dead when it could have been prevented had the District continued to respond to medical calls. This way of thinking is dangerous and now more than ever it’s time to consider changing its marketing from a Fire Department to an All Emergency Response Department because that is what it technically is.
As for Ms. Pillows, shame on her for suggesting the board to put thousands of “Little Timmy’s” in immediate danger while allowing AMR to increase their bottom line as they are a “for profit” company.
Ronald Leon (Bethel Island): Explained that Bethel Island will soon have a tragic event because this board closed their station and hopes they can sleep at night with this guilt. He said he will go to Federal Court to prevent this from happening because he claims that citizens can sue if county fails to provide services.