ECCFPD Recap: Much Talk, Little Action

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.

 

Public Comments

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.

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About burkforoakley

I call it like I see it . I love my city, I love my community and I want what is best for the people around me. Do the right thing, I will support you. Do the wrong thing, I will oppose you!
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9 Responses to ECCFPD Recap: Much Talk, Little Action

  1. Barbara DuMont says:

    I would like to see an elected board ASAP as I feel that the cities have way too much control. I may be looking at this issue through rose colored glasses but this is the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District NOT the Brentwood/Oakley Fire District. It seems that there is a serious problem with some of the commissioner taking off their city council hat and acting in the best interest of the entire district. Having said that, I know that there just isn’t any money to do another election. So, maybe the city councils appointing citizens to the board might be a solution BUT that also has some serious pitfalls. Will the councils be fair in their selection process? Will they appoint one of their insiders (ringer) to the board. Or can they and will they appoint someone with the knowledge and experience that will be an asset? How about control? Will they guide the appointee’s vote? Or will they appoint someone and let them do the job without interference? Remember, the district is funded by property tax money NOT city general fund money. Also I would like more information on the citizen petition process. If 25% of the voters petition for an elected board, it has to be put on the ballot. The question that wasn’t clearly answered was Who pays for the election? The thought was the county did
    but nobody seemed sure. It might be something to look into.

    • Barbara, the fireboard is not a sexy job and is probably a career killer for anyone wanting to become politically involved. With that said, an elected board is ideal but the cost is questionable. I guess what I left out was the citizen petition probably would not happen quick enough to get it on the ballot in Nov. But you are correct, with 25% petition, then the County puts up the cost instead of the District.

      Also what people do not realize is with Frazier likely in Assembly in Nov., he drops of the Board by law meaning Rios or Pope replaces him since it’s council only. In Brentwoood, should Stonebarger or Brockman lose their races, someone else on Brentwood council would take their place. Fact is, we agree it should be elected, my bets are the Board takes the easy way out and chooses to go with citizen appointments much like the County does. Remember, its the council as a whole who picks, not the board member. Bottom line, I bet a majority who are on the Board want off ASAP!

      • Barbara DuMont says:

        “Career killer” is the best description. Voters want top notch public safety and fast response. They don’t want to pay for it. so closing stations and laying off fire fighters is not popular but necessary. And when something tragic happens, who are they going to blame????? I am with you, they want off the board ASAP as all of us know that the sh&^ is going to hit the fan real quick.

  2. Carissa says:

    Regarding Timmy: Remember, I asked them to triage calls so that they continue to respond to calls of life or limb, confirmed man down, and extrication. These are the high priority medical calls. I asked them to not go to calls that are of lower acuity and duplicate services that can be provided by AMR. Yes, my suggestion drops 90% of their calls. Yes this is difficult to accept. But at a savings of $150,000 per year, that equates to a much more feasible budget. If this is territory that has been legislated, then my recommendation can not be followed. But if it is not a matter of legislation or contract, then we need to make cuts where we can. This is what the public has demanded. If the low level medicals are truly needed, the taxpayers will demand to have this service back and the next tax levy will pass in a landslide and be demanded by the electorate.

    To be clear: I am very supportive of our Fire District and the jobs that these gentlemen do. I feel strongly that these men put their lives and bodies on the line day in and day out for the public. I care for them immensely, and respect their service and dedication even in the face of having lost the funding to keep them sustained. I feel not having paramedics, who can provide service with medications, on the trucks is providing service below the industry standard of care. And, I understand that what I am asking is for the fire service to essentially take a step back, from their professional perspective. It actually causes me pain to ask that. The idea of any human life being put in a position of peril, does not appeal to me whatsoever. But reality is reality. Our community is complaining about a perceived duplication of services and a perceived over compensation in retirement benefits. We must show responsiveness to their concerns, or we will not see any interest in increased funds and restoration of service.

    Regarding an elected board vs. an appointed board. An elected board could put us in a situation where there is not enough disbursement of representation. Theoretically, all of the representation could come from Brentwood, which would not be fair to our surrounding areas. My suggestion here was that we have an appointed board of concerned residents who have background in medical and/or fire services that want to provide community service.

    • Carissa,

      A cost savings of $150,000 ($50k per station) is rather minor compared to the cost of lives. I am not talking about deaths either, there are so many problems with this suggestion I do not really even know where to begin. The voters said no to Measure S which was a revenue enhancement, they never demanded our engines not respond to calls.

      What you are asking dispatch to do is great in theory, but reality says you are wrong as calls are often misdiagnosed and lots of times responders do not know what they are arriving to. Why even go there to save $150k while you are paying responders to stay in engines? It makes little sense.

      I haven’t even addressed the moral flaw in your argument which is to turn this into a medical problem instead of a fire problem. A life is a life is a life is a life. Who cares if its fire or medical, we should respond with as much resources as possible, not have our engines sit on the sidelines when they could be useful in an emergency.

    • Phillip Dru says:

      The fiscal situation described by Ms. Pillow is real. However, her doctrine of firefighters not responding to medical calls, which I believe comprise close to ninety percent of their calls, would be a real career stopper. It’s either those cuts be made, the fire district goes in the red, or more taxes are raised. It is going to be a hard time for her to be involved.

  3. Bob says:

    The volunteer idea is a waste of time. There simply isn’t enough manpower out there of people who can devote 400 hrs(240 basic, 60 medical and 100 hrs of apparatus operation per the Chief) to become a volunteer and then be expected to regularly answer 3 am calls while holding down a regular day job. That’s 6 months of training, 2 nights per week, 3 Saturdays per month and you get to do that every year indefinitely. For ZERO pay.

    Volunteer means something very different in 2012 than it did a generation ago. The ongoing training requirements are very different.

    POCs is not happening under any circumstances. The fiscal reality of only $800k left in reserves dictates that. That number only goes down from here, not up. You barely have any money to attempt a skeleton crew of volunteers, many of whom are just going to take advantage of the training as a stepping stone to being hired by other departments outside the area. The plan totally opens the district up to just becoming a training facility with what little money is left with no meaningful benefit to the residents the district serves.

    If you think it’s a simple $10,500 per head to train this people, think again. The process will have fallout. Out of a class of 25 you might and probably will end up with less than 10. Perhaps only half of whom are truly effective guys. But you will still be paying close to full boat for the 25. Cost per head is effectively double, if not more, and you still end up with no guarantee they won’t leave tomorrow for a career opportunity somewhere else.

    For the Arne’s and the John G’s who think you just raise your hand and count on your old training, you should brush up on the laws. The 240 hrs. is an unavoidable requirement. Doesn’t matter if you work fulltime for another department today or what you did 30 years ago. You don’t bring your turnouts home from your regular job and just ride the ECCFPD engines when you have a free day. You will put your career job in jeopardy and using gear supplied by another district here would amount to a gifting of public funds. That’s a termination level issue.

    The other major time waster was this whole appointed position thing. Existing state law and the LAFCO agreement which formed this district already account for that. There was no requirement in there that city council people be the appointees. To actually agendize and waste time discussing the issue is a bit of a joke since you cannot put in place a policy which pre-empts existing state law. Read the health and fire safety code on district formation and skip the wasteful city council dog and pony displays.

    The district was tasked with getting this to independent elected board status as part of the agreement. Unfortunately they wasted the only opportunity they had which was in the first year. Now with almost no reserves and little hope on the horizon for new revenues, the option is no longer available. This is a failure on the board’s part to hold to the agreement they made before LAFCO.

    I will say again, the consequences of the ballot measure are far and wide more than people thinking they just saved $16/mo on fire services. This is only starting to play out. The real pain is not even here yet.

    • AGENCY MSR DETERMINATIONS
      Item 27: The District has not succeeded in implementing governance changes that had been recommended by LAFCO at the time of consolidation. Specifically, implementation of a governing body representative of the community has not yet occurred. (page 213)

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