Here is a copy of my Letter to the Editor in the Brentwood Press this week. This is not meant to be a knock on the volunteers, but rather a knock on the process and the cost burden which will not protect the taxpayer. Until there are protections on the taxpayer to recovery training costs, I can’t support this under current plan of implementation.
Volunteer Firefighter Program Wastes Money
This entire idea of a volunteer fire department is outdated and offers nothing new, as we no longer live in a time where volunteers can get to a station quickly to have an impact in an emergency situation. In theory, it’s a great idea, but the reality is: it will waste money and will further drain our reserve funds.
According to Monday’s meeting, it will cost roughly $10,500 to train a volunteer, who must put in 240 hours of initial fire training, 60 hours of medical training, 100 hours of driving emergency apparatus training and 240 hours of annual updates.
This training requirement equates to 30 eight-hour days. Or, it’s six months of training, two nights per week, three Saturdays per month and you get to do that every year indefinitely. For zero pay!
The district says it wants at least 40 “legitimate volunteers” to sign up before moving forward, while the chief stated to have a true first-out/first-in program, it would require close to 150 volunteers (50 per station).
But let’s stick with the 40; as the chief explained, there are many situations that occur after volunteers sign up. Some may not pass the medical; some are gung-ho for a few months and drop out; others get injured, while a very small percentage sticks with it over time.
Here is what may occur with our first batch of 40 volunteers as we just invested $420,000:
Five volunteers decide the 240 hours is too much time commitment and drop out. Another five decide it’s too much wear and tear on their bodies and drop out. Five more decide it’s not for them and finally five just drop out for no reason.
ECCFPD is left with 20 who completed the training, which is a 50-percent rate of completion.
These volunteers are now getting calls at all hours. After a while, it takes a toll on not only the volunteer, but their families. Another 10 drop for various reasons over the first few months as the excitement wears off with all the additional required training.
ECCFPD now has 10 good volunteers left out of 40. Within a year, five of them get hired full-time by other fire districts and leave. Now we are left with five firefighters in a volunteer program that began with 40 at a cost of $420,000.
Now repeat the cycle four times in a year and that is roughly $1.68 million in training investment while we can only hope we get 25 good volunteer to stay long term. This model outlined does not even include the ongoing training costs required each month.
While some may argue that 70-80 percent of the country uses volunteers, that example doesn’t fly anymore, as East County is not rural Nebraska or Wyoming. The other reason why it doesn’t fly is that California has different training requirements.
Service level will also be a problem, as not everyone lives by a station or works in East County. Some would have to travel 30 to 40 miles away when response times should be six to seven minutes. Will employees let volunteers leave work three to four times a day to respond? Will businesses shut down? I doubt it.
I don’t want to hear this volunteer program nonsense anymore. Our guys in the field need real support instead of these Mickey Mouse gimmicks that are a distraction at best.
This is an unwise investment for the taxpayer, as there is a reason why the volunteer program failed in 2002 and will fail again.
According to page 188 of the LAFCO MSR, “the program lacked the support of the local community, did not achieve service level improvements or economic benefits, and had resulted in a severe degradation of the morale of the paid, on-call firefighters within the Oakley Reserve Division.”
Should this board move forward with a volunteer program, it’s irresponsible behavior and does nothing to protect the taxpayer. It is not a good investment with our tax dollars since there is no accountability for volunteers we train.
The district is actually better off spending the $1.68 million each year in hiring full-time firefighters if given the choice.