Tuesday, September 28, 2010

California #Firefighter cutbacks continue - Two related news stories

Headlands fire station will be phased out

Firefighter Eric Conklin shuts the door of an engine at the Presidio Fire Department Station 52 at Fort Cronkhite near Sausalito on Monday. Conklin just received a two-week layoff notice. 'I have a wife and two kids,' he said. The National Park Service plans to close the station this month. (IJ photo/Frankie Frost)
Mark Prado
Posted: 09/21/2010 02:46:48 PM PDT

A firehouse in the Marin Headlands will likely begin being phased out by the end of next week.

The Golden Gate National Recreation Area is eliminating the Presidio Fire Department, which will include the closure of Station 52 at Fort Cronkhite. The station and its personnel serve Rodeo Beach, the Marine Mammal Center and Headlands Institute, which host thousands of visitors each year.

Plans call for the Southern Marin Fire Protection District to take over Oct. 1 if an agreement can be reached, according to park officials. Some staffers will remain at the Headlands station until November during a transition. After that it will close.

The GGNRA and the Presidio Trust share the cost of operating the department. A 2007 efficiency study noted neighboring fire departments could provide fire service at Fort Baker and the Marin Headlands on a contract basis, saving as much as $750,000 annually.

But a memo sent out this month said cost is not the issue and that agreements with Southern Marin Fire, the San Francisco Fire Department plus additional park service and ranger and fire management staffing will end up costing the same.

"The improved long term viability of, and the superior breadth and depth of services available through, the San Francisco and Southern Marin Fire Departments were the primary factors in the decision to provide emergency services through agreements with these agencies," wrote Frank Dean, acting superintendent with the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Al Duncan, who heads the firefighters union, said the lack of firefighters in the Headlands will cause problems for those needing acute care and fire protection.

"After we leave, the station won't be staffed at all," said Duncan, a firefighter. "The best you could hope for is response from Sausalito, so the wait could be substantial. We are right there for fire protection and for medical emergencies. If someone is having a heart attack we have four people right there using drug and electric therapy."

A trained emergency medical technician will be deployed to the Headlands on a daily basis to handle medical problems and all of the GGNRA law enforcement officers and rangers have first-aid training, park officials said.

The park service said an average response time without the Headlands station would be between five and 10 minutes.

"A lot of effort has been made to make sure we stay in the standards for rural response," said Alex Picavet, a GGNRA spokeswoman.

Duncan said removing safety personnel from the Headlands will have a big impact.

"It will be dangerous out there," he said.

Marin Independent Journal article - Link

Calif. county cuts 245 volunteer firefighters
Several supporters of the reserves program said it was set up to fail years ago; fire officials said volunteers often were unable to respond effectively

Reprinted from the The Orange County Register
IRVINE, Calif. — Villa Park city attorneysaid cuts could constitute breach of contract.
The Orange County Fire Authority board decided to slash the volunteer program in half, cutting 245 reserve positions. The decision came at the end of a four-hour meeting Thursday night of the 24-member board of directors.
Board members seemed to be caught off guard when Todd Litfin, city attorney for Villa Park, told them they may be in breach of their contract with the city if they cut the program. The suggestion prompted the board to go into an impromptu closed session. Minutes later, board members voted 15-6 to cut the volunteer program by half. They decided to slash the worst-performing reserve stations at Los Alamitos, Sunset Beach, Yorba Linda, La Palma, Lake Forest, Tustin, Villa Park, Mission Viejo, Midway City, Coto de Caza and Seal Beach.
Director Brad Reese of Villa Park asked that board members give the system additional time to improve. "I'm really offended you guys always look for the bad in the program," he said.
Other board members, however, aired concerns about the Fire Authority's budget problems, including an expected $14 million shortfall in the coming year. The decision is expected to save the agency more than $600,000 a year, and some board members aired a willingness to cut the remainder of the program in 2011.
According to a six-month review by the Fire Authority, the stations facing cuts were able to respond to only a fraction of the calls to which they were summoned. For example, the 13-member reserve squad at Station 25 in Midway City responded to just over 50 percent of the calls. Sunset Beach, La Palma, Lake Forest and Tustin responded to less than a quarter of all calls.
Fire officials pointed to such numbers in the study.
"We're not in the fun business," said Joe Kerr, president of the Orange County Professional Firefighters union. Kerr said that although some stations had exemplary figures, others treated the reserve program as a social club.
But several supporters of the reserves said the program was set up to fail years ago, adding that friction has existed for years between professional firefighters, who are unionized, and the volunteers, who are paid $8 for each call.
"The biggest social club in Orange County is the union firemen," said Steve Palmer, who volunteered for 12 years.
Some officials were concerned that the supplemental manpower provided by reserves during large wildfires would be lost. But fire officials said reserves often ask to leave their posts in the middle of large wildfires, forcing officials to search out resources to fill those spots, said Division Chief Mike Boyle.
"It happened in the Freeway fire," Boyle said, referring to the 2008 wildfire.
Orange County Supervisor Pat Bates, who serves on the board, said she was concerned that the board wasn't waiting until a six-month evaluation was completed in December, as done in the past. She noted that officials had difficult labor negotiations with the union.
"Somehow, it was accelerated," she said. "I would be very disappointed if it was accelerated due to our difficult salary discussions in June."
Union officials are discussing forgoing $10 million in raises in the next two years, but Kerr said firefighters could not be expected to do so if the costs of the reserve program were maintained.

Source article: OC Register - Link

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