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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Expiring Federal SAFER Grant Cuts Marysville Firefighters

 When SAFER Runs Out, CalFire-Marysville Crews Cut To Unsafe Levels

Staffing will drop from nine to six when the SAFER grant runs out next week.

April 02-- CalFire-Marysville will have fewer firefighters on duty once a grant that made up for 2010-11 staffing cutbacks runs out next week.

As of Sunday, CalFire-Marysville full-time staffing will drop from nine to six -- or three full-time firefighters per shift to two.

Having a captain and two firefighters on duty is the "most desirable and effective" staffing level for the department, Battalion Chief Mike Carr said last week.

But with a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant running out, the number will go to two, a level Carr called "a concern."

"I am not saying we will be standing outside watching a building burn," Carr said.

"But there will be times that we will be spread very thin," he said. "In the long run, it will reduce effectiveness."

Two full-time CalFire-Marysville firefighters will be transferred to other CalFire stations and a third temporary firefighter will be laid off.

The reduction will likely mean a heavier reliance on the department's volunteer and reserve programs, along with mutual aid agreements with other departments.

Carr, however, emphasized the department will continue to respond to all emergency calls. Where the reduction will especially hurt will be in code enforcement, public education and equipment maintenance, he said.

"Things will fall off," Carr said. "But they will fall off from the bottom up."

Marysville has contracted with CalFire for the past 13 years to provide fire and rescue service in the city.

The city allocates about $1.1 million a year to the state for operation of the department.

Budget cutbacks in 2010-11 reduced staffing levels to two firefighters per shift for about 10 months until the two-year $700,000 FEMA grant brought the level back up to three.

Mayor Ricky Samayoa said he is concerned about the staffing decline.

"I think all those education programs, responding to complaints, making sure restaurants are in compliance, developing emergency plans are things of importance," he said. "When it comes to a two-person level, I get a little worried. They tend to be the first responders."

City Manager Walter Munchheimer said city officials intend to apply for another two-year FEMA grant to make up the shortfall, but that won't be done until August for the next grant funding cycle.

"The difference between two and three isn't so much that the community would notice," Munchheimer said. "But it puts different demands on the department and how it is managed.

"It's very likely the volunteers would be called on perhaps more than in the past," he said.

Carr noted that with recent federal budget cutbacks, there is no guarantee a new grant application will be successful.

"At best, these are Band-Aids," Carr said of the grants.

"The real solution is a dedicated funding level for staffing."

As a comparison, Yuba City Fire Department has three firefighters on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Department spokesman Bill Fuller noted less-experienced, temporary firefighters fill some of those spots because of budget shortfalls.

Samayoa said the staffing reduction is an example of economic issues the city faces. He said the city is "not at a point where we can cut further."

"All we could do is shuffle funds around," he said. "We have a shrinking pot of money.

"If citizens want more fire, we would have to reduce from somewhere else," Samayoa said.

Reduction could lead to some bigger fires

CalFire Battalion Chief Mike Carr said reducing the number of full-time firefighters per shift would have more effect on responding to fires than calls for medical aid.

And he acknowledged there will be times when shifts overlap and there will be three firefighters on duty, just as there are occasions when there were four with staffing levels at three per shift.

But Carr said when there are only two, the biggest effect will be in responding to fires.

"Small fires might get to be medium fires and medium fires might get to be bigger fires," he said.

Under Cal/OSHA regulations, firefighters are not allowed to enter a burning structure unless two go in and two remain outside. With three on duty, along with a battalion chief, that can be fulfilled.

But with only two on duty, even with the battalion chief, a volunteer or reserve would also have to be present.

"We are depending on someone else to fulfill that requirement," Carr said.

He emphasized the exception to the Cal/OSHA "two-in, two-out" rule is that if there is reasonable belief there is somebody inside a burning building. In that case, the rule doesn't apply, Carr said.

Another effect, he said, will be that in responding to a structure fire with three full-time firefighters, more pieces of equipment can be brought.

Two 'disappointed' with transfer from Marysville

Two CalFire-Marysville firefighters will be transferred to other CalFire stations once FEMA grant funding runs out on Sunday.

Firefighters Bryan Carter and Jeff Fuentes both live in Rocklin and have been with the department since 2008, but will be moving on to other stations.

Both Carter and Fuentes were moved to different CalFire stations when department staffing was reduced in after 2010-11 budget cuts.

"We both have turned down promotions to stay here," Carter said. "We like who we work with. We are both disappointed."

Carter said he will likely be assigned to the CalFire station at Alta while Fuentes said he will probably be assigned to Columbia Hill.

CAL FIRE Marysville

CAL FIRE Marysville @MarysvilleFire

Official Site for CAL FIRE Marysville Fire Department.
Marysville, California ·

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