Will the Davis Fire Department Merge with UC Davis?

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davis_firedepartmentLast year, the city commissioned the consultants, Citygate to do a study of fire staffing needs.  Much to the chagrin of those who have advocated for a fourth Davis firestation, Citygate found that such an expensive endeavor may not be necessary. 

Their findings agreed that Davis needs more than 12 firefighters on-duty.  However, the report concludes that “In the combined developed area of Davis and UCD, four fire stations staffed with a total of 15 firefighters on duty are wholly adequate to cover the entire area, if deployed as one system.”  Therefore, for the foreseeable future there is no need to build an additional station in North Davis.

The Citygate report then goes on to talk about mutual aid.  This report first presented a possibility of a more extensive collaboration with UC Davis than simply the mutual aid agreement.  What has developed is an almost perfect storm of the combination of economic crisis leading to the necessity of shared resources to cut down on costs along with retirements of both department’s chiefs and other key personnel in leadership. 

The result of this perfect storm is that very serious talks are underway between the city of Davis’ fire department and UC Davis’ fire department about merging the two department.

Although Bill Emlen, cautioned not to think about it as a merger just yet.  The City Manager told the Vanguard, “I would hate to call it a merger at this point, we’re talking about different ways that the city and the university could share resources.”

What we are talking about is anything from a more formal version of current mutual aid, automatic aid provisions to a full merger.  He said, “It could be a JPA kind of thing.  We’re just not sure yet where that ends up.  I don’t want to say merger per se because that’s something that’s still a work in progress in terms of where we would actually land.”

In February, retired Davis Fire Chief Rose Conroy finally left the department and the city has recently brought on Retired Chief Bill Weisgerber to serve as interim chief.  According to Mr. Emlen, Chief Weisgerber’s experience and background has been a big factor in making this happen.

Chief Weisgerber told that the Vanguard that along with his counterpart at the university, he has been tasked at looking at elements about merging the two departments into one.  The opportunity he said exists with some of the retirements to see if there’s an ability to create a single organization out of the two departments.

“It looks like a prime opportunity to look into making one department,” he said.  “We’ve been looking at some organizational charts, looking at some cost analyses to see if we can create one organization.”

One such option would be a single organization and command structure.  “When you look at the organizational needs of the city and the organizational needs of the university, one option could possibly be a single-command structure for the two organizations.”

There are some models of merger out there.  “There’s models out there, Livermore-Pleasanton, and that type of thing,” he said, but at the same time he acknowledged merger a municipal fire department with that of a UC was a rather unique undertaking.  “.  There’s myriad possibilities for this type of situation and this one in Davis is pretty unique in the fact that typically you don’t see an organization like the city of Davis and a UC entity, like our university, combining services like this.”

As he explained the governance structures in the two are very different.  “The university operates in a completely different universe of governance than does the city,” he said.  “We’re considering all of those things and it’s not an easy task to do.  When you have one station at the University and three stations in the city, and they have a lot of interagency response matrices, it just kind of makes sense to take a look to see if you can make it into one department.”

Still there is no set outcome yet, as they look at a spectrum of possibilities from a simple functional consolidation of management structure to a full consolidation of both departments into one.

He said from an operational standpoint, it is probably a relatively simple change simply because they already work together right now.  “It would just be a matter of smoothing out basic procedures unifying and coordinating the training to one training manual, one response and operational manual” he said.  “Right now there are slight differences and differences in staffing but those are not insurmountable.”

Any time you put to organizations together you have to deal with some issues to create consistency, however at the same time he said, “firefighting has some basic fundamental tenets to them that remain constant.  So it’s working out the details and nuances that are similar in these organizations.”

Right now is a huge window of opportunity from the standpoint of looking for cost savings, but also in terms of personnel.  Both departments have had their chiefs recently retire.  But it goes beyond that.

“The opportunity goes beyond just the fire chief, the fire marshal is retired in Davis, the operations chief is retired in Davis, so while the positions are there, there is not a person occupying those positions,” Chief Bill Weisgerber told the Vanguard. 

That gives both departments an opportunity to look at redundancy without look at laying off existing personnel. 

“All the discussions both inside the department and outside the department, center on the fact that those vacancies present the prime opportunity because you don’t have to do a lot of realigning of personnel positions.  You have the opportunity to realign positions that are vacant right now.”

In fact, the merger is helping to drive the timeline for finding a permanent Chief in Davis.  Bill Emlen pointed out, “We’re trying to keep positions open right now in case there is an alignment of the stars and we come up with a model that we all think can work.” 

Mr. Emlen continued that for now he’s holding off the process of finding a new chief, “At some point I need to get the process started to bring in a new permanent chief and I’m holding that off in deference to this process.  I don’t want to fill a position if in the end we come up with a model where we’re sharing one.”

Mr. Emlen was unclear as to how long this process could take.  He said he would have a better sense in a few weeks.  However, given the vacancy at chief, he hopes that the process will not take more than three to four months. 

“My hope is that we can have in a couple of months as to whether this has legs or not, and then we’ll make those decisions at that point,” he said.  “Clearly if we see that this is a real option, we’ll do what it takes to take the next steps to get there.”

Not having a permanent chief has not presented a problem just yet, “So far so good, we’ve been able to cover our resource needs for now,” Mr. Emlen said.  “We’ll need permanent leadership in the very near future.  We’ve been concerned about that.  But I think Bill is providing as an interim a real good bridge, it could be more awkward if we didn’t have that kind of circumstance.”

One big question remains and that is whether the rank and file and in particular the union will buy into this process.  The Vanguard has received some indications that the Davis fire union is leery if not outright opposed to the process.  However, both City Manager Emlen and Chief Weisgerber remain optimistic.

Said Bill Emlen, “They [the union] haven’t said whether they are for or against it.  They want to be part of the discussion as we move forward.” 

He continued, “The way I would describe it is that they have a wary eye on all of this.  I have not had anyone come to me and say that we’re opposed to it.”

According to Chief Weisgerber, so far so good.  As the process moves along, he briefs the labor groups and gets their feedback and in put.  “I have seen no indication of resistance, everyone is very interested to see what the model is going to look like, but it’s too early to start talking about that,” he said.

“So far it’s been a very cooperative, energetic effort, with everyone playing an interested role,” he continued.  “I have seen no indication that there’s resistance or opposition, but like I said it’s very early in the program, all aspects of this are at a preliminary stage.  But everyone’s been cooperating, it’s been very ecumenical, and we’re moving forward.”

Chief Weisberg is optimistic for success.  “I’m very optimistic because the situation presents a very robust opportunity.  But, I guess I’ll say I’m very cautiously.  I think it has a very high likelihood of success, a high probability for success.”

Still this is a large task and it remains in the early stages of discussion.  Nevertheless, given the economic necessities, and the cost savings to be gained from sharing leadership positions, it seems that the time is the right one for such discussions.  The Vanguard will continue to monitor this developing process and provides updates as they become available.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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21 thoughts on “Will the Davis Fire Department Merge with UC Davis?”

  1. nvn8v

    A UCD FF gets paid less than his/her city counterpart. If you’re interested, the Sac Bee state salary page has all the info for UCD fire employees.

  2. Rich Rifkin

    With the addition of West Village, the coverage area for the UCD FD will geographically expand quite a bit. In terms of the distance from their fire department on Kleiber Hall Drive to West Village, it is still pretty short — about 1.3 miles (per Google maps) to the southern perimeter of West Village.

    The West Davis fire station on Arlington near Lake Blvd is a little closer — about 0.9 miles to the northern perimeter of West Village.

    I doubt either department will have to add personnel or equipment to cover that new area. However, I can imagine UCD relying on the DFD — as all proximate fire departments do normally — any time they get a West Village call and their main crew is occupied elsewhere on the Central Campus or the so-called South Campus.

  3. Gunrock

    The comic element to this all is the remarkable lack of actual events that require the use of our fire department. Have you ever seen how deeply they roll when there is a bike accident? Three fire trucks, the ladder company comes out to watch, a couple of ambulences etc. Thank god they don’t have a helicopter or it would show up too!

    The very very rare occurence of anything involving fire ususally results in both departments arriving in full force! I recall the one of D street a couple years ago where the combined fire crew numbered in the dozens and three of them cermoniously carried out the smoking frying pan that had summoned this mighty arsenal of fire protection and featherbedding.

    Go all volunteer and end this clown show.

  4. nvn8v

    Phase two of West Village includes provisions for a second UCD fire/police station. Whether it will actually happen… who knows.

    Right now UCD Fire covers all university property from CR 98@ Hutchinson (primate center) to Putah Creek @ old Davis road south of I-80 from the Kliber Hall drive station.

  5. Phil Coleman

    The City Manager mentions the disparate forms of government between UCD and the City and how that could possibly impede a merger. Perhaps there is already precedent in place. I have a vague recollection that UC Berkeley uses the city fire department to provide fire protection on campus.

    Also, how is fire protection given for the UCD Med Center? I believe that Sacramento Fire Department responds to fire service calls at the Med Center.

  6. hpierce

    Rich… I think your measurements are “as the crow flies”. There is no proposed access (motor vehicle) from West Village to Russell Boulevard. No way that City fire department could respond faster than UCD…

  7. Alphonso

    “You very tactfully avoided a discussion about what a UCD firefighter gets paid vs. the massively compensated City of Davis firefighters…”

    I do not think that is true – a first level FF is paid in the $60’sK range in both places.

    One opportunity is that UCD provides ambulance (EMS) service – pick up one more ambulance and you have got the city covered. Ambulance services will help subsidize the combined fire orgs – that is better than hiring AMR and having the Davis community subsidize the ambulance service for the rest of the county. Will need to upgrade more FF’s to paramedic status.

    West Village will be covered by the Arlington station – that will save UCD from having to build another station.

    I think the only real issue is the mechanics of providing retirement coverage, the city and state funding structures are different.

  8. nvn8v

    Most UCs with the exception of UCSC and UCD either contract out fire protection responsibilities to a local government agency (UCSB, UCI) or were founded in an incorporated area with adequate existing fire protection. (ie UCLA within an already existing city of Los Angeles)

    All UCs have a fire marshal/fire prevention division that is responsible for inspections and such.

    The UCD Med Center has a group of UCD Fire Department fire prevention inspectors that oversee the Facility who work with the Sac City FD for emergency responses.

    The main reason UCD is so separate from the city is because of the lack of a city at the time of its founding. This is why UCD not only has a fire department, but also its own electric, water, and gas utility as well as its own landfill among other things. If UCD was being created to day ala UC Merced, most of these services would already be in place. The unique education bureaucracy that has grown with these services is fundimentaly different from civil government (see arm.ucdavis.edu if you want to see this wing of campus operations)

  9. nvn8v

    UCD does not provide ambulance service and has not since the 1980s. AMR is a county contract and would probably fight FD ambulances tooth and nail. Other UCs do provide EMS service. (UCLA runs BLS ambulance service and UCSB runs a paramedic ambulance)

  10. Alphonso

    “UCD does not provide ambulance service”

    I have seen an ambulance and I have seen it in action on a Picnic Day – they took a kid to the hospital. The people on board were UCD firefighters and UCD student firefighters.

  11. nvn8v

    You were mistaken. As someone who works there I can assure you there is no ambulance. What you probably saw was an AMR ambulance that had a UCD FF on board to assist the paramedic on the way to the hospital.

    UCD operates a critical care ambulance at the UC Davis med center for moving ICU patients from hospital to hospital.

    [url]http://www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/common/includes/shared/features/20090107_ambulance/images/CH_ambulance_61.jpg[/url]

  12. Avatar

    NVN8V ,

    ”The main reason UCD is so separate from the city is because of the lack of a city at the time of its founding. This is why UCD not only has a fire department, but also its own electric, water, and gas utility as well as its own landfill among other things. If UCD was being created to day ala UC Merced, most of these services would already be in place. The unique education bureaucracy that has grown with these services is fundimentaly different from civil government (see arm.ucdavis.edu if you want to see this wing of campus operations) “”

    Wrong you are , it,s because there in Solano County .

  13. Avatar

    GUNROCK ,

    04/05/10 – 10:17 AM

    “”The comic element to this all is the remarkable lack of actual events that require the use of our fire department. Have you ever seen how deeply they roll when there is a bike accident? Three fire trucks, the ladder company comes out to watch, a couple of ambulences etc. Thank god they don’t have a helicopter or it would show up too! “”

    Your lack of homework on your comment , is the comic element to this thread .

  14. Alphonso

    “You were mistaken. As someone who works there I can assure you there is no ambulance. What you probably saw was an AMR ambulance that had a UCD FF on board to assist the paramedic on the way to the hospital.”

    You are right, I just spoke to the person I saw on the truck – it was a student FF on an AMR ambulance. Also I think I thought the Haz Mat truck was an ambulance – it looks like one. My bad.

  15. Gunrock

    Avatar, you should visit Davis sometime! Its a pretty town. Its quite close to Sacramento and you can find it from signs along Highway 80. While you are here, you should observe our fire department in action. I have, many times.

  16. nvn8v

    Avatar, I’m sure you know the only parts of the UCD campus that are in Solano Co are the South of I-80 campus and the Wolfskill reservation south of Winters. The rest of the campus from Russell ranch to West campus and the core campus is in Yolo County.

  17. Rich Rifkin

    [b]hpierce:[/b] [i] “Rich… I think your measurements are “as the crow flies.”[/i]

    I used Google maps. The distance is all on Arlington Blvd, from almost Lake to Russell.

    [b]hpierce:[/b] [i] “There is no proposed access (motor vehicle) from West Village to Russell Boulevard.”[/i]

    [b]dgreenwaldo:[/b] [i]”I believe there is emergency vehicle access from West Village to Russell.”[/i]

    David is right. However, looking at the drawings, it appears that the “emergency access” will be on the bicycle paths.

    [b]hpierce:[/b] [i]”No way that City fire department could respond faster than UCD…”[/i]

    They are a bit closer (0.4 miles closer) and the DFD’s route is much more direct one. Regardless, it is all a moot point, because nvn8v is correct (and I did not know it):

    [b]nvn8v: [/b] [i]”Phase two of West Village includes provisions for a second UCD fire/police station.”[/i]

    Here is the language in the West Village plan: [quote]A public safety station is located [u]in the southwest portion[/u] of the neighborhood. As part of the overall UC Davis public safety network, the station provides fire, police and emergency medical assistance for all neighborhood districts. It also provides service for the West Campus, including the University Airport, Primate Center, and agricultural teaching and research facilities.[/quote] Note that Phase I essentially means the eastern half (closer to Hwy 113) of the WV neighborhood and Phase II will be on the western half. The housing will largely be on the northern part of WV (northeast and northwest), closer to Russell Blvd. The new police + fire station will be right next to Hutchison Drive, in the soutwest most portion of West Village.

  18. Plankton

    Hey Gunrock, I’ve been here 25 years and I’ve yet to see the DFD do anything other than roll around the Marketplace shopping center on Saturday mornings “showing the flag”. Oh yeah, and about 10 years ago the downtown firehouse would routinely light off their sirens early on Sunday mornings to make sure Mike Harrington (who lived next door) was awake. (And yes, they woke up the rest of downtown too.) But I’m sure that had nothing to do with the fact that they were miffed at Mr. Harrington because of some comment he’d made about his perception of the overall difficulty of their job.

    Now I’m sure the DFD does a yeoman job even though I’ve never seen them in any real action at all, unlike yourself. Actually, I’m very sure about that. However, between the consistently weak-assed negotiators for the city and former Chief Rose Conroy, the City of Davis is screwed on their pensions and salaries for many years to come. We all know that what they make based on their education and general risk of injury is obscene. That may not be the fire-fighters’ fault, but it’s a fact, and it’s not a source of endearment.

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