UCD Fire Chief Downplays 2010 Incident, Sees Critism As Tactic to Damage Credibility

Trauernicht-Nathan

On Monday afternoon UC Davis Fire Chief Nathan Trauernicht responded to complaints from a retired Davis fire captain about a dereliction of duty, arguing that he monitored the scene from his vehicle and determined that his assistance was not needed.  Chief Trauernicht noted that, in more than three years of service as Chief at UC Davis, this is the only complaint he has against him.

For the last several months, the Davis firefighters’ union has been clamoring for a permanent, full-time chief to head up the department.  It turns out that the city believes the most qualified person for the job is already in the area and in the employment of the UC Davis Fire Department.

This week, city staff is recommending that council “direct staff to prepare the documents necessary to create a Joint Powers Agreement (JPA) between the City of Davis and UC Davis to provide Fire Management Services for each entity.”

UC Davis would be receptive to implementing the “shared management oversight prior to finalizing a Joint Powers Agreement.”

“This would address the concerns of the Davis Firefighters relative to a Fire Service Professional overseeing Davis Fire Department operations,” the city noted, with the recommendation being that the “current Fire Chief for UC Davis has successfully qualified to be the next Fire Chief for the City of Davis.”

That would make Nathan Trauernicht the new fire chief of both the city of Davis and UC Davis.

Despite the weekly requests for a new chief, not everyone is pleased with the city’s recommended choice.  A letter from retired Fire Captain Neal Boysen, a 26-year veteran who retired in December 2012, criticized Nate Trauernicht who as on-call Duty Chief for both the city of Davis and UC Davis was required to show up at an accident, but according to Mr. Boysen “chose note to.”

Mr. Boysen wrote, “At 2:55am, on September 11, 2010, I was the Captain on Engine 32 when the City of Davis Fire Department responded to a horrific, deadly accident on county road 35, east of county road 106. An SUV carrying 8 young adults rolled over, killing one person on-scene, 3 others had major injuries, the 4 remaining passengers suffered minor injuries. A mass casualty incident (MCI) requiring every on-duty firefighter in the city of Davis to respond. The city of West Sacramento was dispatched to cover calls in Davis and all available off duty personal were called in to assist. To transport patients, 3 air ambulances, 4 ground ambulances and an AMR supervisor were called in. The CHP, Yolo county Sherriff and the county coroner also responded.”

“Even though Nate Trauernicht was the on call Duty Chief for both the City of Davis Fire Department and UC Davis Fire Department, requiring him to show up… HE DID NOT RESPOND TO THE ACCIDENT,” Mr. Boysen wrote.  “Trauernicht had a duty to respond (an actual legal term), an obligation to respond as Duty Chief, instead HE SIMPLY CHOOSE NOT TO SHOW UP. As a professional firefighter, this is UNACCEPTABLE. For a Chief Officer, this is a true DERELICTION OF DUTY.”

On Monday afternoon, the Vanguard spoke with Chief Trauernicht, who explained that at that time, many times they would have duty coverage from home.  “We would acknowledge that we heard the call and we would listen to hear if it sounded like it warranted our being there,” he explained.

On the night in question, he said that he heard the call, went down to his vehicle and monitored the incident.

“My assessment of what was happening on the call was that it was in fact a multi-casualty incident,” Chief Trauernicht said.  “It sounded over the radio as though it was being run very well.”

Given this, he felt that if a captain on the scene felt that they needed his command presence, he would come, but since they never requested his presence, he felt that it was not necessary.

“It wasn’t until after the fact that a portion of the people that were on that call called into question my reasoning for not going,” he told the Vanguard.  “It has been an issue only with respect to trying to damage my credibility in this incident.”

However, he has learned from this incident.  Clearly, he acknowledged, there are times when he is needed or there is the perception that he is needed while, for whatever reason, his presence is not requested.

On the other hand, he has told his captains and others that if they feel they need a chief officer, they also have the obligation to request one.

Clearly, Chief Trauernicht felt like this was an isolated incident.  In retrospect he could have done things differently, but, at the same time, he feels it is being brought up at this time to serve the agenda of those who, for whatever reason, do not want him to become the chief of the Davis Police Department and who oppose the JPA.

Lending credibility to Chief Trauernicht’s version of the events in 2010 is the strong support he received from UC Davis Firefighters Union President Joe Newman.

He wrote to the city, “In 2010 when Nate Trauernicht was appointed Fire Chief of the UC Davis Fire Department, one of the first things he did was to reach out to our Union. He said it was a priority to him to have a collaborative and productive relationship.”

He continued, “As the Union President I’ve worked closely with Chief Trauernicht for the past four years and can say our working relationship is mutually beneficial as we work through common fire service issues as well as contract negotiations.”

Mr. Newman added, “Since working with Chief Trauernicht I’ve witnessed his passion for administration as well his commitment to continually improve the workplace. Technologically speaking the UC Davis Fire Department is strides ahead of where we were a few years ago.”

He wrote, “Seasoned UC Davis Firefighters will say Chief Trauernicht is the best Chief our department has had.”

Clearly, the union president would not send a strong and unsolicited letter of support to the city unless the union felt that Chief Trauernicht was not only qualified but is someone they feel comfortable working with.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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.

Related posts

24 Comments

  1. Phil Coleman

    A curious historical event, with the timing of the publication apparently intended to discredit Chief Trauernicht as potential successor in the Davis Fire Department. I’m going to ignore the potential politics of the story telling and simply focus on the incident itself.

    The two disputants agree that Trauernicht did not automatically respond to the scene. Trauernicht says his response was optional not mandatory, unless the scene supervisor requests his appearance. Neither cited any written directive on this critical point. Does one even exist?

    Captain Boysen makes a very serious allegation of dereliction of duty on the part of Chief Trauernicht. We hear about it 3 years later in a published letter. Did Boysen make a formal complaint of Trauernicht’s duty dereliction back in 2010? If not, then Boysen, a ranking officer, is similarly duty derelict in not bringing this matter to the attention of higher authority?

    Finally, Boysen never mentioned how Trauernicht’s absence materially affected the effective administering of the accident scene. Apparently, Boysen, along with scene supervisors from other agencies, were equal to the occasion and did not need Trauernicht’s presence. If so, that tends to validate Trauernicht’s confidence in Boysen’s ability to handle the field assignment without direct oversight by a chief fire officer.

  2. David M. Greenwald

    Good analysis Phil. Captain Boysen also said: “Fortunately, experience and training paid off and the entire accident was handled professionally and responsibly. This, however, does not excuse Chief Trauernicht.”

    I’m trying to clarify the extent to which there was a written mandate for his presence.

  3. JimmysDaughter

    I like Phil’s analysis, also. Everything I’ve read so far sounds like politics. Someone wants to be the chief. I started to compare this to the real definition of a chief, according to Native Americans, & was going to write an article about that in honour of our recent holiday. But since I have no heritage, it would seem extremely disrespectful to the people who know more about that. Maybe we should do away with the term “Chief” altogether, just sayin.

  4. Matt Williams

    [i]”At 2:55am, on September 11, 2010 . . .”

    “It wasn’t until after the fact that a portion of the people that were on that call called into question my reasoning for not going,” he told the Vanguard. “It has been an issue only with respect to trying to damage my credibility in this incident.”[/i]

    David, I’m having a hard time reconciling the two statements above. Can you please provide us with the date that the “after the fact” complaint was lodged?

  5. Phil Coleman

    “Chief Trauernicht responded: “There is no such policy in the books at UCD and I have never seen one that stipulates that from the City.”

    OK, some free administrative advice from someone who has spent most of his adult life in public management management and administration. The new fire chief, whomever he/she may be, should be reminded of a basic management policy that scene supervision and control shall be given to the lowest level of competent management.

    Should a duty fire captain encounter a circumstance that require higher intervention or consultation, immediate notification shall be made accordingly.

  6. David M. Greenwald

    Phil: That was basically what the Chief said he did after that point – he would determine serious situations that his presence was needed but also asked captains to do their own assessment.

  7. Matt Williams

    David M. Greenwald said . . .

    [i]”My impression was that it was a short time later.”[/i]

    If that is true, then it was filed in late 2010. How did UCD formally resolve the complaint? When did that resolving take place?

  8. David M. Greenwald

    Matt:

    According to the Chief, who gets props here for being very responsive to questions and quick on the turn around, there was never a formal complaint filed. He said he stood in front of those who were at the incident and explained his decisions. This was done the next day to the best of his recollection.

  9. Matt Williams

    David M. Greenwald said . . .

    [i]”According to the Chief, who gets props here for being very responsive to questions and quick on the turn around, there was never a formal complaint filed. He said he stood in front of those who were at the incident and explained his decisions. This was done the next day to the best of his recollection.”[/i]

    So if it was resolved without a formal complaint being filed in 2010, how has it surfaced in 2013?

  10. Growth Izzue

    [quote]Maybe we should do away with the term “Chief” altogether, just sayin. [/quote]

    Please, give me a break. You’ve been watching too much Bob Costas.

  11. David M. Greenwald

    Matt: Captain Boysen was the third on the scene at the time, he complained at the time, and he wrote a letter of complaint to the council last week.

  12. SouthofDavis

    Jimmy’s Daughter wrote:

    > Maybe we should do away with the term
    > “Chief” altogether, just sayin.

    Then Growth Izzue wrote:

    > Please, give me a break. You’ve been
    > watching too much Bob Costas

    The word “Chief” comes from old French and means “head of the group”. It is related to the modern French word “Chef” that means “head of the kitchen”.

    There is no word like “Chief” in any Native American language and getting rid of the word to make the people oppressed by the guy Italians (and the bond market) honored yesterday happy is as stupid as when Congress changed the name of “French” Fries in the capitol cafeteria to “Freedom Fries” a few years back to make some Republicans happy…

  13. SouthofDavis

    Matt wrote:

    > So if it was resolved without a formal complaint
    > being filed in 2010, how has it surfaced in 2013?

    The battle between “insiders” and “outsiders” in the public sector is even more brutal than the battle between the Dem’s and the GOP.

    You can bet that more than one “insider” wanted to take over as “chief” after Rose retired so they could play chief for a few years and position another “insider” to take over (as they join Rose as a 50 something “retired” person getting a $10K+ per MONTH pension from the city).

    Not only is Trauernicht an “outsider” but he works for a department that does just as good (or better) a job as the Davis FD getting paid less money…

  14. SouthofDavis

    Growth Izzue

    > SOD, and the post office. I couldn’t believe it was
    > closed when I tried to mail a package overseas.

    Then David wrote:

    > Keep the conversation on topic please.

    To bring this all together is there any way to find out if the Davis firefighters working yesterday got “double time” “holiday pay”?

    Is there any way to see a copy of the current contract between the city of Davis and the firefighters?

    When you only work 10 days a month like most firefighters working just a few holidays a year getting double time will give you a huge boost in pay.

  15. Davis Progressive

    interesting little tidbit. There were two battalion chiefs and a scene commander on the scene. neither the incident commander or the two acting battalion chiefs felt the need to request that the duty chief respond.

  16. Matt Williams

    David M. Greenwald said . . .

    [i]”Captain Boysen was the third on the scene at the time, he complained at the time, and he wrote a letter of complaint to the council last week.”[/i]

    It sounds like Captain Boysen is a bit slow on the uptake.

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
$ USD
Sign up for