UC Davis, City of Davis Fire Services: A Shared Success

Fire-Davis-StockYesterday in the Davis Enterprise, the editor wrote that the shared fire services agreement has been a success and that Chief Nathan Trauernicht “is a capable, mature leader for city, UCD departments.”

“In October 2013, the fire departments for the city of Davis and UC Davis entered into a joint powers agreement to share their executive management. Since that time, Nathan Trauernicht has served as the fire chief for UCD and the city. By sharing management costs, both departments save money,” wrote the Enterprise. “If neither party withdraws from the JPA before June 30, the deal renews automatically.”

It was only in November when county and state officials representing and residing in Davis reacted with alarm at the idea of a shared management agreement.

Senator Lois Wolk, Assemblymember Mariko Yamada, Supervisors Don Saylor and Jim Provenza and former Supervisor Helen Thomson wrote a letter to the Davis City Council opposing the agreement.

The letter argued, “We believe that governance of public safety is and must remain a core function of the elected City Council of Davis. Community oversight and accountability is an important element of municipal services.”

They wrote, “We urge the Davis City Council to take another look at the serious long-range consequences of this proposal before contracting out any of these core municipal functions. There is a key difference between sharing or coordinating services and merging governance with the constitutionally separate and unelected Regents and Chancellor.”

“This proposed action would place a well-established and effective municipal service within an entity whose primary mission is higher education and research, not public safety,” the letter continues. “This could easily result in a lessening of service and response for the residents of the Davis community and the surrounding areas historically served by the Davis Fire Department. We deeply appreciate the presence of the UC Davis campus and respect the leadership of the campus. Unified operations and efficiencies are appropriate considerations, but should not come with loss of community accountability.”

A few days later a second letter arrived, signed by Former County Supervisor Betsy Marchand, Alan Fernandes who most recently was a candidate for school board, Former Davis City Councilmembers Mike Corbett and Ted Puntillo, and Former Mayor Ruth Asmundson.

It read, “We are writing to convey our strong opposition to the action taken at the October 15, 2013 Council meeting, in which you – the City Council – voted 3-1 in favor of proceeding with the creation of a joint powers agreement that would effectively cede control of the City of Davis Fire Department to the University of California, Davis (U.C. Davis) Fire Department.”

They add, “We believe this decision was made in haste and without a full examination of the proposal’s implications.”

The writers added they found it “deeply disturbing” that the council “would take such quick action on an item as critical as public safety management, relying solely on the simple presentation of a consultant report and without attempting to conduct further analysis or seek any real public input.”

They continued, “Consolidating the City of Davis’ fire management authority with a University whose central mission has nothing do with providing public safety services could have serious consequences in our community.”

But those letters got it wrong, based on not only the editorial from the Davis Enterprise but a letter from East Davis County Fire Protection District, who a year ago fought against the reforms implemented by the city of Davis.

The Enterprise writes, “Despite reservations expressed by some in Davis and opposition to hiring Trauernicht voiced by leaders of the city’s fire union, the City Council’s decision to enter into a shared management system with UCD seems to be a success thus far. In Trauernicht, the two departments appear to have a capable and mature leader.”

As the Vanguard reported and the Enterprise notes “the good job Trauernicht and his team are doing comes from the commissioners of the East Davis County Fire Protection District, who a year ago fought against the reforms implemented by the city of Davis.”

They recently wrote, “Chief Trauernicht began attending our commissioners meetings this past January. We appreciate his enthusiasm, optimism and vision for a successful shared management of the two fire departments.”

“He is 100 percent dedicated to the firefighters and staff in both departments, and we believe he has the necessary leadership skills to make the shared management plan a success.”

The boundary drop has been a huge success, the Enterprise writes. “Until the change was put in place in 2013, university firefighters were not allowed to be first responders in the city of Davis. What that meant in practical terms was slower response times and worse coverage in West and South Davis.”

“The fire chief reported to the City Council that before the boundary drop, Engine 32, from the West Davis station, had to be repositioned 106 times to downtown Davis from mid-September 2012 to mid-March 2013. The repositioning was necessary because Engine 31 was on a call and Central Davis requires more service. That left West Davis with no fire companies nearby,” they write.

“A year later, from mid-September 2013 to mid-March 2014, after the boundary, drop, Engine 32 had to cover Engine 31’s territory just 14 times. That’s an 86.8 percent reduction, improving fire coverage and response times to medical emergencies in West Davis,” they add. “The same success has been true for South Davis, where Engine 33 had to be repositioned to Central Davis 83 percent less often following the boundary drop.”

There was a lot of fear, much of it instilled from the firefighters’ union, that responses would be slower and service would decline under the changes implemented last year.

The Enterprise further notes, “The chief stated in his presentation that the statistics for the fire staffing change are not all known. Some important details are not yet measured.”

The editorial continues, “However, without the engine staffing change, the rescue truck, which has two Davis firefighters who attend to medical emergencies and fight fires, could not have been decoupled. The great reduction in repositioning in Davis is due in part to that decoupling. Rescue Truck 31 can cover a medical call in Central Davis, now, while Engine 31 remains at the ready for the next need for service.”

The Enterprise concludes, “We applaud Trauernicht for the able job he has done, overseeing the implementation of these necessary reforms. And we thank the leaders in Davis — led by Mayor Joe Krovoza, City Manager Steve Pinkerton and Interim Fire Chief Scott Kenley — who overcame opposition to save Davis money while making our fire service better.”

The changes are not perfect.  One of the changes we had hoped to see was shifting the station to the north and the east, to take advantage of coverage from UC Davis and to better cover northern parts of the city.

However, that has been curtailed, at least for now, based on concerns that moving the station would lessen coverage in the core. We remain concerned about thoughts on adding a fourth fire station within the city of Davis.

There are reasons why that avenue was never implemented by the city. Not only is there the cost of the fire station itself, a one-time, $5 to $10 million expense, but there is the ongoing cost of 9 to 12 additional firefighters to staff that station – a cost that we will not be able to afford for some time.

What is clear is that we need a new fire station for Central Davis, and perhaps the city could explore a different alternative location further down 5th Street, and still get the coverage the city needs in its core.

One thing is clear, with Chief Trauernicht, however, despite any setback, is that any change is going to be based on tangible metrics rather than the interests of a powerful employee union.

—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.

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  1. Tia Will

    I admit to being hard to please and am frequently teased about my insistence on “seeing the evidence” before making decisions. I have been very impressed by Nate Trauernicht as a leader who clearly bases his decisions on the best evidence available and as David states on tangible metrics. My experience with him is based on personal communications in which he was very responsive to questions I had regarding a number or public safety issues and from his participation in the Yolo County Health Council. He is a tremendous asset to both the University and to the city of Davis.

  2. Frankly

    I think the big consideration is a question what does this say about Senator Lois Wolk, Assemblymember Mariko Yamada, Supervisors Don Saylor and Jim Provenza and former Supervisor Helen Thomson? And why would we care about any endorsement or opposition from state and local Democrat politicians for anything related to public employee labor unions?

    I think it is a hoot how Democrat politicians squeal about Citizens United, but then hold on to their public employee union money with death grip and drawn sword.

  3. Davis Progressive

    as i recall, they wrote the letter without bothering to meet with the city or uc davis. i wonder if the city will get a letter of apology. trauernicht seems to be a good choice – a real unifier – hopefully he is allowed to remain chief of davis long enough to change the culture.

  4. Michelle Millet

    hopefully he is allowed to remain chief of davis long enough to change the culture.

    I’ll second that. It would be shame to see this decision reversed in July.

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