Budget Item on Fire Suggests Continuation of Share Management

firefighters-friends-of-2At one point in time it seemed likely that the city’s Shared Management Agreement with UC Davis on fire would be in jeopardy. Both sides have until July 1 to determine whether they wish to pull out of that agreement or it automatically extends until December 31, 2016. The city’s intentions appear to be laid out in the fire department portion of the budget item.

While the chief stopped issuing monthly public updates as recently as September, the updates showed that the changes were working, as a result of things like boundary drop and the decoupling of the rescue apparatus – fire equipment remained in place to respond to calls for service and there were far fewer occurrences where a fire engine had to move from an outlying station to the central station, leaving the outlying area uncovered.

Those changes – which were not reflected in the 2014-15 Department Accomplishment – meant that there were improved response times and fewer times when the fire department had to respond from the central location out to the periphery of town on the east and the west. However,  the budget does note, “Continued refinement of resource deployment under the boundary drop and updated 1st Alarm assignment.”

The budget also notes the continued “partnership with the West Valley Regional Fire Training Consortium for career development of all staff,” which has led to an improvement in the training of firefighters.

Last year we saw the hiring of five new firefighters which allowed the department to have a full contingent of firefighters on each shift, alleviating previous problems of excessive overtime and workload.

The budget highlights are interesting. The report notes that the budget is increasing by $362,792, explaining “This is primarily due to: $180,676 in costs for the shared services agreement with the University of California Davis (UCD); addition of FLSA [Fair Labor Standards Act] required overtime costs ($92,000); and the addition of one-time safety equipment purchases ($166,000), all net of the removal of FY14-15 anticipated MOU increases, which are still under negotiation and have not been included in the FY 15-16 budget.”

It goes on to note, “Operations and Maintenance expenditures for FY 15-16 include increases in contract services cost of $180,676 for the City’s share of the shared services agreement with UC Davis. A portion of this increase is offset by revenue from UCD for their share of City services ($145,551). In addition $20,000 in funding was included for a 50% shared Office Assistant position with UC Davis in support of the shared services agreement, as well as $5,000 of one-time funding for equipment/supply needs in the City’s Emergency Operations Center.”

Why is the city seeing an increase in costs due to the city’s share of the shared services agreement? This has to do in part with a shift in how the division chiefs’ salaries were going to be handled. Originally the goal was to move the division chiefs onto the UC Davis payroll which would have generated savings. However, last June, the city made the closed session decision to keep the division chiefs on the city of Davis payroll.

With the five new hires, we see the further shift in fire staffing resources. Back in 2012-13, there were 32 Firefighter II positions and 1 Firefighter I position. By 2013-14 that number decreased to 27 Firefighter II positions, reflecting proposed changes in fire staffing, but temporarily that gap was filled through overtime.

In the current year, with the hiring of five new firefighters, we see 5 Firefighter 1’s along with 22 Firefighter II’s for an overall staffing of 27 firefighters along with 9 captains.

When the Vanguard met with City Manager Dirk Brazil and former City Manager and UC Davis Vice Chancellor John Meyer, it was explained that, while the report did not look into the fire department, Mr. Brazil believes that most likely the shared management will stick past July.

John Meyer pointed out that fire always needs the cooperation from other agencies. In the mutual aid agreement, fire is constantly relying on inter-agency cooperation.

As such, he believes it is better that fire is trained in a consistent way with other departments.

The budget proposal appears to reflect the view that it continues to make sense to have some sort of joint operations of the fire departments.

—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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13 Comments

  1. Tia Will

    I applaud Mr. Brazil for his efforts in making changes to promote accessibility of his office to the public as reported yesterday. I am wondering about two other recent changes however. I find myself missing the reports by Rob White and Nate Trauernicht . While I have no idea why these sources of information have stopped, I found them useful as far as actual information, and reassuring in terms of increased transparency about two vital functions of our city, safety and development. I miss them.

    1. PhilColeman

      The intimation here is (and I think it was NOT the intent) the current City Manager had some role in the cessation of the routine reports from these two city officials. The monthly reports stopped before the current City Manager came on board.

      I also really miss these reports. They had far more substance and content than the solitary monthly fluff piece from the political spectrum we have to rely on now.

       

      1. Matt Williams

        I agree Phil.  The reports from the Fire Chief and the Chief Innovation Officer provided the citizens with insight into the professionalism of our City’s workings rather than the politics of those workings.

         

        A goal of “Professionalism Not Politics” would be a step in the right direction for this city.

      2. Topcat

        A goal of “Professionalism Not Politics” would be a step in the right direction for this city.

        Yes!  And another goal I’d like to see the Council adopt is to “Live within our means”.

        1. Matt Williams

          If our city wants to move toward being a professional organization rather than a political organization, Fiscal Responsibility will be one of the cornerstones of that movement, and Living Within Our Means will be one of the key components of Fiscal Responsibility … however, I believe Fiscal Responsibility goes beyond living within our means. One can be very inefficient and still live within one’s means. A professional organization needs to also needs to build accountability into both its operations and its reporting. Further, that reporting needs to show transparency to the citizens who are paying the bills. The periodic reports from the Fire Chief and the Chief Innovation Officer provided both accountability and transparency. The citizens would be well served by more of that rather than less.

  2. SODA

    Again, do we know the reason the fire division chiefs were kept under the city payroll causing increased costs and why that decision was made in closed session?

    “Mr. Brazil believes that most likely the shared management will stick past July.”

    This does not sound like a ringing endoresement and neither does the last sentence of the article.  Comments?

    1. Tia Will

      SODA

      I seem to recall a previous Vanguard article in which Mr. Brazil was reported to have expressed some reservations about the current joint management arrangement. I do not ,unfortunately, remember any of the specifics. However, I hope that any concerns that he might have had have been addressed as I see a great deal of benefit and little if any downside to this arrangement for our community.

      1. SODA

        Agree Tia, that is why David’s characterization of his comments that I read as not strong, were dismaying.  You read them the same way?  And I hadn’t realized it had been since Sept that we had seen the Chief’s routine report, which I also appreciated.

        1. Tia Will

          SODA

          I don’t know. I can only hope that he will see the benefits and remain in support of what I see as a much better model for our region with strong leadership from the current chief.

  3. Tia Will

    Phil

    I think it was NOT the intent”

    You are correct that that was not at all my intent. The two issues just stood out in juxtaposition in my mind because of the timing of the articles. My intent was not to imply that Mr. Brazil was in any way responsible, but can see how that could have been inferred from my post. Thanks for calling it out.

  4. Miwok

    Since we may be all out of the loop in current FD labor practices, my question may be a simple one: Do they still staff a 24 hour shift with two days off?

    Also what is the cost to the University and has it gone up a similar aount? This article makes it sound like the City is the only one with budgets going up?

    When I worked Polls in South Davis (Mace), I was amazed by the four trucks, equipment, and people who stopped by to empty trucks, check equipment and put it all back. Why do we need four trucks for the three firefighters when in the several calls that came up while we were there, only one was used?

  5. Tia Will

    Miwok

    I second your question about how many firefighters are dispatched on particular calls and whether there might not be greater efficiencies in these areas. In the past I have put forth two examples of what I see as clear waste. I will briefly outline again without all the details in case anyone reading has an explanation for why this approach is taken.

    1. In Davis, fireplace fire temporarily out of control called in. While still on the initial call, dispatcher made aware that fire was again contained within the fireplace. Caller informed that it was too late. What arrived were two city fire engines, hook and ladder, ambulance, and two squad cars to block off the street. All of these folks remained on scene even after it was ascertained that only two firefighters were needed to check the house for occult burning within the walls. Everyone was present for at least a half hour.

    2. In Sacramento, my medical office building is located across the street from a fire station. Rarely a patient will arrive who is obviously too ill for treatment in the office and must be transported by ambulance to our nearby hopsital. When it is an urgent transfer, we have to use 911 just as would any one else. This results in not the two ambulance personnel necessary to make the transfer, since by the time of their arrival we will have already secured an IV, and medically stabilized the patient for transfer. However, even though they are aware of this from multiple transfers over many years, they come in a team of six which results in the two who make the transfer, and four who stand around to kibutz and joke with the medical assistants and other staff.

    Yes, I know, this second example  is in Sacramento, not Davis. However, I cannot help but wonder if there is not a culture of over utilization which is both non productive and costly.

    1. hpierce

      I’ll jump in, Tia, with a simplistic response to your questions… if the FF’s were not responding to a call, where would they be?  At the station.  If they ‘overstay’ their need, where would they be?  At the station, or another call… if they had responded to the first example, and got another call, am pretty sure they would shorten/cancel their stay at the non-emergency, and respond to the second.  The salaries, benefits, etc. are the same if they get called off of what turns out to be a non-emergency, or not.

      Now, if FF’s were paid only per hour that they were actually on a call, and paid maybe 10% of normal when they are essentially “on-call”, you might have a point.  As it stands, unless we have a volunteer fire department, or only pay FF’s for time they are on a call, I see no waste.

      We could increase our response times, with accompanying risks, if we had only one crew for normal ops, and rely on a volunteer force for second calls, etc.  We certainly could consider that.  Perhaps we should.  But that would increase response time and result, perhaps, in greater levels of mortality/morbidity/property damage.  Perhaps the $ involved is worth considering those decreases in resources, mindful of the ‘trade-offs’ inherent.

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