Davis Hires a New Fire Chief

Back in February, UC Davis announced that it had given the city of Davis notice that that it would end the agreement for shared management of the two fire departments. UC Davis Fire Chief Nathan Trauernicht has led both departments since January 2014, following a series of reforms by the city of Davis in fire staffing and other practices.

The move, which will take effect on July 1, meant that the two departments will operate separately and necessitated that the city of Davis hire a new fire chief.

On Tuesday, the city of Davis announced that they have done just that, and on July 17, the city of Davis will have a new fire chief, Daryl C. Arbuthnott.

Chief Arbuthnott joins Davis from the City of Los Angeles Fire Department.  Mr. Arbuthnott worked for Los Angeles for nearly 36-years.  He has served in several communities such as Brentwood, Downtown L.A., the San Fernando Valley, and Hollywood.

According to the city release, his ranks include Firefighter, Fire Inspector, Fire Captain I & II, Battalion Chief, Assistant Chief and Deputy Chief.  During his tenure, he managed and oversaw 39 fire stations, an air operations section and 1,117 uniformed members.

“Chief Arbuthnott is a strong addition to our management team. He has a tremendous amount of practical operations experience, a proven commitment to community involvement and an incredible enthusiasm for the work. We are lucky to have him,” stated City Manager Dirk Brazil.

During his career, Chief Arbuthnott has, according to the city’s release, “led many nationally recognized incidents including large-scale brush fires, high-rise, commercial buildings, swift water rescue emergencies, active shooter incidents and special planned events.

“His skills in the areas of organizational leadership and strategy extend into training, mentoring, and the development of firefighters.  He also brings with him a reputation of professionalism and a commitment to civic engagement.  In 2009, he spearheaded a campaign to implement a mentorship program geared at providing young Fire Department members the opportunity for professional growth and development ultimately supporting the Fire Department’s succession plan.”

Chief Arbuthnott obtained a Bachelors of Science Degree in Public Administration from Union Institute & University, and a Masters of Business Administration Degree in Risk Management, Business Continuity and Security from Boston University.

He will reportedly “focus his efforts on ensuring the Department’s response capabilities and resources match the City’s emergency service demands and establishing public and private partnerships.”

“I am honored and humbled to be selected to take the helm of a great fire department. I look forward to sharing my leadership skills with the City of Davis and engaging the residents in community preparation,” stated Arbuthnott.

In January 2014, the City of Davis and UC Davis Fire Departments entered into a shared management agreement.  UC Davis Fire Chief Nathan Trauernicht assumed the dual role as fire chief.

“The shared management agreement was designed to maximize the use of existing resources, reduced duplication of effort and to explore the potential for new efficiencies, while maintaining local control and high quality emergency services.”

This year, as stated above, the shared management agreement was terminated at the request of UC Davis, citing multiple challenges in managing two fire departments under a single leadership.

The release from the university indicates that officials “hope that the city will continue to collaborate on a number of service delivery improvements that were implemented under the shared management agreement. There are many examples that have made our shared communities safer such as a ‘dropped boundary’ approach to emergency response using all resources in the community, regardless of jurisdictional boundaries, to get firefighters to emergencies as quickly as possible.”

“We are grateful to Chief Trauernicht and the staff of both departments for their hard work, and we are committed to maintaining a high level of service in our shared community,” Kelly Ratliff said.

Despite a number of successes, the university cited that “significant challenges have remained in managing two different fire departments with different cultures under single leadership.”  The university writes, “Ultimately, university officials concluded that the future success of each department would be better served under separate management.”

In addition, a recent audit finding by CalPERS (California Public Employees’ Retirement System) on retirement contributions for shared employees further complicated the arrangement.

In the letter, the university wrote, “The recently published ruling by CALPERS about retirement contributions for shared management employees is of great concern. Further, as we have discussed on many occasions, differences in organizational cultures present material challenges that affect continued forward progress towards our joint vision. We believe that the success of both fire departments requires moving forward under independent management at this time.”

Kelly Ratliff said that “the campus is looking forward to collaborating with the city to replace the current shared management arrangement with a cooperative service delivery agreement to lay the framework for a smooth transition to independent management as soon as practically possible, while keeping the best of what has been accomplished to date.”

From the city’s end, the news was greeted with disappointment back in February.

“The University has their reasons for terminating the agreement,” City Manager Dirk Brazil said in a comment to the Vanguard via text message.  “I’m disappointed but respect their position.”

He told the Vanguard, “We will move on, ideally keeping in place those elements that have become common practices – dropped boundaries, combined training, etc. – continuing to collaborate with UCD as the need arises. From a public service perspective, no one should notice a change. Davis firefighters are real pros and there will be no lapse in service.”

He added, “My immediate goal is to quickly begin a process to put a Davis Fire Chief in place.”

Mayor Robb Davis also expressed disappointment back in February.

“I am very disappointed in the decision the University has made in this regard, though I respect their willingness to launch into this endeavor with us in the first place, and am glad that the boundary drop and shared training are to continue,” he said.

The mayor added, “In this time of fiscal challenges it had been my hope that shared services of this nature would provide tangible cost reductions. I saw this one as a model. I still believe that these types of shared services are possible and will continue to explore all options to cut costs.”

The history of shared management proved to be fairly short and contentious from the start.  Following a series of reforms including fire staffing changes and boundary drop in 2013, the council voted 3-2 to implement the agreement which placed then-UC Davis Fire Chief Nathan Trauernicht in charge of both departments.

In November of 2013, Senator Lois Wolk, Assemblymember Mariko Yamada, Supervisors Don Saylor and Jim Provenza, and former Supervisor Helen Thomson wrote a letter opposing the City of Davis-UC Davis agreement for shared management services between the City of Davis and UC Davis Fire Department.

The Davis firefighters’ union quickly moved to do everything it could to undermine the agreement.

Ultimately, two issues sank the shared fire management between the city and university.

Back in 2012 when the city and university considered a merger, then-Vice Chancellor John Meyer put a pause on the arrangement, citing what he called a “significant compensation disparity” as the culprit.

“I am deeply concerned about the significant compensation disparity highlighted in the CityGate report,” he wrote.  “The report suggests that UC Davis will increase its compensation in support of consolidation efforts. I believe such action would not be sustainable by UC Davis and should not be assumed in future planning.”

The shared management initially allowed the two entities to ignore the huge pay gap, but changes to CalPERS appears to have thwarted that.

While that issue may have been overcome, the fact that the Davis firefighters never accepted the leadership of the university is at the root of the “differences in organizational cultures” and probably played a much larger role in the university decision to pull out from the agreement.

The task of leading the department will now fall to Chief Arbuthnott.

—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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