By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – The Davis City Council will be asked to approve the purchase of a fire department ladder truck and associated equipment for $2.15 million at tonight’s city council meeting. The money would come from Public Safety Development Impact Fees, which are not part of the General Fund.
The new ladder truck will be housed at Station 31, which would require just over half a million ($600,000) of modifications, which has already been appropriated for the 2021-22 budget.
In addition to station modifications and capital equipment costs, the council has to approve staffing changes—which will be Option 3, according to the staff report, adding nearly $700,000 (and exceeding that in subsequent years) to annual costs. The more expensive four-person daily would exceed $1.3 million in added annual costs.
Staff writes, “While staff believes that staffing Option 2 described in the report below strikes the best balance between staffing levels and budget considerations, staff recommends pursuing Option 3 with the knowledge that Option 2 could be added at a later date after the economic recovery from COVID is clearer, and after the supplemental revenue alternatives analysis is complete.”
Staff notes that the NFPA (National Fire Prevention Association) standard for fire department organization “states that ladder/truck companies shall be staffed with a minimum of four on-duty members.”
At a minimum, “the ladder truck will require one Captain, one Operator/Driver and one Firefighter. This option would require the promotion of three Captains and the hiring of three additional firefighters.”
Option 2 would use ARP (American Rescue Plan) funding to add six new firefighters (two per shift) and promote three captains from the existing pool of firefighters for three years. After year three, the city would use General Fund budget funding for the positions.
Staff believes that the estimate $1.3 million could be partially offset by around $403,000 in overtime savings, “for a net estimated cost of 897K per year plus potential future contractual and benefit cost increases (future contractual cost increases may be partially offset by increased overtime savings).”
On the other hand, Option 3 would utilize ARP funding to add three new firefighters (one per shift) and promote three captains, and after the third year, again they would use General Fund budget funding for the position.
They would set a three-person minimum staffing standard for the truck company with an estimated cost of $686,000 plus future increases.
Staff writes, “The hiring of any additional firefighters would need to be completed 6-9 months prior to the completion of the ladder truck. New firefighters would need this time period to undertake onboarding and training as engine firefighters for the Davis Fire Department before adding them to the ladder truck training.”
City staff believes that Station 31 is the optimal location for the ladder truck.
“The ladder truck should be centrally located and able to respond quickly to all areas of the City, including assisting the University on greater alarms,” staff writes. Additionally, “Station 31 annually responds to more than half of all the calls for service in the City of Davis. In 2020, the current Squad 31 responded to 832 calls and there were 574 simultaneous calls where Engine 31 was not available and an engine from another station was required to leave their response area.”
The proposed modifications to the station will take between 14 and 18 months to build and will “address parking the ladder truck inside the station and adjustments to living areas to accommodate additional personnel.”
Council approved the concept in principle last March.
The city has increased the number of 3- and 4-story buildings in recent years. They have relied on the UC Davis fire truck to support their efforts and, in 2020, it was called out a total of 115 times—or roughly 9 to 10 per month.
In the Fitch & Associates Standards of Cover report, they found “it is recommended that the City of Davis invest in their own ladder truck.” It further said “that doing so would improve coverage, redundancy, critical tasks for structure fires and technical rescues. The report determined the best location would be Station 31.”
The report added, “A community the size of the city of Davis with the complexity of risk should not be without consistent ladder truck service or depend on an apparatus from distant communities when the UC Davis apparatus is unavailable.”
However, as others have pointed out, Davis is unique in that it has a university next door with an available ladder truck most of the time, and the fiscal impact on the community is not insignificant.
Last March, Councilmember Dan Carson said he believes there are ways to help meet some of those costs, and ARP money could fund it for three years, with public safety funds covering the purchase of the truck, but the personnel costs will be ongoing and will outlast the available funding.