Davis Council Asked to Approve Purchase, Staffing for Ladder Truck

UC Davis Ladder Vehicle fighting a fire in downtown Davis in 2018

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

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.

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. Alan Miller

    Buy a ladder truck?

    Let’s not and say we did.

    Maybe someone could put together a list of what we could do with that money:  1) Initial investment; 2) Ongoing costs — if we didn’t get a ladder truck, and instead used UCDs, on those rare occasions when it isn’t putting out skyscraper fires on campus.

    Can you feel the sarcasm?

    But maybe there’s a reason, a need even, for the ladder truck.  Namely, THIS GUY:

    You Can Build a Skyscraper Anywhere in Davis Right Now

    ” . . . there is room for a brash outsider who doesn’t care what people or planning staff in Davis think about them.”

    1. Bill Marshall

      Alan M… you missed the fact that with all the changes in building/fire codes (State and local), including required sprinklers, and detection, much of the need for ladder trucks have been significantly reduced…

      Those trucks are cool toys, but “must haves”?  I think not… particularly with the new on-going staff requirements/costs projected…

      Having a ladder truck will likely not reduce fire, property or other insurance rates…

      1. Alan Miller

        You could have stated those points, WM, without noting that I missed them, LOL.

        UCD & Davis should combine emergency services, but dismantling an established bureaucracy or two is to dream the impossible dream.  But surely we can share a ladder track and save the taxpayers million$ that we could otherwise spend on real needs?

  2. Keith Y Echols

    Should UCD’s buildout of new student housing and other facilities be factored in the assessment for the need by the city to purchase a ladder truck?  As UCD continues to build out more housing and facilities, presumably it will have more of a need for it’s own ladder truck and other services that it shares with the city of Davis.  I wonder if UCD’s growth will stretch the shared resources and ultimately the effectiveness of those resources with the city.

    1. Alan Miller

      Seriously — someone need to calculate the odds of two fires in tall buildings taking place simultaneously after full build-out of student housing and tall Davis buildings by 2050.  I don’t know the results, by I guarantee those odds are infinitesimal, unless an act of terrorism or shattered meteorite.

      1. Keith Y Echols

        Eh, what are the odds that a fire will happen at a multi-story building in the first place?  I mean it’s not zero but if on any given day it’s probably less than 5%….let’s just get rid of the ladder truck all together and save all the money.

        Or do we have a rational way of evaluating the situation and applying numbers to the odds (including population and construction growth) and costs associated with providing services to all of the people?

        1. Alan Miller

          I mean it’s not zero but if on any given day it’s probably less than 5%….let’s just get rid of the ladder truck all together and save all the money.

          That argument made absolutely no logical sense, and everyone who read it is now slightly stupider than they were the moment previous.

        2. Keith Y Echols

          That argument made absolutely no logical sense, and everyone who read it is now slightly stupider than they were the moment previous.

          I guess my use of reductio ad absurdum (no that’s not a Harry Potter spell) for humor to make a point went over your head.  I’m sorry if I made you feel stupider for reading my comment.

      1. Alan Miller

        Jinx!   Seriously, what are the odds that we would both post the same word to describe our reaction, at the exact same moment, to comment on the same posting?  I’d say the odds of that are:  infinitesimal.

  3. Keith Y Echols

    My initial reaction is that now is not the time for Davis to spend money on a new ladder truck.

    If the Council approves the purchase of a ladder truck; IMO it should be contingent on the city budget and/or other funds being in the black now and in the projected future.  But on the flipside there needs to be an understanding of the actual need for the ladder truck in terms of the number of people and multi-story units (which at this point includes the growth of both UCD and Davis….which is the point I was made in my earlier comment) it serves and how that ratio will be managed going forward so that at some point future growth reaches a a trigger point that necessitates a city owned and managed ladder truck.

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