By Krista Daly and Mitch Lehman
Three on a fire engine or four?
Firefighters and city officials continue to debate this question as contract negotiations remain at a standstill.
Though the new contract for firefighters won’t specifically state how many people will be assigned to an engine, the Myers-Milias-Brown Act requires a change in past practice to be agreed upon, said San Marino City Manager John Schaefer. There has never been anything but a four person crew on an engine in SanMarino.
Schaefer explained that the discussion began in an attempt to reduce the overtime budget by $130,000. The previous contract, agreed upon three years ago, allowed for the city to have some control on overtime costs by hiring part-time entry level firefighters to fill in for any full-time person who is absent.
That clause ended when the contract expired on June 29, 2015, and the firefighters did not want to renew that part of it, Schaefer said. Therefore, in order to cut costs, absences would not be covered resulting in three people on a fire engine for about one-third of the year. New staff would also not be hired to replace retiring firefighters.
“The bottom line is we cannot afford to keep running a business this way,” Schaefer said.
Former San Marino Fire Chief Jim Frawley, who this past May accepted a similar post in Santa Cruz, strongly supported the current four-person arrangement.
“It is critically important to have the fourth person because of the unique characteristics of San Marino,” said Frawley, who served in the San Marino Fire Department for 8-1/2 years, including his stint as chief from Jan. 1, 2012 to May 2015. “This community has large homes and expansive properties that are often difficult to access. Three people cannot properly pull the hose while attempting to provide rescue services and medical care. Without that fourth person, you are hampering the operation by more than 25 percent.”
Chief Frawley said that Arcadia, Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena and South Pasadena all have four firefighters per truck. San Gabriel occasionally uses three at the current time, but only until a staffing deficit is reversed.
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