A fact-finding panel studying the issue of staffing in the San Marino Fire Department delivered its recommendations to the city on June 16. Neither the City of San Marino nor the Firefighters Association were completely satisfied with the findings.
The panel was comprised of an impartial chairperson, city representative and a San Marino Firefighters Association representative.
The five-page document authored by Paul Crost, the panel’s impartial chairperson, concluded, “The statistics provided by the city support the conclusion that it is unlikely that there would be a situation where only a three-person crew would respond to a fire.”
Crost cited the Verdugo Fire Communication System, a mutual aid pact with surrounding fire agencies to share fire response resources, as support for his decision.
He also concluded that it would be “inappropriate” to give the City of San Marino full discretion to implement staffing changes, such as “layoffs of any bargaining unit members.”
The recommendation would effectively provide greater job security for current San Marino firefighter/paramedics, but would afford the city flexibility to run San Marino’s sole engine with three firefighters.
The report considered all eight of the guiding criteria stipulated by government code, but determined that “the critical criteria in this case is comparability.”
The panel compared the San Marino Fire Department to 31 other agencies in Los Angeles County and among those found that 12 agencies had four firefighters on an engine.
A hearing held in March, 2016 contributed to the report’s results.
The $4,000 fact-finding study was commissioned to help resolve an impasse between the City of San Marino and the San Marino Firefighters Association, which have not had a memorandum of understanding, or MOU, since July, 2015.
City Representative Mark Flannery concurred in concept with Crost’s conclusions, but contended that the city should be allowed to maintain its “sole discretion” to make staffing changes.
He signed off on the document, agreeing to include the language of the report in the MOU, but asked that the concluding paragraph only state that the “city has met its burden of proving that the change in the status quo is warranted.”
Nathan Foth, SMFD firefighter/paramedic and representative for the Firefighters Association, understood the emphasis on agency comparability to be a failure by the panel to thoroughly consider other guiding criteria.
Foth, who disagreed with the report’s conclusions, addressed the “interests and welfare of the public and the financial ability of the public agency” criteria, among other criterion.
“It remains unclear why a city like San Marino, in a service industry, would need to stockpile away $20.7 million,” he wrote, referring to the city’s reserve fund, or ‘fund balance.’
“[I]t seems logical that this excess money should be returned to the taxpayers (or not collected as taxes) or should be spent on services the citizens deserve.”
In its final budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year, the San Marino City Council approved $230,000 for overtime pay in the fire department budget, about $130,000 less than Fire Chief Mario Rueda’s requested amount.
The council’s decision to reduce overtime funding means that the fire department cannot always provide position coverage for firefighters who are using accrued vacation, sick or injury time.
As a result, San Marino’s engine will be staffed with only three firefighters for a total of about four months out of the year. The city council is expected to act on the report, which can be found on the city’s website, at its meeting on July 13. The council, which will have only three members present for that meeting, will likely leave firefighter compensation as is, but impose parts of the report’s recommendations as it sees fit. For now, the impasse will continue.