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Proposed phase-in of Station 2 firefighter staffing draws union fire

June 24, 2003
Santa Paula City Council

The proposed plan by the city to phase in full-time firefighters at Station 2 alternately drew fire and was praised at the June 9th meeting of the City Council when a county union representative suggested that the city explore affiliation with another firefighting department.

By Peggy KellySanta Paula TimesThe proposed plan by the city to phase in full-time firefighters at Station 2 alternately drew fire and was praised at the June 9th meeting of the City Council when a county union representative suggested that the city explore affiliation with another firefighting department. The president of the local union, which represents paid-call volunteer firefighters, said the plan should be implemented as presented.Last month the council heard the plan by Fire Chief Paul Skeels to gradually expand services at Station 2 to have fully staffed 24-hour engine company status by 2007. The first phase of the plan would staff the station with paid-call volunteers doing weekend duty.The council said at the time that they felt the plan needed further study since a sizeable budget commitment would be made during the phase-in.At the June 9th meeting, Chris Mahon, president of the Ventura County Professional Firefighters Association, told the council that he was speaking on behalf of the SPFD’s nine full-time firefighters who are members of the union.Although the city is facing budget challenges, the plan to phase-in staffing at Fire Station 2 is not a good one, he noted.“While well-intentioned,” the city needs a station that is “fully staffed on a reliable basis. . .you cannot predict when the next emergency will occur,” that would require the services of additional firefighters.Although members of the SPFD are among the lowest paid in the county, firefighters appreciate the efforts of the council, noted Mahon, but, “We urge you to have staff study all new funding sources and the possibility of affiliation with other departments,” to provide full-time firefighters.
Santa Paula Firefighters Association President Glenn Aronowitz, which represents the SPFD’s 20-plus paid-call volunteers, told the council that he agreed “in principle” with many of Mann’s comments but the plan to phase-in full time services at Station 2 should be “implemented as soon as possible. If we wait,” the funding for the first phase could be lost in the budget cycle.“We feel it is time to staff that station,” as there were over 1,700 calls for service in 2002 and Aronowitz noted that the volume of such calls are overlapping at a higher rate.“It’s time to do it and you should start now,” to phase-in a full-time engine company at Station 2, Aronowitz said.The fire station staffing plan would convert all paid-call volunteers in 2007 from part-time employees paid for time worked to reserves, paid a monthly stipend.At the May 5th meeting when the staffing plan was unveiled, City Councilman Ray Luna asked if there is a “concern from county fire responding with paid call,” firefighters.The county fire union has “traditional labor union concerns and have expressed concerns about part-time firefighters, but it’s a traditional thing that happens all over the US. . .county firefighters and their union are in favor of phasing out any vestige of the volunteer and part-time firefighter system. They have a right to that opinion but there are many more departments across the nation,” that a similar system to the SPFD.“It’s a union thing, they want to protect our turf. . .our part-timers are not invited to respond automatically to incidents outside city limits,” probably due to union-related issues, said Chief Skeels.