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Hose And Ladder - Volunteer Fire on Horizon?

POSTED June 25, 2013 3:56 p.m.

As Oakdale City Manager Bryan Whitemyer, in the midst of city layoffs and other cost-saving strategies, battles the challenges of a balanced budget during recessionary times while still meeting public safety guarantees in Measure O, he is proposing the concept of a volunteer fire department for the financially strapped city to fill in the gaps when staff levels are low and even supplement existing levels.

At the June 17 city council meeting, Whitemyer presented a list of comparison cities matching Oakdale’s 20,000 population and similar in area, many with volunteer firefighters staffing their fire departments.

Oakdale does not have any volunteer firefighters but does rely at times on its reserve police officers for police services.

Whitemyer pointed out the 8.5 square mile Central Valley city of Lemoore with a population of over 24,000 that relies on an all-volunteer fire department and maintains one of the safest insurance ratings in the state.

“I share that to show you that other feasibilities are out there,” Whitemyer said.

One of the most significant and widely recognized changes in the fire and rescue service is that on average, most calls to fire departments now are for medical emergencies and not fires, running about 80 percent EMS to 20 percent fires.

Because there is no “recession” in demand for fire department services, the number of fire and emergency medical services calls is increasing every year as firefighters become the first line in someone’s health care.

Generally, and for Oakdale, fire protection is still based on geographically situated, fixed stations staffed by a set number of personnel who stand by and wait to be dispatched when called. During down times, crews train, complete paperwork, and maintain the equipment.

“We need a paradigm shift,” said Whitemyer when explaining the city’s need to increase its use of volunteers. “Doing what we’ve always done is no longer feasible.”

Whitemyer made it clear he didn’t want to replace the city’s paid firefighters, but to let the council and citizens know options are out there.

Having been held in high regard since 9/11, the profession is now receiving more stringent scrutiny when it comes to public safety budgets. Government officials, as they look for creative ways to satisfy public safety demands, appear to be taking a much harder look at exactly what they are buying when asked to spend limited dollars on firefighters, firefighting equipment, and emergency response.

Last year, a Solano County grand jury report released a report that found some cities are possibly burning cash by not taking advantage of volunteer firefighters. The grand jury recommended that cities “investigate and implement the use of fire safety volunteers.”

During his presentation Whitemyer read from the 29 Palms Fire Department’s website on their volunteer firefighters.

“Their dedicated commitment allows the department to maintain daily staffing at both fire stations and they gain a valuable experience and additional training as they pursue the goal of a full time career in the fire service,” Whitemyer said. “This is the model I hope to pursue.”


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oak77: 9 months, 3 weeks ago

If our city manager is so concerned about cutting costs, perhaps he should take a look at his own 160k a year salary. He makes double what a fire captain makes and has little job experience and last I checked doesn't risk his life. What works for some cities does not work for all. I pay taxes and expect a fire engine or police car when I call to respond with trained professionals that are not just here to gain experience or here as a hobby. Perhaps we should just have local business leaders volunteer to take Mr. Whitemyer's position. I also find it ironic that Mr. Whitemeyer's uncle (James Miguel) is one of our former city council members and a current Fire Chief in a nearby city. And was always a strong supporter of the OFD/ OPD. I wonder what his opinion would be.

oakdalevoter: 9 months, 3 weeks ago

Just as the Police Department has a mix of reserve and full time why is the fire department exempt? It’s all about cost. If you want the services your need to pay for them. Close station two and move everyone back to station one. You have a full crew. As they say times are a changing, even for the fire department. PS. Just because someone states there should be reserve fire fighters does not mean the current or retired are bad people or that they did anything wrong. It’s all about business, it’s not personal. Right Mr. Jackson?

Fremkiewicz: 9 months, 3 weeks ago

Beneath this article is the article about the Grand Jury investigation of the city and Measure O. The city of Oakdale has had two excellent fire chiefs (Chief Houk and Chief Botto) who have worked long and hard to create a fire department that is fast, efficient and well trained. We, the citizens, are paying for that through Measure O as well as the regular revenue streams. I believe that to reduce this fire department to a volunteer status would be very detrimental. The rural department used to be a mix of paid and volunteer staff and the city agreed to incorporate them into the professional department.
My personal comment is, please do not undo what has taken this city so many years to accomplish.

foothill: 9 months, 3 weeks ago

If we are going to trust our lives with part time hobby firefighters instead of experienced career firefighters, why not hire a part time City Manager to handle the city budget?

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