Although an email circulated recently by three fire agency chiefs hoping for a CalFIRE Schedule A contract reported that the state agency had declined support for the contract, CalFIRE Unit Chief Brian Kirk clarified the state’s position.
“That’s not entirely true,” Kirk said, calling from his Wyoming vacation to explain. “The issue is the number of employees stated in the contract.”
As in, between Stanislaus Consolidated, Oakdale City Fire, and Oakdale Rural Fire Protection District, there are 16 positions that the state is not willing to take on.
“We don’t have the places for 16 extra employees,” Kirk said. “If it were one or two we might be able to find a place for them but not 16.”
According to Kirk, CalFIRE employees work 72-hour work weeks, as opposed to the 56 hour work weeks currently utilized by city fire agencies.
“The difference in hours allows CalFIRE to do the same amount of work with less employees,” he explained.
In spite of the obstacle, Kirk insisted the state is still very interested in pursuing the Schedule A contract with the three agencies.
“We’re always interested in working with local government contracts,” he said. “Forty percent of the area covered by the three agencies is in the wildland area. It’s nice to blend it all in.”
Kirk also said he planned to meet with the three chiefs next week, as well as attend the next ad-hoc meeting in November to discuss the possibilities further.
“The sticking point right now is the number of employees. If the three agencies came back to the table with less, we’d be able to move forward. With the state budget the way it is, we can’t take on that quantity of extra employees.”
Oakdale Rural Fire Protection District Chief Lee Winton, who is the chosen spokesperson for the three chiefs, stated of the information in the email, the decision was reflective of the state’s budgetary woes.
Further, the email stated: “…The CalFIRE contract is no longer a viable option at this time. We will redirect all efforts and energy into the development of the Local Agency Headquarters Contract option. We continued to be engaged with CityGate Associates in the development of this contract option.”
Winton stated the decision to focus attention on the creation of a Local Agency Contract was the only viable option at this time, saying it was unacceptable to the three agencies to lose that many employees.
“If we have to layoff collectively 15-16 employees, that’s not feasible,” Winton said. “It goes against the essence of our goal statement. It’s not reasonable and doesn’t make sense.”
However, Winton added, “We’re leaving the door open for negotiations when the state’s position improves.”
Winton said none of the agencies had worked out a plan to eliminate 16 positions because it went against the assurances all three chiefs made to their employees that they would protect jobs.
“We’re a long ways from having a model to figure that out,” Winton said. “We had two forks in the road, right now one of those has been taken away, not that it won’t return in the future, but currently the only option is the Local Agency contract. The option left to us is the only option left to us. Collectively, we feel that to go back to the way it used to be, is not an option.”