The two local fire agencies — Oakdale Rural Fire Protection District and Oakdale City Fire — are blending families as of March 1 in a joint staffing agreement that will run on a trial basis for six months.
Oakdale City Council members agreed unanimously with the proposal given by the joint chiefs, Lee Winton for the rural district and Mike Botto representing City Fire, at the Tuesday, Feb. 16 council meeting.
The recent meeting-of-the-minds represents a major shift in attitude as the current financial climate has squeezed city and rural resources to the point of pain, necessitating a different approach to traditional staffing methods.
“We’re taking a unified approach,” Botto said. “We are unable to backfill our retired positions due to lack of funding. Our problem is real and we have to deal with it.”
Under the agreement, the minimum daily staffing level of the City will be three members at City Fire Station No. 1 and two members at the City Station No. 2; the minimum daily staffing level at the District is three members, one of which will be assigned to the City.
The savings to the City represents approximately $170,000 to $255,000 (the cost of two to three line positions required to maintain minimal staffing) annually.
Without this agreement, City Fire was looking at laying off a firefighter.
In addition to easing line staffing issues, the agreement will allow for both chiefs to fill in for one another in times of crisis.
“Who covers for me when I go off?” Winton said. “This is a huge hole for us. This agreement is kind of like an insurance policy and we want to solidify these relationships.”
The rural station located in town will no longer be staffed (as previously reported in the Feb. 17 issue), but will remain as a hub for administration, maintenance, and volunteers.
“This is a big step for everyone involved,” Botto acknowledged. “With crisis comes opportunity. But this will help reduce the fear of the unknown. We are looking forward to whatever the future may hold. I honestly believe we’ll be back to our governing boards for a long-term agreement.”
Winton shared Botto’s enthusiasm, saying, “W know there are things we’ll have to massage but I’m 100 percent sold on the concept. It’s going to be a great marriage.”
While the long-range plan may involve complete unification, from training to employment, right now the fire agencies are taking strong baby steps toward, what they believe, is the right direction.
Kevin Wise, President of the Oakdale City Fire Association, addressed the council, saying the proposed agreement represented, “A great deal of work in a short amount of time” but everyone involved was poised to move forward.
“We’re willing to work together,” he said.
Micah Huson, representing the rural district, said, “The relationship with Oakdale City has changed 180 degrees. We’re looking forward to the change. I think it’s a step in the right direction.”
Don Armario, an ORFD board member, echoed Botto’s sentiment, as he said, “Tough times are bringing us great opportunities. What’s good for the City is good for the District.”
Mayor Farrell Jackson, along with council members, appeared pleased with the shift in dynamics, seeing the change as positive.
“We’ve actually been batting this proposal around for a few years,” the mayor noted. “We are more than just the City of Oakdale … we’re a community. I’m all in favor of trying this for six months.”
Councilmember Tom Dunlop agreed, putting his stamp of approval on it as well.
“In Oakdale, hard times bring out the best in our leaders,” Dunlop said. “I know this will be a successful operation.”