The Oakdale Rural Protection District is tightening its belt and making changes that, according to rural chief Lee Winton, have been long overdue.
Three rural fire personnel with the least seniority were given notice to hang up their turn-outs, as effective March 1, ORFD would no longer be able to keep them on the payroll. In addition, as part of a joint staffing agreement with the City of Oakdale (a full story on this new development will be in the Feb. 24 issue of The Oakdale Leader) the rural station will no longer staff the East F Street location.
Winton called the decision to lay off one lieutenant and two engineers as “painful” but the writing has been on the wall for some time as dwindling resources and ballooning operational costs have cut at the rural district’s ability to afford the number of stations open and personnel on the payroll.
“When I came in the door I asked, ‘how are they doing this?’,” Winton said of the budget shortfall. “The number of employees is a problem for the budget we’ve got.”
Winton said he pulled each of the affected personnel into his office before they received a certified letter in the mail regarding the district’s decision so they weren’t blindsided. Losing three employees will save the district an estimated $200,000 for a full fiscal year.
“What’s driving this is money,” Winton said. “We have to reduce our payroll. We overspent our budget last year and had to carry that over into the next year.”
The decision to change the operational focus of the East F Street location came after much thought and deliberation that required the cooperation of both rural and city, but Winton believes it’s the best course of action.
“To have two staffed stations a half mile apart is a redundancy in service,” Winton stated, referencing ORFD’s East F Street station and Oakdale City Fire’s station on East G Street.
Winton’s office will remain in the East F Street station as will the equipment and maintenance and repair. It will also serve as a place for the volunteers.
The change will free up the rural district to staff the outlying areas of Valley Home and Knights Ferry.
“This gives us more opportunity to cover our browned out stations,” Winton said, adding, “Not 100 percent of the time but more than we’re able to now.”
The decision to schedule brown outs at the outlying stations was made in October of last year.
And since then, Winton said the change has been handled well, even if it’s not an optimal situation.
“It’s been working out quite well,” Winton said. “We’re covering all calls. All in all, we’ve been able to provide successful fire service given our budget constraints for the rural areas.”