During these tough economic times public safety has been under the spotlight for quite some time and rightfully so. Any agency that’s responsible for spending taxpayer dollars should be transparent and have the ability to stand behind the decisions they make when it comes to taxpayer’s money. I would like to take a moment to set the record straight as to what exactly your fire department does with reserve firefighters, and the money it has saved the city by operating efficiently while thinking outside the box in the last seven years.
It’s been said multiple times by city leaders and citizens that the Oakdale Fire Department needs to utilize volunteers. In fact it’s even been stated in the local media that we don’t use volunteers. This is absolutely not true. The Oakdale Fire Department is currently supplemented by four reserve firefighters that are required to work 48 hours per month. In addition to the city’s reserve firefighters, the City of Oakdale also benefits from the use of 15 Oakdale Rural Fire District reserve firefighters. These reserves also work on city fire engines, since the creation of a joint staffed engine agreement. This agreement maintains minimum staffing levels while reducing overall city staff.
To bring a reserve firefighter on-line costs approximately $5000. This cost covers background checks, all personal protective equipment, uniforms and medical exam. In the 2012-2013 budget the city spent $3000 on reserve firefighters, the rest came from an $18,000 grant awarded to the fire department after a competitive application process, lead by your career firefighters. The money from this grant is what’s paid for our reserve firefighters for the last two years. Currently we are in the process of hiring one additional reserve which will be the end of the grant money. The current budget has $3000 allotted to retain and recruit reserve firefighters in the 2013-2014 budget.
With the opening of the Willowood fire station in 2006 a staffing change was needed to reduce the overtime costs. The firefighters association agreed to create a Relief Specialist position for each shift. This position eliminated all planned overtime needs saving the city over $200,000 in overtime costs annually. This position is still effectively saving the city money today.
In the past seven years the city fire department has made unprecedented changes with the overall goal of reducing spending while maintaining services to the community. Three years ago Oakdale City and Oakdale Rural Firefighters agreed to create a joint staffed engine company due to the fact that the city could no longer provide the monies necessary to maintain the industry standard three person staffing level. This joint staffed engine saves the city of Oakdale the full cost of three firefighters, over $350,000 per year in savings to the city. No other fire agency in the state has enjoyed the long term success of operating a joint staffed engine.
In an effort to be as fiscally responsible as possible we have entered into a management services agreement with Stanislaus Consolidated Fire District. This agreement has afforded the city fire department with over twice the overhead personnel at nearly a 50 percent reduction in cost. This equates to a savings of over $350,000 annually to the city.
Pension reform is the latest topic we hear about in an effort to repair our economy. With pension reform laws being passed within the last few years, public safety members will be required to pay their portion of retirement. This is not a new concept and we welcome any smart change that could ultimately help our city maintain fiscal health. The Oakdale Firefighters Association is the only labor group in the city that has paid a portion of this benefit for the last three years.
I welcome any member of the community to contact me with questions, concerns or options as it is and always has been our goal to keep our community safe. We believe its imperative to get factual information out to the public in regards to spending taxpayer’s dollars.
David Peterson is President of the Oakdale Firefighters Association Local 3379 and a Captain with the fire department.