Fact Finder Suggests 3 on Fire Engine

The chairman of a fact-finding panel looking into Fire Department staffing in San Marino has recommended that the city can operate with three firefighters on its engine, rather than the minimum four requested by the San Marino firefighters union.
Paul Crost, the impartial chairman of the three-person panel — which also had a city representative and a fire union representative — met to break a yearlong impasse in negotiations over the firefighters’ labor contract.
The decision clears the way for the City Council to impose a contract with the firefighters’ association.
In his findings, Crost said he had surveyed 31 comparable fire agencies in Los Angeles County and found that only 12 mandated four firefighters on an engine at all times.
He acknowledged the union’s argument about the “two-in, two-out” requirement for entering a burning building, but also cited the regional assistance that San Marino receives as a member of the Verdugo Automatic Aid Agreement.
Crost said he was constrained by the criteria of comparability, and wrote, “There are a substantial number of departments that operate with a three-person crew. While it may be the case that some of those departments have other resources that they can dispatch to the incident, the fact that the SMFD does not have that ability is countered by coverage provided by the Verdugo Automatic Aid Agreement. The statistics provided by the city support the conclusion that it is unlikely that there would be a situation where only a three-person crew would respond to a fire.”
However, Crost also concluded that “any change in staffing should be implemented in a manner that does not result in layoffs” of firefighters.
The City Council’s beef with the Fire Department maintaining full, four-man staffing at all times is that it results in substantial overtime costs — projected to be $454,000 in the 2015-16 fiscal year, following a total of $390,137 in 2014-15.
In a dissent to the recommendation, Nathan Foth, president of the San Marino Fire Fighters Association, pointed out that agencies staffing their engines with three firefighters have multiple trucks to send on a call. (San Marino has only one engine.)
He also cited a recent call in San Marino involving a structure fire when the city’s two-person ambulance was engaged on a different call. “The four-person engine was able to respond,” Foth wrote, “and per the two-in, two-out rule, we were able to quickly enter the residence and extinguish the fire. Had the engine been staffed with only three firefighters, as the city wants to do here, our personnel would have had to wait for the ambulance to respond, which would have taken some time. The damage could have been catastrophic without proper staffing.”

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