(May 20, 2005) -- LBReport.com has learned that LB city management intends to remove from service one of two fire engines serving downtown LB from Station One (100 Magnolia Ave.) effective approximately June 1 for the remainder of the current fiscal year to Sept. 30, 2005 as a budget saving measure.
Deputy City Manager Reggie Harrison told LBReport.com the reduction will save roughly $473,000 through the end of September (about $119,000 a month). He acknowledged that the action is being taken with the expectation it will save money but denied it was a "top down" directive. "Fire Chief Ellis supports this," Mr. Harrison said.
Fire Chief Dave Ellis told LBReport.com that despite having implemented savings and efficiencies, LBFD couldn't come close to meeting spending reductions approved in Sept. 04 by the Council as part of the current (FY 05) budget unless it made the cut. Deputy Manager Harrison said the move was temporary, wouldn't result in any job losses (the four person crews will be reassigned elsewhere) and would be evaluated over the next four months.
Management's action was met with disbelief and dismay by Capt. Dave Kean, president of LB Firefighters Association Local 372 [firefighters' union]. Capt. Kean told LBReport.com he believes there will be service impacts...and if allowed to stand the reduction won't be temporary.
"Just look at the density downtown. We've got roughly 73 high rise buildings and about 9 or more planned. At Station 1, Engine 1 already handles roughly 3,200 calls for service a year...and Engine 101 (which management is cutting) handles roughly 2,700 calls a year. If Engine 1 ends up handling nearly 6,000 calls a year, it would literally become one of the busiest Engines in the United States."
Capt. Kean said he believes fire units will inevitably be drawn from other areas to take up the slack. "This will be felt. 45-50% of our calls already come from the greater downtown area served by Station 1 and surrounding Stations," Capt. Kean said, adding "without Engine 101, there may be times when we will have to wait for a second engine to arrive."
Chief Ellis responded that Engine 101 was chosen for the reduction precisely because there were several stations in the area that could provide resources. He acknowledged that some of the calls now handled by Station 1 would likely end up being taken by other stations, including Station 2 (Gaviota/Third), Station 3 (Anaheim/Daisy) and new Station 6 (at the Queen Mary).
"If you look at a map, you can see we have a number of resources we can call into the area. There should be minimal impact in getting the same amount of resources, whether a medical or fire response. Yes, there will be an impact, but it will be felt internally, not on public safety," Chief Ellis said.
He added, "As distasteful as this reduction is, based on the feedback from the Council, the last thing I want to do is close an entire fire station...and as difficult as this reduction is, we'll still have ten firefighters to respond to calls out of Station 1 in addition to resources at nearby Stations."
Responding to management's position, LB Firefighters president Kean cited a lengthy study on Fire Services commissioned by management itself. "It's interesting that this change didn't come from management's own Fire Service Review. They didn't recommend this change."
But Deputy City Manager Harrison said management's Fire Services Study did recommend continuing evaluations. "This is part of that process," Mr. Harrison said.
So why didn't the cut come to the City Council for public discussion first? Deputy City Manager Harrison said the Fire Chief "commonly implements a number of operational changes. This is the same type of process used when a fifth person was removed from one of LB's downtown fire units" [a recommendation that was part of the Fire Services study.]
Firefighters Association president Kean said his union's members plan to show up at Council's May 24 meeting. "We'll make our presence felt in the Council chamber," he said.
As with all budget and spending matters, the Council has the last word...and could direct that the cut not be made.
By late in the day Friday (May 20), the LB Firefighters Association had already produced a flier for distribution in the coming days. Titled SAFETY ALERT, it states in part:
"This is a reduction in services that will seriously affect your safety if you live or work in the Downtown area...You pay for the best Fire Service and now that is being eroded...Please don't let this happen to your neighborhood." [emphasis in original]
The flier urges recipients to call LB's two downtown Councilmembers, Bonnie Lowenthal and Dan Baker, along with City Manager Miller.
Chief Ellis said, "I understand labor's position, but we've carefully examined the scenarios and the reduction doesn't put our response time out of standards of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), and these are very difficult standards to meet." He said Engine 11 (in NLB, Market/LB Blvd) is currently the busiest in the city, with almost 4,700 runs a year. "I now expect Engine 1 (downtown) will now run about 4,700 to 5,000 runs a year, with the remainder picked up by nearby resources," Chief Ellis said, adding "We'll assess, monitor and capture this data for review."
Chief Ellis said that while his first duty is to public safety and firefighter safety, he also has a second obligation to be fiscally responsible. "I have to meet the goals set for our Department by the City Council. We may not achieve all of them, but we've worked as hard as we could, and we have met many of them with savings and efficiencies," Chief Ellis said.
Further to follow.