Frustrations grow over new Consolidated fire chief search
January 29, 2013
Taxpayers living within Nevada County Consolidated Fire District are subsidizing services delivered to Nevada City and Grass Valley, a fire official said.
Keith Grueneberg, chairman of the Consolidated Fire, said due to the slender staffs at both the Nevada City and Grass Valley fire departments, his fire district must supply additional resources in terms of personnel and equipment on a routine basis to respond to both structure fires and medical emergencies.
"The two cities, in essence, cannot provide essential fire protection," Grueneberg said.
Nevada City Fire Department has three full-time employees and Grass Valley Fire Department has 13.5 employees.
A structure fire is required to have at least 12 to 15 firefighters on scene according to industry regulations, meaning both municipalities are utterly reliant on mutual aid to carry out the basic duties of their department.
Some medical emergencies, such as a heart attack, require the presence of five firefighters, Grueneberg said.
Due to this, Consolidated Fire responds to a large number of incidents that take place outside its jurisdiction and within the two respective cities' borders.
Grueneberg and the rest of Consolidated Fire's board of directors are amid negotiations with officials from both Grass Valley and Nevada City to reach a cost-sharing agreement regarding a new chief.
Consolidated Fire has not had an administrative fire chief, since Tim Fike and the district parted ways last year; Grass Valley Fire currently has a part-time interim chief, Tony Clarabut, and Nevada City is in the same situation with Sam Goodspeed as a part-time chief.
Grass Valley City Administrator Dan Holler said there were "cross-benefits" to the mutual aid agreements between the agencies, noting Grass Valley Fire often contributes personnel and equipment to incidents that occur in Consolidated Fire jurisdictions.
However, Grueneberg said, Consolidated Fire contributes more to the cities than the cities do to Consolidated.
"It's one-sided right now and we have to find a way to balance it out," Grueneberg said.
"I have to be able to make the case to my taxpayers that this (mutual aid arrangement) is a benefit to this district."
Holler conceded Grass Valley has a higher volume of calls due to the residential and commercial density along with a number of senior services in the community.
Representatives from Grass Valley, Nevada City and Consolidated Fire will meet on Jan. 30 to discuss a cost-sharing agreement surrounding the possibility of hiring one chief to manage all three agencies. Holler said Grass Valley is willing to explore a Joint Power Agreement, which would give the city more say in how their department is managed.
"It would give us a little more oversight," Holler said.
"A JPA is not acceptable," Grueneberg said in a letter dated Jan. 18.
"This has been emphasized several times by our board."
The letter unequivocally states Consolidated Fire's growing frustration with the cities and their "lack of activity" regarding cooperation to find a new chief.
"Due to the delay in hiring a fire chief, the board will also consider hiring an interim administrative fire chief to manage the district until the fire chief hiring process is completed," Grueneberg's letter states. "It is our intent to move ahead with hiring a fire chief. We can no longer delay action on this critical position."
Grueneberg said he has yet to hear a response from either of the cities regarding the substance of the letter.
Consolidated board member David Hanson struck a more conciliatory note Friday, saying the mutual aid agreements are crucial to how the entire county operates.
"We get value out of these agreements," Hanson said.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda email email@example.com or 530-477-4239.