Penn Valley Fire District board proud of its record
November 3, 2013
In an effort to clarify any misconceptions regarding the Penn Valley Fire Protection District that may have been generated by a recent article in The Union, quoting a disgruntled former part-time-firefighter and five or six of his companions, here are the facts:
Allegation: There has been a sharp decline in the number of PVFPD volunteer firefighters since Chief Gene Vander Plaats assumed command of the District.
Fact: There have been no "volunteer firefighters" with the PVFPD since 1996. The chief took command in 2004.
• Of the 18 paid-call firefighters (not volunteers) on the district rolls when Vander Plaats arrived, more than 50 percent were not responding to incidents or attending required training. Those willing and able to maintain required training and fitness standards were retained on the rolls.
Voters have increased district fees and taxes by a 70-plus percent margin twice since 2004 after having previously refused similar increases.
• State training requirements have continuously increased, now requiring more than 500 hours for entry-level firefighter-emergency medical technicians (FF-EMT). Paramedic licensing (FF-Paramedic) requires 1,100 hours additional training. To maintain skill levels in the services provided by the PVFPD, another 200 to 300 hours of annual training is required.
• As with many fire agencies, the mandated training (among other factors) has severely curtailed the number of paid-call firefighters available to the PVFPD. The last remaining district paid-call firefighter retired in 2013.
• In 2005, Vander Plaats implemented an "Intern Program" with interns working with fully certified FF-EMTs/FF-Paramedics during regular tours of duty. In lieu of salaries, interns receive training required to receive their state certifications and the loan of duty-related equipment.
• In addition to full-time staffing, minimum district staffing is assured through the use of part-time FF-EMTs and FF-Paramedics and overtime.
Allegation: The chief has been receiving raises while others' salaries have been frozen.
Fact: During 2013, the district board of directors approved:
• Fire chief , a 1 percent salary increase.
• Office manager, a 1.5 percent increase
• Seven of the 11 full-time firefighting employees have received pay-step salary increases in excess of the chief's increase.
To improve the district's personnel retention, in 2008, to match most California fire agencies, the board reduced line personnel's work week from 72 to 56 hours without a reduction in compensation, resulting in a 22 percent reduction in hours and 42 percent salary increase. However, due to revenue constraints, the compensation for PVFPD line personnel remains significantly below that of either state or nearby district firefighters. This has contributed to a continuing movement of district personnel to other fire agencies offering greater compensation. The board has and is addressing this issue as funding is available.
Allegation: The community does not have confidence in the chief or the board of the Penn Valley Fire Protection District.
Fact: Voters have increased district fees and taxes by a 70-plus percent margin twice since 2004 after having previously refused similar increases.
• To fund equipment purchases and personnel training, 150-250 residents regularly attend monthly breakfasts.
Allegation: The fire chief lacks credentials to serve as an incident commander.
Fact: There are no state or federal requirements for certification relating to commanding local incidents or for that matter being appointed to a fire chief's position. Fire chiefs are typically selected based on their demonstrated performance in administrative functions.
• The chief had the required qualifications for the position when hired in 2004.
• At the same board meeting The Union staff writer attended, the chief and district personnel received congratulations from the audience for their efforts at a recent Lake Wildwood residence fire.
Allegation: All is not well in the Penn Valley Fire Protection District and the board is dysfunctional.
Fact: District achievements, accomplished since 2004 through the support of district taxpayers, and a close working relationship among the fire chief, district staff and the board of directors include:
• Reduced administrative costs by eliminating 1.5 administrative support positions.
• Implemented improved budgeting, eliminating the need to borrow operating funds between tax payments and building reserves for previously unfunded liabilities, e.g., replacement of worn and outmoded equipment and vehicles, etc.
• Increased minimum daily staffing, allowing personnel on duty at two (rather than one) district stations to alternatively operate two pumpers or two advanced life support ambulances.
• Developed fire captain/duty officer positions, improving incident management as well as day-to-day management of the district.
• Upgraded the part-time employee program providing skilled, affordable, replacements for staff vacancies and a means of evaluating future full-time staff.
• Implemented a district intern program, creating a new source for new district personnel.
• Instituted an illness and injury prevention program, meeting state and federal requirements and reducing personnel duty-connected risks.
• Launched — at no cost to the district, thanks to two community service clubs and the generosity of our citizens — a residential smoke detector program, providing free battery replacement and, where needed, provision of new detectors, free of charge.
• Established monthly staff meetings improving communication among personnel and with district administration.
• Developed a more feasible means of our district supporting large scale state and federal incidents through deployment of our medically trained personnel to their large scale incidents at no cost to the district.
The elected district board of directors is proud of what our partnership with the community, Chief Vander Plaats and district staff has achieved for the citizens of the Penn Valley Fire Protection District.
Kurt Grundel is chairman of the Penn Valley Fire Protection District board of directors.