Consolidated Fire: No extension possible on Nevada City Station 54 joint staffing
Officials from Nevada County Consolidated Fire District said they are unable to delay their pullout of three firefighters from Nevada City’s Station 54 past an April 19 deadline, for legal reasons.
“Based on the 90/10 split, counsel has informed me that we could be held accountable for gifting of public funds,” said Consolidated Chair Tom Carrington at Thursday’s public board meeting. “That’s not going to happen on my watch.”
Nevada City Manager Mark Prestwich, who was present for Thursday’s meeting along with Nevada City Mayor Terri Andersen, said Friday the “no” answer means the station will be temporarily closed until the city gets word if their federal grant application has been approved, likely around June 1.
“It’s a black and white issue,” Prestwich said Friday, echoing his presentation to the board Thursday night. “You either decide to continue co-staffing the station as you do today, and as you’ve done for 11 years, or you don’t.
“They chose not to,” Prestwich added.
He said the city “will be holding discussions with (JOA) partners and our staff to work on an interim strategy that likely includes redistributing our staff, and a temporary closure of Station No. 54.”
If the federal grant is approved, Nevada City will immediately launch the hiring process, likely drawing from the existing firefighter intern list, Prestwich said.
The city’s long-term funding strategy is to have voters approve a proposed June 2016 ballot measure. The measure, to increase city sales tax a quarter of a percent, would generate revenue of $290,000 annually.
Carrington said the 90/10 split refers to an analysis of the value of work contributions within the Joint Operating Agreement among Consolidated and Nevada City and Grass Valley fire departments.
The analysis, prepared in January by Consolidated Fire Chief Jim Turner, indicated that Nevada City’s only contribution to the JOA day-to-day operations was a single firefighter per shift, out of three shifts daily, while Grass Valley and Consolidated shouldered all the other duties, including management and oversight.
Turner said the 90/10 split was not meant to be percentages, but simply relative values, with Nevada City contributing 10, in contrast to 90 worth of contributions from Grass Valley and Consolidated.
“They do not do any oversight,” Turner said of Nevada City.
Turner had given Nevada City six months’ notice, ending April 19, that Consolidated would have to discontinue the joint staffing at Station 54 and pull out Consolidated’s three firefighters. That will leave Nevada City with three firefighters — or one per shift — on staff at the city station — not enough to run an engine, which requires at least two personnel.
Prestwich said he realized that it would be a large hit for Consolidated’s budget to continue joint staffing at Station 54, but he had thought the fire district had previously budgeted for three firefighters at Station 54 through June 30.
He told Consolidated officials, who have also struggled with finances in recent years, that Nevada City did not have enough in their $113,000 reserve fund balance to finance the three firefighters during the transition until the grant money comes through.
The city was striving toward a $500,000 reserve fund, and paying for firefighters would quickly exhaust what little was there, he said.
“We weren’t expecting Consolidated to do it for more than three to six months,” Prestwich said. “We know it would come from their budget, not ours, but, unfortunately, they were not able to continue collaborative staffing of the station.”
Nevada County Supervisor Hank Weston, who tried unsuccessfully last year to unite the JOA agencies and Penn Valley Fire Protection District into a unified group that would be the start of a Western Nevada County Fire Authority, said Friday he hoped the fire agencies could continue their strong historical partnership.
“I’ve been here since 1988, and Nevada County has always been a tight working group,” said Weston, a former Cal Fire unit chief and former Grass Valley Fire Chief.
“No matter what, they’ve always had a good work attitude, that we’re all in it together,” he said. “You don’t want to start losing that.”
In other business, Consolidated board members voted to appoint two new members to its Citizens Oversight Committee. With the two new members, Cal Fire Division Chief Chris DeSena and retired Novato Fire Protection District officer Albert Arendell, the committee will have four people.
The Consolidated board also approved a one-year, $18,000 contract with ARC Health & Wellness of Sparks, Nevada, to provide a baseline annual medical exam for all staff. The exams would screen, in particular, for warning signs and predisposing factors of heart disease, which has greater frequency among public safety personnel.
If a symptom were uncovered, the staff member would be referred to his or her medical doctor for further evaluation.
“It’s not punitive,” said Consolidated Fire Capt. Jim Smith, shop steward for the union firefighters at the district. Smith said the union supported the baseline annual exams.
With Thursday’s approval, Consolidated will become the first California fire district to engage ARC, which is used by numerous fire and other public safety agencies throughout Nevada, said ARC representative Paul Granstrom. Consolidated board members said they would evaluate whether to renew the contract after the first year.
To contact Staff Writer Keri Brenner, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4239.
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