Local fire departments mulling merge options | TheUnion.com

Local fire departments mulling merge options

Dave Moller
Senior Staff Writer

As western Nevada County governments continue to struggle with dwindling revenues, the area’s three main fire departments are considering proposals to deliver better blaze protection and emergency medical services.

The Grass Valley, Nevada City and Nevada County Consolidated fire departments already operate under an agreement in which they respond to each other’s calls and provide back-up.

Now, the three fire chiefs and a committee of city council members and others are discussing how to manage the three departments more efficiently.

“Part of the job I was hired to do was to further this discussion,” Grass Valley Fire Chief Tony Clarabut said Thursday. He was hired in August 2008, at a time when the city was struggling with a large deficit and looking for savings.

“We don’t know if anything will come of it, but we’re looking at it as a first step,” Clarabut said.

Two meetings of the committee have been held, and three options are now on the table, Nevada City Fire Chief Sam Goodspeed said.

One is to maintain the status quo, Goodspeed said. The other two involve joint powers agreements.

One type of agreement would have a single administration run the fire departments, but firefighters and office workers would still be employees of their respective cites or fire district, Goodspeed said.

The other type of agreement would have all firefighters and office personnel work for a single entity funded by the cities and the fire district.

The committee has no timeline to come up with a plan, but it could be several months, Goodspeed said.

While cost savings could occur by not duplicating services, the top goal is to streamline for efficiency, Nevada County Consolidated Fire Chief Tim Fike said.

Fike did not foresee any firefighters losing their jobs, because they are stretched thin already. As an example, Goodspeed often drives a fire truck during his shifts, Fike said.

“It would be restructuring who does what,” Fike said. “I could be operations chief instead of chief. There are many scenarios out there.”

Another scenario would see Clarabut replaced with a battalion chief at Grass Valley, something Clarabut said is possible as he nears retirement.

“I’ve got five to seven years left, and all the battalion chiefs are looking at five to seven years,” Fike said, making it an opportune time to look at a new management structure.

“All the fire professionals think it makes sense,” said committee member and Grass Valley City Councilman Dan Miller. Payroll and human resources could be consolidated, he added. “Why are we duplicating services?

“People don’t care what color engine shows up,” Miller said. “They just want to know that it will be taken care of, and they want response time.

“Even if there are no savings for Grass Valley, we would improve efficiency and the level of service that you can’t put a price tag on,” Miller said.

How an agreement between the three departments would effect other fire districts in the county is unknown, but they already back each other up when blazes break out.

Committee members include Nevada City Councilwoman Sally Harris, consolidated district board member

Ralph Hitchcock, and three labor union representatives, one for each agency.

The next meeting of the committee will be at 9 a.m. Dec. 2 at the fire station at the corner of Highway 49 and Coyote Street in Nevada City, Clarabut said.

To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail dmoller@theunion.com or call 477-4237.

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