Letters to the Editor
Recruitment and Retention —Good Response Times
How would you like to run a small business consisting of 12 highly skilled employee positions, while at the same time handling the loss of 19 employees over the past five years ? What if only five of these skilled employees were retained during those five years? This is the challenge that Penn Valley Fire Chief Don Wagner has been forced to deal with. Each of the 19 former employees has gone to other fire agencies for better pay and benefits. Based on exit interviews, each of these employees would have preferred to remain with Penn Valley Fire.
The current Penn Valley Fire salary schedule for a firefighter starts at $15.28/hr, and tops at $17.74/hr. A firefighter/paramedic receives an additional $3.00/hr stipend. A firefighter who is single gets full health coverage, however a firefighter with a wife and one or more children has to pay $820.51 per pay period above the base health care coverage allocation. We typically lose firefighters to Roseville ($21.43 to $26.77 with full medical) and Sac Metro ($20.98 to $28.02, with full medical), as two examples.
What is involved in replacing a firefighter/EMT or firefighter/paramedic? First there is the cost of advertising the position. Applicants must take a standard firefighters exam (cost to District – $100), followed by an extensive interview with the Fire Chief and other officers. Paramedic applicants must pass successfully an involved series of medical scenarios supervised by two paramedics on overtime status. Applicants must then pass a rigid physical agility test.
Once these steps are completed the applicant goes through a lengthy background investigation handled by an outside agency. This consists of: a 25 page questionnaire; a survey of criminal records in counties the applicant has lived in; contact of previous employers; and interviewing references and others associated with the applicant. This process can take over a month.
Still with me? Once an applicant is offered a position the process is far from over. The applicant goes through a month long Field Training Orientation (FTO), becoming familiar with the various District protocols and equipment, and becoming familiar with the geography of the District. More importantly, during this time a determination is made regarding whether this individual will be a good fit with the other employees in the District. This whole process is overseen by an employee on overtime. If the individual makes it through the FTO process they are hired on a one-year probationary status.
When all is said and done the cost to the District, your District, to replace a firefighter is roughly $10,000. So in the past five years the District has spent roughly $190,000 in maintaining the staffing level, and being able to respond in a timely fashion to medical emergency or fire calls for service.
To complicate matters the recruitment of firefighter/paramedics has become a major issue. We are the only fire agency in Western Nevada County with a paramedic on each shift; i.e., a firefighter/paramedic will be responding when you call 911. Other fire agencies throughout the area and beyond are beginning to upgrade their staffing configurations by adding paramedics. The end result is a very sobering shortage of paramedics. As a recent example, we lost a several paramedics this past summer. Over a period of 6 months we received six applications. Five applicants were invited to begin the testing process. Three passed the screening process and were offered a positions. Two responded, but for a variety of reason neither one is working full time. Fortunately we had one firefighter/paramedic return after leaving, and one Penn Valley firefighter/EMT completed his paramedic certification. Locally, The Grass Valley Fire Department has been trying to recruit paramedics for well over a year with no success. In more affluent areas of the State fire agencies offer signing bonuses in the thousands of dollars for paramedics.
The proposed increase in the Fire Repression Assessment will address a number of key recruitment and retention issues: additional staffing on each shift, expansion of the salary schedule to include an additional step, enhanced medical coverage for firefighters with families, and other costs associated with expanding the staffing level. We have to do this to fully staff the fire department, retain our employees , and to recruit quality applicants when there are vacancies. Additionally, funds will be allocated to the equipment reserve, which is the account used to replace fire engines and ambulances on a 12 to 15 year cycle. A full, well-trained staff equals good response times when you are in need of assistance for a medical issue, a fire, or other emergency.
Dave Farrell, Member
PVFD Board of Directors
Someone Please Pay
I have lived on Wildflower Drive for 30 years. For many of those years, it has been a problem to get the grass behind my property cut.
It is a fire hazard! And with the heat and dry weather, that hazard is increasing day-by-day! It is now two to three feet high.
I believe whomever owns the property should be responsible to maintain a 100-foot fire defense space.
I have been a widow for the past 16 years and on a fixed income. I do NOT feel the property behind my house is my responsibility! But, I also would not like to see my house burn down.
I know my neighbors have also written letter about t his problem. I’m hoping someone will pay attention to this matter before something drastic happens.
I really hope this issue will be resolved before it’s too late!
Tracking Down Those Responsible
My husband and I moved into Lake Wildwood in January of 2019 on Wildflower Drive. We are concerned about the fire hazard that is ever present behind our home. Our home backs onto the vacant/undeveloped parcel of land that is part of the Wildwood Ridge property. This property is extremely overgrown and, considering all the firesafe activity that is occurring presently in the Lake Wildwood community and Nevada County, we were hoping to be able to have much of the land behind Wildflower Drive cleared of debris (underbrush and deadwood) which is fuel for a fire.
We have been attempting to contact those connected to this property to reach an agreement about dealing with this overgrowth since spring of last year. Tracking down those responsible for this parcel of land has been extremely difficult and we have been told by reliable sources that it reaches a level of inquiry within the county where the inquirers are told to, quite literally, ‘back off’ and nothing more is done other than mowing a small strip annually between the houses and trees. This area requires more than annual mowing. We have also been told by another reliable source that this particular parcel has been a problem for 15 to 20 years.
There would be no way of stopping or controlling a fire if it came through this parcel of land and thus is a hazard to the homes along Wildflower Drive and subsequently more extensive sections of Lake Wildwood.
The area in question behind ours and others homes bordering this parcel of land is another Campfire/Paradise Fire disaster waiting to happen. If residents are expected to be “Firewise” and “Firesafe,” why is the same not expected of the ‘absent’ owners of undeveloped land that is presently presenting a significant risk to properties adjoining them and potentially the lives of residents?
PV Fire Protection District Ballot
Recently I received a letter from our Fire Chief stating “Enclosed is your ballot which must be returned no later than June 2, 2020. Enclosed is a stamped return envelope for your convenience.” The letter was not dated, nor was any mention of a public meeting.
In the attached information, I found that there is a public hearing scheduled for June 2, 2020, at 6:30 p.m. at the District’s Headquarters.
In talking with some of my fellow property owners, some of the questions they had were:
1. The letter from our Fire Chief states, “your ballot must be returned no later than June 2, 2020. Enclosed is a stamped return envelope for your convenience.” This is the first time I have seen a ballot where you are required to sign your name stating how you voted.
2. Our property tax and Cal Fire fees currently provide fire protection for our property. If additional funds are needed, why not propose an increase to our property tax for the funding?
3. If approved, this annual increase will take affect July 1st of each year. Using the Bay Area Consumer Price Index, there is no telling when a $300 assessment could become a $500 assessment or more, and be levied in perpetuity. In voting, one should be aware that this a forever tax with yearly increases and with no control or input on the taxpayer’s part.
We have an excellent fire department under the leadership of Chief Don Wagner. I believe the public hearing should have been in the middle of May rather than on the last day to vote. It doesn’t give our firefighting staff the time to fully explain to the property owners why a yearly assessment of $300 or more is needed.
NO to the Proposed Penn Valley Fire Tax
Please vote NO on the proposed Penn Valley fire tax. The asked increase seems excessive (over 200%) and hard to justify, especially considering the condition of the economy the past few months. How can a small business owner afford such an increase in taxes?
What about the people who have been out of work since March?
It’s interesting that the yearly tax increase is based on the CPI in the San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward area. Penn Valley has nothing in common with those cities, certainly not wages and income.
Surely the Fire District Board can come up with a proposal that makes more sense. Again, please vote NO on the ballot due June 2nd.
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