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New FIRE Standard Sparks Debate

Lake Elsinore and Wildomar contract for fire services. It was not clear at press time how much, if any, financial impact there would be on the cities as a result of the new standard.

In a 3-2 vote, Riverside County supervisors today adopted a standard in which all county fire engines will have a minimum of three firefighters on board, including a captain, to lessen the risk of having an inadequate number -- or under-experienced -- crews responding to emergencies.

Supervisor Jeff Stone introduced the "Firefighter Installation on Riverside County Engines" -- FIRE -- policy, citing statistics that show three-person staffing ensures greater protection for both civilians and firefighters.

"When you have two-man crews, there are more workers' comp-related injuries and higher morbidity," Stone said. "We're talking about minimum standards ... A three-man crew with a captain and an engineer ensures (crews) have the best chance of dealing with a fire."

The Board of Supervisors established three-person engine staffing as the norm in 2000, according to Chairman John Tavaglione, who said he realized then that it was necessary for public safety.

Stone's FIRE policy reaffirms the practice for the future, with the added requirement that a captain be aboard each engine.

"You need that historical expertise to make sure you save the people inside that (burning) house," Stone said. "This is a minimum, not a maximum standard. Four-man crews are still the best."

County fire Chief John Hawkins, now in his 48th year as a fireman, agreed, saying a three-person crew was "critically important" in rescues, building and house fires, where one crew member can be held in reserve for communication and coordination purposes.

However, Supervisors Bob Buster and John Benoit questioned the impact of a countywide standard that could lead to higher costs, particularly for cities that contract with the county for fire protection services.

Lake Elsinore and Wildomar contract for fire services. It was not clear at press time how much, if any, financial impact there would be on the cities as a result of the new standard.

The supervisors noted that more than 80 percent of 911 calls are for medical aid, even though fire engines are required to roll to them.

"I'm always struck by the fact that politicians, who are not the experts in the field, set these kinds of standards," Buster said. "Would this board get into the business of telling the sheriff how many deputies have to be in a patrol car?"

Buster said Stone's proposal "reeks of union influence" and seemed to be aimed at currying favor with firefighter union interests before the November election. Both Stone and Buster are up for re-election this year.

Stone said he resented Buster's suggestion and dismissed it.

Benoit said he, too, was "troubled" by the timing of the FIRE proposal, which the supervisor believed should have been postponed until budget hearings in March.

"This is an unnecessary policy," Benoit said. "To have this talk outside of budget discussions is inappropriate."

About a year ago, the board briefly considered reducing engine staffing from three to two at some fire stations as county officials examined ways to pare down the fire department's $4 million 2010-11 fiscal year budget deficit. There was also discussion of shuttering a half-dozen stations, including two in Benoit's district, to save money.

The board rejected both proposals.

Buster argued that the FIRE policy would hinder cities, such as Canyon Lake, that are trying to reduce their public safety costs. But Tavaglione and Supervisor Marion Ashley sided with Stone, saying safety considerations had to come first.

"I'm really concerned that if we let the standard down, we'll lose some lives and put the public in jeopardy," Ashley said. "When we come to the budget discussion, I'm sure we'll talk about all of this again."

MikeSoubirous January 25, 2012 at 08:14 AM
I commend Supervisors Stone, Tavaglione and Ashley for putting the safety of Riverside County residents and our brave firefighters first with their vote today to require fire engines to have a minimum of three firefighters on each engine at all times. This decision will save lives and property. Sadly, Supervisor Bob Buster voted against this vital policy –– claiming engines are overstaffed. His callous disregard for the safety of our first responders and the public is shocking. And to make matters worse Supervisor Buster also attacked the author of the proposal –– questioning Supervisor Stone’s motives. Supervisor Buster’s vote and his actions do not surprise me –– they continue a pattern of behavior he has been demonstrating for years. Supervisor Buster holds county employees in low regard and constantly looks for ways to demean them, and he attacks anyone who disagrees with him. It’s time for a new approach in Riverside County District 1 –– one that includes a Supervisor who will make public safety a top priority and who will treat county employees, fellow County Supervisors, and those who have business before the board with dignity and respect. From Mike Soubirous
Heeeer's Johnny January 25, 2012 at 04:54 PM
Mike is obviously a union man that like most of the other union workers in our state don't give a damn about how much anything cost the taxpayers, they are only interested in their own interest. Reqiring a captain on every engine will cost the taxpayers a huge increase in cost. During a burning fire, there are multiple engines dispatched to the scene. There are captains on MOST engines now, so there are always a captain or two on each fire anyway. This new requirement will only cause CDF to require captains to do more overtime to cover every engine at every minute and will not improve anything (except their bank accounts). This act will also eliminate the volunteer/reserve firefighter program because there are not captains on reserve engines. Causing the county to lose thousands of free hours of time from the volunteer/reserve firefighters that provide coverage during emergencies. (A task that the unions have been working on for many years now.) The unions tried to eliminate the reserve firefigthter program many times and Bob Buster and several of the other supervisors prevented it. This is why our states is in so much trouble. Instead of looking for ways to improve services at less cost (like any other real business would do) they (the unions) just want to rape the citizens of as much money as possible to fill their checking accounts.
Ken Mayes January 26, 2012 at 07:11 AM
This move sounds much like keeping a fireman on a diesel or electric locomotive, doesn't do anything but sit there.
concernedresident January 29, 2012 at 01:51 AM
I agree that 3 firefighters to an engine is a good policy, but the directive to mandate a captain on each engine will ADD COSTS. Engineers are company officers and have plenty of experience (sometimes more than thier captians). The requirement of a captain on each fire engine is going too far. There are serious cost issues here and the cost of a captain on every engine will require promotions of those already on the engine and will generete cost increases just to fill the need. The only way to reduce costs after that will be to close stations.

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