Editor in Chief
The La Verne City Council last week approved a cost-saving measure regarding Fire Department staffing, over the objections of many who are afraid the change will diminish the safety of city residents.
“I want everyone to look at this,” Joanne Faught said at the Feb. 5 City Council meeting. She held up a neon green sign that said “Pay our firefighters and medics what they deserve.”
In reference to fires and medical emergencies, she said: “It could be you.”
Faught, a 59-year-old retiree, was just one of the La Verne citizens who responded to the proposed change during public comment. The city of La Verne voted to change three engineer/paramedic positions at La Verne Fire Station 3, located at 5100 Esperanza Dr., to firefighter/paramedic positions.
The La Verne Firefighters’ Association objected to this change and posted on their Facebook page, urging La Verne citizens to object to the measure at the city council meeting.
The city also voted to reassign six firefighter/paramedics to non-ambulance fire assignments, and to start the issuing of the $50 million pension bond.
“There are no positions being cut,” city manager Bob Russi said.
Russi added that engineer/paramedics are trained to drive fire trucks, which Station 3 does not have. Instead, Station 3 has an ambulance.
The change of positions would put the number of engineer/paramedics from nine to six, and the number of firefighter/paramedics from 15 to 18.
Andy Glaze, firefighter/paramedic and president of LVFA L-3624, said the reduction to six engineers would result in a reduction of service to the city – already a problem, considering that La Verne Fire Department has a problem with employee retention.
“This will reduce the amount of apparatus we can bring to major incidents such as wildfires – such as the Rodeo Fire – structure fires and any major emergency,” Glaze said. “We have major construction going on at the University. I don’t know if you’ve seen the huge five story dorm going down, or Gilead’s new 23 acre campus, but only having two engineers on duty per shift instead of three will greatly hamper our ability to hamper those complex, life threatening situations.”
The elimination of the engineer/paramedic position would save the city $30,000 and was just one of the city’s methods used to save money.
The city passed measures such as implementation of annual business fire inspection fees, permit fees for illegal construction and contracting out services for street sweeping.
The city proposed such cost-saving measures so that it could pay back $50 million to California Public Employees Retirement System, or CalPERS, a California executive branch agency responsible for managing pension and health benefits for California public employees.
The city proposed a $50 million bond fund, which would accumulate $90 million of interest over a 30-year span.
Rick Bowen, 65-year-old La Verne retiree, said that he calculated the burden placed on each citizen to be $2,930.
“This is not to improve any roads, this is not to improve anything in the city,” Bowen said. “This is simply to pay $50 million in money that has accrued that you have not done anything about in the last 10 years.”
City council member Muir Davis said that paying off CalPERS directly would have cost La Verne citizens more money.
“We chose a path that was going to save $30-35 million,” Davis said. “Approximately $950 per citizen in this city.”
LVFA requested a feasibility study to see how much the city would save if, instead of having an independent fire department, La Verne were to contract with Los Angeles County.
“Bob Russi had the city of San Dimas’ financial manager come out and speak to us,” Glaze said. “He told us point blank when questioned, that contracting with Los Angeles County would save the city of La Verne over a million dollars per year.”
Glaze said that though he was reluctant to contract with Los Angeles County, it was preferable to the prospect of cutting the engineer/paramedic position as a money-saving measure for the city.
Citizens responded to the proposed change by sharing personal stories of receiving help from the LVFD.
Fred Faught, Joanne’s husband and a La Verne retiree, 62, said that on May 24, he went into cardiac arrest in his own home. By the time Glaze and other firefighters arrived, his face was blue, and Glaze did over 200 chest compressions before Fred Faught was taken to Pomona Valley Hospital.
Other speakers praised the LVFD for its service to the city, which city council member Robin Carder echoed.
“They love the personal touch. That’s what makes a small town, it’s that we know each other,” Carder said.
“With county, you don’t know who you’re going to get and there’s no guarantee that all of our firemen will be hired by county.”
Aryn Plax can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.