La Verne firefighters and city officials are at odds about the safety of the community and the department’s ability to keep the community safe, because of ongoing funding and staffing shortages.
Some of those safety concerns could specifically affect University of La Verne buildings, and students living on campus.
Firefighters have told the city about their concerns over retention, recruitment and funding for the department.
Andy Glaze, fire captain at Fire Station 2 and La Verne Firefighters’ Association President, is concerned about University residence halls, because they are among the tallest buildings in the city.
“My job is to provide you safety,” Glaze said. “I have to sit there and watch you possibly die or get gravely injured because I don’t have the tools necessary to save you,” Glaze said. “That’s not what I signed up for. I signed up to save you.”
Glaze’s concern is with the department’s new $1.3 million fire truck with an attached ladder at Fire Station 1, the fire station across the street from the University. The ladder truck has a 100-foot aerial foot ladder attached to the truck, tall enough to reach the city’s highest structures, including the Vista La Verne and Citrus Hall dorms, but the truck cannot be used because a staffing shortage means the department does not have anyone to operate it.
If a fire occurs on the third floor or above in the residence halls or at the Campus Center, firefighters would need to use a ladder truck in order to reach those levels.
Glaze said that with this truck being non-operational, the back-up plan – finding a ladder truck in a neighboring city – is the only alternative.
“We are looking at a response time of 25 to 35 minutes,” Glaze said. “In a real emergency situation, that’s unacceptable.
“That’s … assuming that one of those ladder trucks is available. Since it’s a mutual aid agreement with L.A. County Fire Department, we aren’t guaranteed that aid,” Glaze added.
Glaze said the La Verne Firefighters Association has told the City Council about their safety concerns.
“They do not want to spend the money to make you guys safe,” Glaze said. “They would rather just roll the dice and go, ‘Well, we hope nothing goes wrong,’ … The City Council likes to run on a hope and a prayer. They hope that L.A. County has a ladder truck available, and they pray that they do.”
“I went to Skidmore College in New York and there were two students in a dorm room who knocked over a candle,” Glaze said. “It lit their dorm room on fire and the fire was in front of the door. They couldn’t escape. They couldn’t get out their window and they died in their college dorm.”
Glaze said the city has not made safety a priority, and the fire department is understaffed. Firefighters leave, he said, because of these issues.
City Council member Robin Carder said, however, that she believes the La Verne community is safe.
“I am very confident and guarantee everyone is safe in this city,” Carder said.
“We all try to make the best decision for the community,” Carder said. “Also, we have a great dedication to serving the community.”
Glaze said the fire department isn’t the only one mismanaged in La Verne.
“Every department is pretty much in the same position that we are in,” Glaze said. “Everything from the city yard to the police to us are all in bad shape.”
City Manager Bob Russi declined to comment for this story.
Emely Gutierrez, a senior sociology major and assistant housing coordinator, said she believes students should be aware of the fire department’s ladder truck situation.
“Students see the fire department across the street and feel safe,” Gutierrez said.
Carder said La Verne is not the only fire department that is understaffed, and that others in Los Angeles County are also having trouble filling positions. With a new fire chief, Chris Nigg, she hopes recruitment and retention will improve.
Glaze said he hopes Chief Nigg will positively impact the La Verne Fire Department.
“To have a permanent fire chief … is always a really good thing for this organization, ” Glaze said. “He is motivated to make safety a priority again at La Verne,” Glaze said.
Jaydelle Herbert can be reached by firstname.lastname@example.org.