Volunteer Firefighters Account for 1/3 of OC Fire Authority’s First Responders – Fullerton ZERO


The front page of the September 9, 2010 Orange County Register brings to light how a good idea is implemented poorly.

The article discusses a report from an un-named source that shares data on response times from reserve firefighting and medical units in Orange County. According to the article, there are 495 reserve positions with only 291 positions filled. Of the 291 positions, 41 will be laid off or fired.

Let’s put it in perspective. The Orange County Fire Authority employs 841 full-time firefighters/fire management personnel. They have budgeted 495 reserves for FY2009-10. That means that nearly 1/3 of total first responder capabilities rest in the hands of reserves. Fullerton has no reserve firefighters to help shore up minimum staffing requirements and minimize overtime. For a department which was founded as a volunteer fire department I find it ironic that they now have zero reserves on hand to help.

The OC Register article goes into the asset versus liability of having reserve fire units. Essentially, the report finds that several reserve units failed to respond to calls. That in and of itself is problematic but the real question that is missed is where has management been? You would think that management would notice pretty quickly that the reserves are not responding and then take corrective action. Apparently no one noticed.

Amazingly, the solution is quite simple. By integrating reserves with professionals in the same manner as law enforcement agencies, the reserve can be better managed and will have the opportunity to receive peer mentoring.

Why has management allowed reserves to have their own volunteer units and not an integrated approach? My guess is that the OCFA union would not allow it through their MOU or no one cared enough to explore the use and utility of having reserves. For that matter, why do we still have firefighters being paid to sleep in regional firehouses? No other public agency outside of fire service, would allow employees to sleep on the job.

I realize the thought of working an 8- or 12-hour shift might terrorize some firefighters but it would certainly make better sense than having dozens of high-paid public servants sleeping on the job. Other communities have already implemented 8-hour shifts. It would also address the argument that firefighters deserve their high pay and pension because they are away from their family more than other public employees. With that argument one would think our soldiers are millionaires considering the time they spend away from their families.

Firefighting has its own culture based largely on tradition. When those traditions negatively affect taxpayers, it is time to think if we want to continue down this costly “traditional” road or cut a brave new path that leads to improved services and lower costs.

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  1. #1 by Curious on September 12, 2010

    How much money did the city of Fullerton spend last year on Fire Department salaries?

  2. #2 by More Curious on September 12, 2010

    I read the report that shows the response rate of the volunteer units.

    Some of them are as high as 95%. Wouldn’t it be better to just admit this is a failed program and shut it down completely?

    Redirecting those resources to a venue that is more efficient. One can argue that firefighters make too much, but at least they show up 100% of the time.

    A volunteer doesn’t do anyone any good if they don’t show up.

    The report also showed an annual turnover of 30% with an average longevity of 2.1 years. I believe there is more to this than mismanagement. My belief is that many get involved thinking they will be out there doing exciting things 24/7. Only to find out the majority of the time is spent doing pretty mundane tasks.

    If you’ve been in the military, you would understand. If one’s impression of the military were the commercials or movies you’d think it is one adrenalin moment after another. The reality is not even close to either of those romanticized impressions.

  3. #3 by Jus'an Observer on September 12, 2010

    how about splitting the difference. Instead of paying firefighters over $100,000 per year, pay them something reasonable like $60,00 per year and give the volunteers gas and lunch money and see what happens…

  4. #4 by just a guy on September 12, 2010

    So we can get the volunteers to show up on 95% of calls for free, but we need multi-million dollar pensions to get that last 5% from the “professionals.” Yeah right.

    We need some serious changes here.

  5. #5 by More Curious on September 12, 2010

    Wouldn’t that must make them low paid professionals?

    I do volunteer work. It means there is zero compensation.

    Hence the term “volunteer.”

  6. #6 by More Curious on September 12, 2010

    You’ve got it backwards. According to the report. The volunteers don’t show up. Some as many as 95%.

    I’ve looked into this issue. Recruitment and retention for vollie FD’s are a problem nationwide. Not just OC.

    The majority of the reasons given are the time and pressures that are necessary to raise a family and keep a job. That in addition to the mandatory training required to maintain a qualified status.

  7. #7 by Common Sense on September 12, 2010

    I don’t know if what you’re saying is true, but why not convert them to “semi-vollies,” pay ‘m $500 a call and we’ll still be way ahead.

    And of course get rid of all the slackers who hang around the station cleaning their tools all day long.

  8. #8 by mad anulese margo on September 13, 2010

    this is blatant gouging of the tax payer by lying and manipulating schedules and numbers for the sole purpose to pull down six figure salaries for our public servants.

  9. #9 by More Curious on September 13, 2010

    I don’t know the point of your comment.

    I do know that I enjoy the FACT, that when I call 911 a professional will show up quickly and be prepared to handle the situation.

    Again, one can argue the validity of ff pay, but the alternative of having a workforce that performs the job only when it is convenient is not an option I would enjoy.

    In Fullerton or anywhere else.

  10. #10 by Christian on September 13, 2010

    MC,
    Volunteers should be expected to act the same as any other professional. Imagine calling 911 and having all but one of the FF/medics be pros with just one volunteer. Would one volunteer out of 4 firefighters/medics on each shift be too radical a ratio even though they would be expected to act and are held to the exact same standard as the full-timers?

    If law enforcement can get it right, why can’t the fire services?

  11. #11 by Joe Sipowicz on September 13, 2010

    When my neighbor had a dizzy spell a couple of years ago, somebody called 911. Four companies arrived on the scene top minister to the guy. By the time they showed up he wasn’t dizzy anymore and drove himself home.

    The first company on the scene was from Anaheim, and we’re a couple miles from that city line!

  12. #12 by More Curious on September 13, 2010

    Christian I don’t know.

    I do that law enforcement has very few volunteers doing actual patrol. I don’t know about the FPD since I’ve never looked into it. I know there are only six in the OCSD and one in Irvine. They are required to have the same exact training, and maintain the same certifications as the career personnel. In addition to that they are required to perform 16 hours of service a month. Or they are let go. Which I believe is a valid requirement that I as a citizen should expect. I don’t want someone sorta qualified.

    Clearly if that standard were applied to firefighting I believe there wouldn’t be that many volunteers. Again it is an issue nationwide, not just OC.

  13. #13 by More Curious on September 13, 2010

    Dispatch procedures aren’t the issue.

    The issue is the reliability of the workforce.

    Please try to keep your focus.

  14. #14 by Christian on September 13, 2010

    The FPD is budgeted for 20 reserve officers who, in good times, are paid $20-$25. Last time I checked they had 18 and they are all unpaid.

    Volunteer first responders should be held to the same standard as the full-time personnel.

    In many OC cities, reserve police officers answer patrol and traffic calls just like any other officer. Usually they ride double but that is because of the minimum number of hours of supervised patrol time before they go solo and it is difficult to obtain that much time as a part-time employee.

  15. #15 by Joe Sipowicz on September 13, 2010

    Overmanning could be an issue. Why did all those highly paid people show up?

    Because they needed something to do. Anaheim ones, too.

  16. #16 by 1Adam12 on September 13, 2010

    Dispatch issues are a problem that need to be addressed as well but they aren’t the focus here.

  17. #17 by The Fullerton Harpoon on September 13, 2010

    Agreed. The issue very much goes to necessary staffing levels. I’m glad Greg is talking about the whole issue. Nobody else will, you can bet on that.

  18. #18 by Joe Sipowicz on September 13, 2010

    Nobody said they were. The issue is obviously deployment. Try to stay with us here.

  19. #19 by More Curious on September 14, 2010

    Christian :The FPD is budgeted for 20 reserve officers who, in good times, are paid $20-$25. Last time I checked they had 18 and they are all unpaid.
    Volunteer first responders should be held to the same standard as the full-time personnel.
    In many OC cities, reserve police officers answer patrol and traffic calls just like any other officer. Usually they ride double but that is because of the minimum number of hours of supervised patrol time before they go solo and it is difficult to obtain that much time as a part-time employee.

    Wow!! That’s pretty good for our town. I do know the OCFA reserves are not nearly as well trained and there is no impact if they don’t respond. I would rather not have that type of program in my city. If I’m going to pay a dollar of tax I want a dollar of service. In the case of the FD, I want someone who will show up 100% of the time. Not when they feel like it.

  20. #20 by More Curious on September 14, 2010

    Have you looked into the incident? There very well might be a reason. Perhaps they were told the call was much different by the person calling in. Perhaps there was a mix up in location from the caller. Who knows? I’m betting it isn’t the norm.

    I asked a ff why so many people showed up for even the smallest medical aid. He told me they always make the assumption it is the worst case scenario. For example he stated that his crew had been dispatched to a call where they were told the patient had slipped and fallen and needed help getting up. It turned out he had slipped and fallen because his heart had stopped beating and he’d also stopped breathing. The two incidents require much different levels of manpower and activity.

    I’m sure there is more to your story as well.

  21. #21 by Christian on September 14, 2010

    I agree! A first responder is just that- FIRST! Anything less is unacceptable.

    As I said, if law enforcement can get it right, why can’t fire services?

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