Possible Two New Firefighter Hires for MOFD but More Data Needed

(Jeff Heyman, Photographer)Captain-Paramedic II Michael Lacy (left) has worked with the Moraga-Orinda Fire District for 16 years, has been in the fire service for 25 years and has worked at Fire Station 45 for 14 years. Engineer-Paramedic Andrew Kalenian (right), has worked at Fire Station 45 for almost five years.

    On Nov. 16, 2022, at a Moraga Orinda Fire District (MOFD) board meeting, the Board voted 3-2 to restore staffing to the ambulance in Orinda.
    Staff was cut in year’s past; however, changes in increased staffing are not quite finalized.
    “We are currently preparing to meet and confer on the topic because it requires making changes to the current contract [Memorandum of Understanding],” said Vince Wells, president of the United Professional Firefighters of Contra Costa County, IAFF Local 1230. “After that is done, we’ll have to hire the additional positions. This can take anywhere from 6-24 months depending on the pool of candidates, academy availability and retirements.”
    Wells said MOFD currently has 17 firefighters on duty per day. They staff four engines and one truck – staffed with three firefighters per engine/truck – and one fully staffed ambulance with two firefighters.
    “With this change, we would go to 19 firefighters per day by adding an additional two firefighters for the second restored ambulance,” said Wells.
    He said by adding the additional firefighters, the community will benefit with faster response times.
    “Adding staffing for the second ambulance allows for two permanently staffed ambulances, one in Moraga and one in Orinda,” explained Wells. “In the current staffing model, the second ambulance, Medic 45, is cross staffed, which means the crew of three firefighters at station 45 in Orinda must use either their fire engine or the ambulance depending on the call. This leaves the other engine or ambulance unstaffed while the crew runs the call.”
    Wells talked about one possible hypothetical situation.
    “For example, if the crew responds to a vehicle fire in their fire engine, the ambulance sits back in the station unstaffed. Then, if a medical call comes in, the ambulance will have to come from Moraga to the call in Orinda. This adds additional response time for the 911 caller,” said Wells.
    Additional staffing is not in stone yet, and MOFD Board Member Craig Jorgens is certain more information will become available before decisions are made.
    “I am confident that the new Board will continue to gather the necessary data and develop the Standards of Coverage Study that will be necessary to make an informed decision,” said Jorgens.
    He does not necessarily agree increased staffing equates to faster response times.
    “It was shown in the board packet there is no clear relationship between response times and dedicated ambulance staffing, according to the data presented,” said Jorgens. “There was no discussion of this at the meeting, except for me pointing out this data. We have exemplary response times already.”
    Jorgens feels there are trade-offs the Board must make about the best use of its resources.
    “It is a question of the best use of the money available; we would have less money for fire prevention, specifically for emergency training, other equipment or more updated fire stations,” said Jorgens.
    The broader issue, Jorgens explained, is more data is needed, data missing from Board discussions and community workshops.
    “At the Oct. 2022 meeting, the Board decided we needed to have more data to make an informed decision. Board members were asked to submit their questions so the staff could prepare the data,” said Jorgens. “We also agreed to have a special community workshop to inform the community of our process and data results. Immediately prior to the Nov. 2022 meeting, we had a one-hour workshop to have this discussion. At the end of that workshop, we found that only half, or less, of the requested data was available. In particular, the data showing the trade-offs between paramedic-only and firefighter paramedics staffing the ambulance was 100% missing but would be available from some surrounding communities in Dec. 2022.”
    Wells sees the benefits of MOFD funds placed in hiring additional firefighters.
    “Increasing our daily staffing by two firefighters improves service in other areas, including wildland fire response and response to structure fires and rescues,” said Wells. “The additional firefighters bring more resources to the emergency to assist in mitigating the situation. Even though the main function of firefighters on the second ambulance is for medical response, they are fully trained firefighters and can assist in providing additional manpower on major incidents when needed.”
    He said Orindans would not incur additional taxes with the new hires.
    “The additional staffing – as stated – is restoration of staffing that was removed in 2013 during the economic downturn,” said Wells. “MOFD wasn’t impacted as much as was suspected and the fire district is very well-funded and would not have to increase any taxes.”
    Wells, in referring to possible emergency scenarios, feels additional staff benefits Orinda’s community overall.
    “Because we were forced to work within our means, citizens were forced to live with the consequences of the situations described earlier,” said Wells. “Most of our citizens are not aware of the service levels or differences. Although rare, we’ve had several instances where the crew at [Fire Station] 45 has not been available to respond to a second call in their area, because they were either on the engine or ambulance. This puts lives and property in danger.”
    For Jorgens, the bottom line is – more data is needed.
    “Many members of the community spoke up and said we needed more data to make an informed decision,” said Jorgens. “The board has a fiduciary duty to the community to invest and spend its money wisely in the provision of emergency services. Some of us on the board believe this requires data and benchmarking from surrounding areas.”
    Jorgens believes shelving decisions with the United Professional Firefighters of Contra Costa County, IAFF Local 1230 until then, is the responsible route.
    “I believe it would be prudent to postpone the negotiations with the Union about staffing,” said Jorgens. “to update our Standards of Coverage study and analyze the data from our surrounding communities regarding the type of personnel to staff any needed positions under the guidance of the Board that the community just voted to entrust with our MOFD resources.”

Charleen Earley can be reached at editor@theorindanews.com.

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