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April 29, 2009 > Hybrid fire service model proposed for Newark

Hybrid fire service model proposed for Newark

By Meenu Gupta

What the Mayor of Newark, David Smith called as a "monstrous, serious decision that is unprecedented," was presented at the April 23 Newark City Council meeting. These words were used in context of the report on the joint feasibility study for consolidated fire services between city of Newark and City of Union City and also the study of expenses of other fire services delivery options that was performed by City Gates Associates. Staff report was provided by Newark Fire Chief, Demetrius Shaffer.

Council signed an agreement with Citygate Associates in October 2008, to conduct a joint feasibility study for contractual fire services with the city of Union City. A detailed three-phased analysis explored the possibility of a fire service model for the City of Newark to reduce current fire service costs while providing the means to meet Standards of Cover (SOC) level staffing. The Strategic Plan and Standards of Cover analysis was completed by the Newark Fire department in March 2008. According to the report this model involves a contract for fire protection with the Alameda County Fire Department (ALCO) with a "fee for service" contract with the City of Fremont for use of a fire company truck, engine or Battalion Chief.

This contract will provide a daily staffing level of three paramedic fire companies, each staffed with three personnel, and a shared Battalion Chief provided Union City also contracts with ALCO. Council member Alberto Huezo expressed concern over the fact that the hybrid model will reduce ten firefighter positions plus two chiefs. "The fire inspection bureau will remain or be dealt with one way or the other," he said. He expressed concern for the staffing which is going to change. City Manager John Becker later told TCV that ALCO has assured the city that those displaced will be absorbed into their department.

Chief Shaffer said that the number of people will have to be dealt with and decided as part of the proposal. Huezo expressed a need for long term guarantees of costs and staffing for future. "I don't want to get into a situation which looks good for only one year," he said. "I hope we get best possible proposals from ALCO and Fremont, we should be proud of the efficient service we receive from our firefighters." According to the report this reduction in staff will translate to short and long-term savings to the City.

The reports states that Newark would also benefit from increased economies of scale for equipment purchases, more resources to draw from, shared dispatching, emergency services, better department training all because of the size and staffing levels at ALCO. The City of Newark will also see a reduction in the time and commitment required by other City departments to support the Fire department, thereby increasing the amount of time each department has to support other City functions, the report stated. The ALCO contract together with this "fee-for-service" agreement with Fremont, will allow Newark to meet SOC level staffing on larger-scale emergencies, allow Fremont to offset existing costs of current resources that overlap into Newark, and improve fire protection for the County with a regional and coordinated approach, the report cited.

According to the report's Alameda County Fire contract for service recommendation, Citygate Associates recommends the parties independently request a formal proposal from ALCO. They should request shared unit costs and contract terms from the City of Fremont. A contract with ALCO to staff three engine companies will leave the City of Newark with a savings. A small portion of this savings can then be used to purchase fire services from Fremont, while still providing the City of Newark with a higher service level than they now can provide from their own fire department at the current Newark fire budget.

Councilmember and Vice Mayor Ana M. Apodaca questioned if the City of Newark will contract with Fremont for a Battalion Chief. "We have a Battalion Chief between our department and Union city. The second chief we are contracting for, will it be from Fremont," she asked. "That is partially correct as it depends on what Union City decides to do. They will make an independent decision based on this information from this study. If they also decide that we may contract with ALCO, a contract model with Fremont will allow us to have a backup though," Shaffer explained. Fremont Battalion Chief will be pulled in for emergency response. "If they decide not to contract we'll have our own Battalion Chief for the city," he said.

Becker gave a rough estimate of a six-month time frame before a substantial report can be submitted to the council. "There will be further analysis. ALCO and City of Fremont will provide us with a detailed proposal, we will take that detailed proposal, have negotiations, discuss with the employee association and then come back with a recommendation," he said.

"We need to have a long range vision and we're all in this together," assured Smith. "Our objective is to save money while providing enhanced Standards of Cover that benefit everyone in our City, and those who serve. We still have a lot of details that need to be analyzed and discussed."

Council member Luis L. Freitas expressed his concern over the situation which he said has risen because of the financial situation. Recognizing the difficulty of the decision, Chief Shaffer said it would be a 12-18 month transition process. When asked about the normal contract time for other cities with ALCO, Chief Shaffer told Vice Mayor Apodaca it is a minimum of 5-year fixed price contract. The motion was carried with four affirmative votes - councilmember Alan Nagy was absent. The motion authorized the City Manager Becker to request a contract proposal from ALCO Fire Department for fire protection services and request a proposal from the City of Fremont to provide fee-for-service fire response services.

Mayor Smith expressed gratitude for all the parties involved as it has been a very long and detailed process. "It is interesting to me how this has evolved into the hybrid model. I certainly concur with staff's recommendation," he said. Chief Shaffer agreed that the procedure was like starting from scratch on a blank paper, not knowing where to head and then gradually developing the blue print. For questions about the updates of the proposal contact Newark Fire department at (510) 578-4218.

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