Fourth investigation hits Idyllwild Fire

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Another Riverside County Grand Jury investigation of the Idyllwild Fire Protection District was reported in the Jan. 2 issue of the Town Crier. The IFPD commission on Tuesday, Jan. 28, discussed its concerns with the report’s preparation without addressing its own recommendations. This is the fourth Grand Jury report involving IFPD since 2008.

Commissioners Rhonda Andrewson, Jeannine Charles-Stigall and Nancy Layton were especially upset with several factual errors in the report. Examples included a staffing list noting three captains and an administrative captain. Since former Capt. Michael Mulhall retired last year, IFPD has only two captains. The number of reserves was questioned and the district’s ambulance Zone 1 was associated only with Fern Valley rather than the complete district.

Chief Patrick Reitz also denied that he had provided any testimony to the Grand Jury, although the IFPD chief was identified in the list of individuals whom the Grand Jury heard from. Charles-Stigall also said its preparation occurred during her tenure as commission president and the Grand Jury never attempted to contact her.

“[The report] is full of inaccuracies,” Andrewson stressed and Layton supported her direction that these needed to be addressed. “By our silence, we’re agreeing,” she said.

However, none of these discrepancies relate to the Grand Jury’s recommendations (see accompanying table), to which Reitz was tasked with responding without any discussion of a commission position.

Commission President Jerry Buchanan encouraged the commission to attend to the issues when he said, “We can spend time correcting the facts, but should we deal with the four recommendations? These are what they think we should change.”

The principal concern actually seemed to be the amount of overtime pay for the IFPD’s administrative captain. He received about $56,800 in overtime pay during 2012, according to the compensation report on the IFPD website. This was about 40 percent of total overtime pay and 25 percent more than the total overtime for three other departmental fire captains.

The Grand Jury report quoted one witness’ sworn testimony, “The administrative captain has too many responsibilities.” But the commission again avoided this topic and left it to the fire chief to respond.

The commission also did not address the Grand Jury’s concern about IFPD firefighters attending political forums while in uniform. The chief has previously said the department’s legal counsel has defended this practice. However, the Grand Jury referred to state Government Code section 3206, which reads, “No officer or employee of a local agency shall participate in political activities of any kind while in uniform.”

Neither of the other two recommendations was addressed during the meeting.

Reitz said the response was due to the Grand Jury by mid-February and the drafts would be available for the commission’s next meeting Tuesday, Feb. 11.

Latest Grand Jury recommendations for Idyllwild Fire Protection District

  1. Both the board and fire chief shall reassign some administrative captain duties to other paid staff.
  2. The IFPD shall conform to California Government Code sec. 3206 by not participating in political activities of any kind while in uniform.
  3. The IFPD board shall look into hiring career firefighters outside the district who would be paid straight time wages during campaign fires and for vacation relief.
  4. The IFPD board shall put vacation time as a separate line item on the IFPD Compensation Report.
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