Idyllwild Fire and San Jacinto proposing joint fire agency

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Joint public meeting later this month

The Idyllwild Fire Department is in discussions with the city of San Jacinto to provide fire and emergency medical services to the city. Currently, Riverside County Fire Department provides these services to San Jacinto.

In a press release late Monday afternoon, Idyllwild Fire Chief Patrick Reitz said, “… joint discussions are currently taking place with the administrations of the district and city to form a Joint Powers Authority for the purpose of providing fire protection and EMS services to the citizens of San Jacinto.”

“This is a big deal, very big,” Reitz said Tuesday. And he stressed that neither the San Jacinto city nor the IFPD commission has yet endorsed nor approved the idea. “The two boards will discuss its formation and make changes to the draft document.

“Earlier in the year, it started with a casual comment and evolved into more detailed discussions later this year,” he stated.

San Jacinto and the Idyllwild Fire Protection District will schedule a joint meeting later this month to discuss this idea, according to Reitz, who has been in private discussions with San Jacinto City Manager Tim Hults.

Job descriptions for fire captains, engineers and firefighters for the JPA, as well as job application forms, are already posted on the IFPD web site. None of these documents inform the applicants assert that the joint powers authority has yet to be established.

Not only do the job applications have to be submitted by the deadline of May 20, but applicants must meet “minimum requirements of the Idyllwild San Jacinto Regional Fire Authority Rules and Regulations,” which do not yet exist.

Reitz explained that the plan is being drafted so that it can be implemented if the city and district approve. “Once they accept it, we have to flip the switch,” he said.

Currently, he anticipates that one station will immediately be staffed. Over time, the JPA staff will work with the JPA board to provide a larger fire service to San Jacinto, whose population is more than 45,000 people.

The release specifically said the fire and EMS services would be provided to San Jacinto and did not identify what benefits would accrue to Idyllwild.

“Idyllwild will get cost savings from the shared administration costs,” Reitz said. For example, his salary as the likely chief of the JPA would be shared between IFPD and the JPA.

“Joint powers” is a term used to describe government agencies that have agreed to combine their powers and resources to work on their common problems. When the public officials of two or more agencies agree to create another legal entity or establish a joint approach to work on a common problem, fund a project or act as a representative body for a specific activity, “joint powers” are being exercised.

When contacted by the Town Crier for comment, Niki Moore, an attorney for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, opined that for two existing public entities simply to come together at a joint meeting with an already fully-formed concept of a joint powers authority, without having held open public meetings of their own to broach the matter to their public, “flies in the face of the Brown Act.”

Moore said that a reasonable interpretation of the Brown Act would require that each agency hold a separate public meeting, allowing for citizen comments, before holding a joint meeting to finalize the formation of the new joint powers authority.

Moore also said that she cannot fathom that the administrative heads (Chief Reitz and City Attorney Hults) could have come together to formalize job requirements, applications, and application deadlines, without advanced approval from their respective boards, which would require open meetings. And to obtain board approval for their joint powers authority negotiations outside of open meetings would itself constitute a violation of the Brown Act.

Jack Clark contributed to this report.

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  1. Wow what an absolutely stupid idea. Let’s add the costs of starting our brand new Fire Department. One Fire Engine with equipment costs upwards of 1 million dollars. You need at least two. You will also need at least 8 Fire fighters per day running 3 shifts that is 24 Fire Fighter positions each position with benefits costs a minimum 100,000 a year that amounts to 2.4 million dollars. Let’s not forget the required state mandated Fire Training, Diversity Training and Human Resource requirements let’s say that costs another 200,000 a year. Wait let’s not forget fuel, maintenance and insurance let’s low ball that cost at 250,000 a year we have not even started talking about management supervision on the entire incident command structure that needs to be run within a close distance from your stations and the emergency scene.
    Due to the costs of personnel,equipment,liability issues and state required training Fire Departments have a large support staff. I don’t see it.I wonder what’s really going to happen? I also wonder if the governments involved understand how large of a liability they are getting ready to sign up for.

    Reply
  2. Scott, I find it interesting that without much insight to the process you can throw out these large dollar values as if you had experience in these matters. By creating an expectation of such expensive costs, you immediately create a negative outcome to this process. Your comments give the impression that you are in fact directly involved with the fire service, possibly as a firefighter. The fact of the matter is, Cal Fire has bullied most of the small cities in Riverside Country for the better part of the last decade, annually raising their contracts even as cities were forced to cut services. You are correct when you say the initial cost to “start” a department is high, thus most cities are beholden to their current life safety providers. What most people do not understand is most of the contract cities already own the fire apparatus and stations, saving the Millions of dollars already mentioned. The support facilities are already in place (city fleet, city IT, Human Resources, etc) so the financial impact is minimal. As far as the numbers you have thrown out for salaries, 100k annual salary across the ranks is very unlikely. Based on the way “this” story reads, this type of department structure is becoming more common in California. By sharing the “overhead” cost such as Chief Officers and Administrative personnel cities can provide these services to their citizens while maintaining local control of the costs. As for the ability to respond appropriately to all emergencies, I’m sure that there will be Automatic Aid agreements in place.

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    • Bill
      I have seen many Fire Departments across the West Coast try to create their own Department and fail after spending large amounts of money.
      The average salary of 100,000 includes pension benefits and health care costs when you average in the rank of Fire Fighter, Paramedic, Lieutenant, Captain and Chief Officer I think you will find that $100,000 is low. The apparatus costs are also low and yes if the city that is leaving a jurisdiction and has paid for an Engine, Truck or Ambulance they would get those but typically they merge their funds when purchasing apparatus and when a city leaves a jurisdiction they get a percentage of what they have actually spent on apparatus. They would then have to buy the Rest of the needed equipment . I also cannot believe that any city fleet mechanic could repair or work on a Fire Engine,Truck or Ambulance.
      Yes jurisdictions do have mutual agreements but I have never seen a fire department provide mutual aid to support an entire Incident Command structure.
      Fire Departments are unique with special training needs and most cities are unable to provide the HR support that a Fire Department requires and the state mandates
      I have never worked at Cal Fire and I do not even know anyone who works there. I was not trying to be negative just trying to make Citizens understand what goes into creating a Fire Department and the risks and liabilities.

      Reply

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