Council Votes New Fire Staff into City Budget

 

The Alameda City Council voted to adopt a resolution and a recommendation that would revitalize the Alameda Fire Department’s (AFD) Fire Prevention Bureau at its April 18 meeting. 

The resolution will add three new positions to the bureau. The recommendation will authorize the purchase of three new Ford Police Interceptor utility vehicles and miscellaneous equipment such as office chairs, desks, computers, cell phones and more.

The council approved the resolution 3-2. Vice Mayor Malia Vella and councilmembers Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft and Jim Oddie voted in favor of the resolution, while Mayor Trish Spencer and Councilmember Frank Matarrese opposed. The recommendation passed 4-1 with Spencer providing the no vote.

The three new positions will be a fire captain/assistant fire marshal and two fire inspectors with firefighter or apparatus operator status. All three positions will be filled with sworn firefighters. The three new department personnel will be tasked with conducting fire inspections on commercial and residential buildings. 

In 2009, during the recession, the city decided to cut the bureau staff from seven positions (four sworn firefighters and three non-sworn) to just two non-sworn positions (a code compliance officer and an administrative technician), according to AFD Fire Marshal Doug Long. This created a backlog in fire inspections.

“In 2016, we completed just 28 percent of our scheduled fire inspections,” said Long. According to Long, there are more than 3,000 planned fire inspections that still need to take place. “Because of the inspections that are not getting done, we have left $355,000 uncollected.” 

Long estimates the cost of the new sworn-firefighter hires, vehicles and office equipment will be a combined $987,890 annually. The assistant fire marshal position will make $294,000, while each fire inspector will make from $245,000 to $263,000 annually. 

Long estimates that the office equipment will cost about $33,450, while the total cost of the three vehicles will be $155,234.07. City Manager Jill Keimach said the cost for the vehicles and office equipment will not exceed $188,684. This would be a one-time startup cost.

In his report to the Council, Long said the costs would be financed by the increased annual inspection revenue, which could exceed $335,000, and the annual Ground Emergency Medical Transportation funds the city receives estimated at $275,000. The remainder will come from the city’s General Fund. 

Spencer and Matarrese wanted to add the new positions, but voted “no” on the resolution because they felt the positions should be filled with non-sworn firefighters. 

“We need to balance the budget,” said Spencer.

Long estimates the city would save about $300,000 per year if the three positions are filled with non-sworn firefighters. If the inspection jobs were filled with non-sworn firefighters the city could pay for the positions without dipping into the General Fund and will not have to pay high pension costs.The city already owes $113 million in unfunded pension liabilities, according to Spencer.

Spencer was also concerned with the building inspection backlog.

“We need inspectors to handle just inspections,” said Spencer.

However, Long said three additional sworn firefighters would help with other department needs. Sworn firefighters can provide assistance in an emergency.

The resolution will go into effect May 28.