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Costa Mesa to keep its Fire Department

Council agrees not to outsource services to the county. Interim fire chief to present restructuring plan to council at May 8 study session.

April 18, 2012|By Jenny Stockdale, Special to the Daily Pilot

Costa Mesa will keep its Fire Department instead of contracting out with county.

Just before midnight Tuesday with a 5-0 vote — nearly six hours into its regular meeting — the City Council motioned to rescind the layoff notices issued to 78 sworn and nine nonsworn firefighters.

The move effectively canceled a proposal to use the services of the Orange County Fire Authority, which was expected to absorb most — but not all — of the Fire Department's employees.

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The firefighters comprise nearly 43% of the 203 city employees who have received layoff notices since March 2011, when the council began its outsourcing research and implementation.

The council will now work with interim Fire Chief Tom Arnold on a Fire Department restructuring plan that aims to improve service and save money. Councilman Gary Monahan said that the plan would address the high costs of overtime.

The council will then review the plan, which could include closing a fire station and cutting nine positions, at the May 8 study session.

"The administrative staff is quite relieved," Arnold said. "The issue has weighed very heavily on staff, and this decision obviously boosts morale. Everyone is working very hard with less."

Arnold, who came on in November, has met with every member of his department in the past three months, researching solutions to "improve efficiency, effectiveness and response times, and achieve real and long-term cost reductions."

He said that overtime costs will be mitigated with the new plan by using fewer people "deployed in a more efficient way."

"The good news is we only had 224 fires in 2011. The bad news is we had 224 fires," Arnold said. "We still had to put out fires. That's not a lot, but we still have to be prepared for that."

He added that the key to keeping fires small and not needing more resources from larger organizations like the OCFA to put them out is to get the scenes sooner.

The council was dissatisfied with OCFA's fire service proposal submitted in February 2011.

Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer said that keeping the Fire Department and restructuring its operation by applying some of the items outlined in that proposal could save the city more than $15.7 million in five years.

"We have great firefighters here in Costa Mesa, but we have a horrible contract," Righeimer said Wednesday, specifically pointing to overtime costs and alleged waste.

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