Interim Public Safety Director Rob Moore presents upcoming changes to splitting police and fire duties in the public safety department, sites challenges of keeping them the same
LINDSAY – The Lindsay Public Safety Department is almost ready to do away with dual roles for their police officers. Gone will be the days that officers need to dress down from their blues and zip up in fire gear when a blaze breaks out somewhere in town. And it has been a long time coming.
Interim director for public safety, Rob Moore, presented to the Lindsay City Council during their Feb. 8 meeting and said since he began last year, he has been wanting to cleave the firefighter duties away from his police officers. He cited how expensive it has become to train officers to become firefighters, and how difficult it is to recruit officers out of the academy when they also have to take on fire duties.
“I haven’t met very many people that grew up wanting to be a cop/fireman. Usually they want to be police officers or they want to be firefighters,” Moore said.
According to a staff report Lindsay officers began double duty when training could have been done inhouse. That is no longer the case. A new recruit in Lindsay would have just finished their six month police training, then be trained as an Emergency Medical Technician, a one-on-one certification fire course and then they would qualify for the fire academy. By the end, a new recruit would need two years of training before walking a beat in Lindsay.
“Given the situation as it stands and the combined police and fire model, the city would need to invest an additional 18 months of paid training to achieve the Firefighter-1 status for any future police officers hired. This will come at a great expense,” Moore’s staff report stated.
The staff report also stated that Lindsay is only one of three cities in California attempting to make this type of system work. But because of staffing levels they’ve been largely unsuccessful. The other departments in the state that provide combined police and fire service have sufficient staffing. While the officers are cross trained in both police and fire, when an officer is working as a policeman they do not switch mid-shift if a fire breaks out. Instead the officers that are not working as police work their shift as a fireman.
Lindsay on the other hand is impacted by low staffing levels that prevents them from exercising this system as designed. When they began the system in 2011 they had 25 officers, and they only needed 26 to be at full capacity. As of this year the department has only 15 officers and still doing the same dual roles.
Moore said during his presentation that he is both impressed and proud of the 15 officers doing the same job as 25 with little complaint.
Moore told the council that he recommends returning the public safety department to a separate police and fire model. The fire department will be staffed at minimal levels, “and still achieve the levels of fire coverage needed.”
His second recommendation, which goes hand-in-hand, with his first, is to reorganize the department and build a bench of volunteer firefighters. Moore said his ideal public safety police department would be made up of one director, one police lieutenant, four sergeants, one detective and 10 officers. For the fire department he would like to have one firefighter battalion chief with peace officer powers for arson investigations, one firefighter lieutenant, one fire apparatus engineer and a beefed up selection of volunteer firefighters.
City manager, Joe Tanner, said the department hopes to have between 10 and 15 volunteer firefighters at any given time, but those numbers are not set in stone. He added that anyone interested can request an application from the public safety department.
Moore said that Lieutenant Nicholas Nave would be the one to shift over from police to battalion chief because he has the investigative bonafides needed for fire investigations. Lt. Nave will be the first addition to their one full fledged firefighter on staff, but Lindsay would still need to find a fire engineer. In the past the city has applied for grants to help pay for more firefighters, but Tanner said they are ultra competitive and hurts the chances of Lindsay being awarded. Fortunately, Tanner said, the city is in position to have a sizable surplus in their general fund that could help add staff and services.
“Our budget is looking very good for this year, we are projecting a pretty nice size surplus again…So we thought it was a good opportunity to move forward with the increase in services and staffing levels. But, we’re still going to pursue grants for equipment,” Tanner said.
Moore said that the necessary next steps is to hire an engineer and then develop a 48-96 schedule where firefighters will work two days on, four days off in rotation to have 24-hour fire coverage, and then begin a 4-6 person volunteer firefighter force. He added that getting this off the ground holds some opportunity to bring more money to the city of Lindsay.
In Moore’s analysis he found that a significant base of volunteer firefighters allowed the Woodlake District Fire Department to participate in a mutual aid response program. That program generated $400,000 last year alone and presents an opportunity for the city’s rescue fire truck to bring money into the city by responding to California’s Office of Emergency Services mutual aid calls.
“I like it…it’s either your this, or this because you got to focus on being a police officer. Being trained as a firefighter, that’s a totally different focus,” Councilmember Rosaena Sanchez said.