Thursday, June 8, 2017
[Shasta County] Redding firefighter layoffs loom big on already short-staffed department
Blog comment: this article references a 2006 grand jury report recommending the hiring of more firefighters.
Gerald Gross is planning to lose his job at the Redding Fire Department next month.
It's not his choice, though. Gross, 30, is about to get married and his passion for firefighting began at an early age. His mother spent 20 years as a Jones Valley fire chief and exposed him to the career at an early age.
“It’s been tough because I grew up this community and I’ve always worked in this community, bought a house here in Redding,” Gross said. “The thought of having to leave the area and start over, it’s kind of a bummer.”
Gross may share a fate with two other Redding firefighters as the city hasn’t yet found money to extend their and six other positions.
“We’re not asking to get the promised land of three-person engines, which the Blueprint (for Public Safety) had recommended," Redding Fire Chief Gerry Gray said. "We’re asking to not bleed anymore on our staffing.”
Gray has already found other jobs for six apprentice firefighters — low-paid, entry-level jobs meant to put staff on engines, give aspiring firefighters some experience and save money.
Those positions were funded by a grant extended for two years by the city’s one-time use of reserve cash.
Gray next month will ask the City Council to keep those jobs but there’s no clear sign of any extra money. He's banking on a longstanding good relationship with past councils but knows the city is prepping for a tight budget.
“We’re concerned but optimistic,” Gray said of the potential loss of firefighters.
Bethel Church is fundraising to save the Redding Neighborhood Police Unit and wants to put any excess money toward saving firefighter jobs. But that campaign hasn’t yet hit half of its $1.24 million goal.
Thin staffing isn’t a new problem for the Redding Fire Department but the community continues to receive reminders. Separate city-formed taskforces in the 1980s and ‘90s recommended more firefighters.
A grand jury report in 2006 also recommended the city hire more fighters.
“This is not new. We can trace this back to three or maybe even four decades into the history of the department,” Gray said.
More recently, the Blueprint for Public Safety called for bolstering the department’s ranks among the city’s top safety needs.
Staffing hasn’t kept pace with growth or demand on the department and remains below national standards.
In 1984, when 47,000 people lived in Redding, firefighters answered just more than 3,400 calls for service. Gray expects the department to answer 14,000 calls this year with only nine more firefighters than 33 years ago.
That means Redding residents have about half the firefighters per capita than they did three decades ago.
“Losing these positions is a huge safety issue to this community and to the firefighters, it affects us both,” said firefighter Matt Oliphant, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1934.
Safety and efficiency are directly affected by staffing levels. Oliphant said during critical medical calls each firefighter plays a role in potentially saving a life.
“In the unlikely event we have a medical aid where there’s a CPR in progress, for somebody to be doing chest compressions, for somebody to doing the airway, for somebody to be hooking up the automatic defibrillator — just those three functions, those take three different people to do," Oliphant said.
With two-person engines, the city must pull more stations into a single fire or other calls, leaving other parts of the city without firefighter coverage.
“It will translate to longer response times because the likelihood is we’ll be pulling extra units for calls we typically handle with one or two engines and general degradation overall of our service,” Gray said.
For Gross, who was also laid off in 2015 from the Shasta Lake Fire Protection District as that agency struggled through budget woes, he faces tough decisions in the future.
Staying in firefighting could mean relocating from his hometown and losing the tight connection he’s built with the community, made stronger by the department's service work.
“I just hope the city’s able to figure out a way to keep the jobs,” Gross said. “It’s been nice to be able to be out this community and work in the community you live in.”
June 2, 2017
Redding Record Searchlight
By Sean Longoria