2 Calif. cities to share fire chief, high-ranking firefighters

Brea and Fullerton had already started sharing three battalion chiefs, who oversee daily operations

By Lou Ponsi
The Orange County Register

FULLERTON, Calif. — Brea and Fullerton's city councils unanimously approved an agreement Tuesday night to share a fire chief and other high-ranking firefighters in an effort to save hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.

Fullerton Chief Wolfgang Knabe will be in charge of both departments, as Brea's interim fire chief, Marc Martin, steps down. The merger will take place within days, Brea City Manager Tim O'Donnell said.

The cities had already started sharing three battalion chiefs, who oversee daily operations. The cities will also share three division chiefs, with Fullerton paying 60 percent and Brea 40 percent for those positions. Knabe's $273,000 salary and benefits package will be paid equally by both cities.

Counting how the battalion chiefs are now deployed, Fullerton will save $463,000 annually and Brea $881,000. In all, seven positions from the two departments are expected to be eliminated without any layoffs or changes in salaries. The savings include benefits packages and how Knabe's salary will be divided.

Current vacancies in command staff positions in both cities created the opportunity for the merger.

"The boots on the ground are not going to change. ... It all makes common sense," Brea Councilman Brett Murdock said.

The City Council in each city will retain policy-making authority for its fire department. Brea Councilman Roy Moore said a portion of that savings should go toward improving the Fire Department.

Knabe said his priorities in Brea include doing a "needs assessment" over the first month and then involving the public in developing a five-year strategic plan.

"I truly think I can make a difference here," the chief said. "Once I get further down the process, people will be happy with the results."

"There is some cautious optimism," Brea Fire Association President Dan Gibson said about the leadership merger.

The deal is set for two years. Either city can terminate the agreement with six months' notice.

Meanwhile, officials in Fullerton have been in talks with officials in Anaheim and Orange about combining the departments to form a regional fire agency. Brea would have the option to join as well.

Brea has 42 full-time firefighters and 11 part-time apprentice firefighters who respond to 3,600 calls annually from four stations. Fullerton has 81 firefighters who respond to more than 12,000 calls annually from six stations.

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