Saturday is Day 1 for Calif. city's new fire department

The San Bernardino County Fire Department officially ends its fire protection services to the city on Saturday at 8 a.m.


Martin Estacio
Daily Press, Victorville, Calif.

VICTORVILLE, Calif. — The Victorville Fire Department is coming back.

The San Bernardino County Fire Department officially ends its fire protection services to the city on Saturday at 8 a.m. At that time, Victorville will once again have its own fire department, as it did prior to July 1, 2008.

Several of the new personnel for the Victorville Fire Department are seen posing in front of a new squad vehicle. (Photo/City of Victorville)
Several of the new personnel for the Victorville Fire Department are seen posing in front of a new squad vehicle. (Photo/City of Victorville)

The takeover marks the end of a 15-month process. City officials believe operating its own fire department will cut costs and tighten ties between residents and emergency responders.

Fire Chief Greg Benson said in a city-run department, residents are likely to become familiar with the firefighters who work at their local station, and firefighters will in turn know the people they serve.

He compared it to "beat cops" who have a regular area to walk and become immersed in their neighborhoods.

"You're connected to the community," Benson said.

Adding to this community approach is the fact that half of the 60 personnel hired to the department already live in the High Desert area, he said.

The department includes 58 sworn employees, in addition to an administrative position and emergency medical services coordinator. The department aims to have 63 members in total.

Each firefighter/paramedic has at least four years of prior experience, with higher positions such as engineers and captains all having at least eight to 10 years, Benson said.

He said he wanted to dispel rumors that department personnel lacked training.

Service levels will be the same as under the county, said Benson, with four stations fully staffed and 18 firefighters on-call at any one time.

A close-up view of one of the new command vehicles for the Victorville FD. (Photo/City of Victorville)
A close-up view of one of the new command vehicles for the Victorville FD. (Photo/City of Victorville)

He said the city received more than 350 applicants for open positions, and chose the "best of the best."

Benson, who brings 40 years of experience to the new department, said the new hires also bring their own experience to the department.

With a depth of knowledge in areas such as urban rescue and hazardous materials response, the chief said, department employees are excited to be creating a new work culture that could last decades.

Deputy City Manager George Harris II projects the city to save around $1 million per year with an in-house department.

Live fire training with the Victorville FD. (Photo/City of Victorville)
Live fire training with the Victorville FD. (Photo/City of Victorville)

A significant reduction in costs became apparent at a recent mid-year budget review, Harris said.

According to city documents, the review showed personnel costs to be lower than budgeted, saving $382,496.

This lower cost was due to a majority of fire department members being hired under a newer, less expensive pension system — PEPRA, established for employees hired after Jan. 1, 2013 — versus the PERS system.

County Fire argued that their pension system was more solvent and well-funded.

The city's split from the County could be characterized as strained to say the least, according to Daily Press reports.

Tensions rose during negotiations to temporarily extend County services with Victorville until the city's new department was up-and-running. The City wanted six months; the County wanted a year.

Eventually, the two entities agreed to a nine-month contract extension.

Benson said long-term goals for the department include becoming accredited from the Center for Public Safety Excellence, of which only 258 agencies worldwide are. A benefit of being accredited can mean lower insurance rates for Victorville residents.

The chief said two Type-1 fire engines are being built for the department. New command vehicles and medic squads will go into service Saturday.

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©2019 Daily Press, Victorville, Calif.

 

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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