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Calif. council approves funding to increase fire engine staffing

A funding plan will increase firefighter staffing on Ross Valley fire apparatus to three-person engine companies

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Ross Valley Fire Department/Facebook

By Giuseppe Ricapito
The Marin Independent Journal

SAN ANSELMO, Calif. — Ross has signaled its support for an increased funding plan that would augment staffing at the Ross Valley Fire Department.

The Town Council reached a consensus at a meeting on Nov. 9 that it would support the plan. The fire board is set to vote on before the end of the year.

The funding plan would increase staffing to three people per fire engine. Effective July 1, the town would see a $147,705, or 5.9%, increase in the required member contribution.

“It’s obvious that the Ross Valley Fire Department needs to go to three people,” said Councilmember Elizabeth Robbins. “That’s the county standard. I don’t think there’s really much to discuss.”

The authority overseeing the department, a consolidated agency serving Ross, San Anselmo, Sleepy Hollow and Fairfax, includes representatives of each jurisdiction.

The department is the last in Marin with two-person engines. Since the creation of the joint powers authority in 1982, the agency has been largely augmented by a volunteer firefighter service.

The updated staffing plan would require an increase of approximately $632,000 to the department’s budget for the 2024-25 fiscal year, with each member jurisdiction paying a proportional share of the total.

The bolstered budget would enable the department to hire three more firefighters, purchase their gear and train the new recruits. If the board approves the funding, the agency would hire a firefighter-paramedic to join the team at Station 19 in San Anselmo next summer.

In 2019, an analysis of the Ross Valley agency recommended three-person engines for its San Anselmo, Sleepy Hollow and Fairfax fire stations. Station 18 in Ross would remain a two-person company because it also has ambulances from the Ross Valley Paramedic Authority.

The remaining engine companies will be staffed with three people after the Ross station closes on July 1, 2025. The three fire captains and three firefighter-engineers from the Ross station will be moved to the other stations once it shuts down.

During the meeting, the Town Council held a discussion on the planned closure of the Ross fire station and on the status of emergency medical services in town. Despite concerns about coverage, town officials urged adherence to the closure plan.

“I don’t think we should be overreacting right now based on the path we’re taking,” Councilmember Julie McMillan said about the possibility of building a replacement station in Ross. “First of all, we don’t have the funding.”

According to the department’s 2023-24 budget, San Anselmo pays the fire agency about $4 million; Ross, $2.4 million; Fairfax, $2.4 million; and Sleepy Hollow, $1.3 million.

The cost for each agency would increase under the proposed staffing change. San Anselmo would pay another $256,161, Ross and Fairfax about $147,000 each and Sleepy Hollow another $80,900.

Those amounts would increase incrementally through the fiscal year ending in 2027. Ross would pay $156,503 in the 2025-26 fiscal year and $164,607 in the 2026-27 fiscal year.

“We really tried to be as transparent as possible with all costs,” said Marin County Fire Chief Jason Weber, who addressed the council. “The department needs to make a paradigm shift to maintain an effective response force in the modern world.”

The department’s 11-member labor management subcommittee, composed of staff and officials, voted unanimously at a meeting on Oct. 5 to recommend approval of the proposal.

The department serves about 25,000 residents.

(c)2023 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.)
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