It’s a Wednesday afternoon at the and candidates for two vacant positions at the firehouse are hoping to become the next firefighter in Dixon.
The interviews are underway at the Dixon Fire Department for two firefighter positions that will help the department maintain their minimum staffing requirements and allow them to dramatically cut down on the amount of overtime said Dixon Fire Chief Aaron McAlister.
Although the two positions are budgeted into the recently approved budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, McAlister’s department is attempting to secure a $600,000 grant that would allow them to pay for three firefighters for a period of two years.
The grant is not guaranteed, but McAlister said that if the department were successful in attaining the funds, it would save the city some money.
“I’m still going to have a shortage on one shift, so I can eliminate two-thirds of my minimum staffing overtime,” McAlister said.
The Dixon Fire Department is obligated to have five full-time firefighters on any given shift as part of their minimum staffing requirements. Today, department consists of 15 line firefighters, and three managers, with a supplemental pool of 20 volunteer firefighters to assist.
“Many years ago prior to my arrival Dixon made the determination to hire a sixth person per shift,” McAlister said.
But when the department lost firefighters to promotions or to neighboring Vacaville, the department did not fill its vacancies. Then, back in 2011, McAlister said the “perfect storm” occurred within the department.
On top of the three vacancies, Dixon was down by an additional firefighter who sustained a knee injury and was out for six months, and another firefighter who is a member of the military and was activated McAlister said.
“I was down five bodies at one point, that’s almost an entire shift,” McAlister said. “We had to cover with the 10 that were left. It’s one of the reasons why overtime was so high last year.”
The $310,000 or more in overtime that was accumulated in fiscal year 2011-2012 year (McAlister says that 93 percent of it was derived from minimum staffing requirements) drew criticism from Dixon City Councilman Michael Ceremello throughout budget special meetings and during last week’s city council meeting.
Ceremello with the extensive use of volunteers. However, McAlister said that the department has 20 volunteers who work diligently for the department and are a crucial aspect of the department, but cannot guarantee their time to a department that is required to have five firefighters on duty at all times.
“The other reality is most of them have other jobs,” McAlister said. “Many of them are straight out of the fire academy, they don’t have the training expertise that our career members do. They don’t do it every day for a living. So there’s clearly a difference.”
McAlister said there’s an active waiting list for volunteers, the department hires in January and the volunteers go through about two months of orientation training. The volunteers do not receive compensation, other than the vital experience that will assist them in getting hired on.
McAlister said that the department has a close relationship with Solano Community College – the college contracts with the department to use its facility for training and the members of the Dixon Fire Department double as academy instructors.
“We know the product that comes out of that academy and we recruit out of that academy every year,” McAlister said. “In 2011 our volunteers did 4,700 hours in the station. That’s a lot of hours. At an average of 224 hours apiece. In 2012, just year to date through the end of May, our volunteers have done 5,000 hours in the station. That’s more than last year alone.”
To become a volunteer firefighter for Dixon the department requires the candidate to have earned a State Fire Marshal Firefighter 1 certificate. The certificate means that the firefighter has the bare-bones knowledge of firefighter training.
However, McAlister said that having a system in which volunteers provide the baseline minimum staffing would open the city up to liability issues because many of them don’t have the firefighting experience.
McAlister said that the department evolved through volunteers. Most of the staffing was made up of volunteers but as the town grew, so did the call volume and the complexity of the calls. The department then went to a paid staff and uses its volunteers to supplement the bare-bone minimum staffing requirement.
But each volunteer that the fire department takes on incurs costs to the city, including workers compensation insurance rates, equipment and fire uniforms and specialized training McAlister said.
To help offset those costs however, the department is applying for another grant that will help pay protection equipment and to pay a stipends to volunteers.
“With that, I might be able to fill that third seat on that third engine,” McAlister said.