The Ukiah Daily Journal

A personal perspectiv­e


To the Editor:

For some time now your fire, rescue, and a portion of EMS services have been provided for by the Ukiah Valley Fire Authority. The agreement between the City of Ukiah and the Ukiah Valley Fire District became effective on July 1, 2017. Essentiall­y merging two fire agencies, Ukiah City Fire and the Fire District and is now known as the Ukiah Valley Fire Authority. The area of services provided cover just under one-hundred square miles, essentiall­y from the east and west ridge tops and Burke Hill in the south to Agnes Lane (North State St. / Gold Gulch, for us “old timers”) in the north.

This past calendar year the Fire Authority responded to 4,384 incidents, and 2,777 medical aid responses. Generating a minimum of 7,161 reports. One report per engine response and one PCR (patient care report) per ambulance response. The typical engine response is one engine with a minimum staffing of two, with possibly three as staffing allows. One member of this engine response is paramedic qualified, usually the captain position. With first alarms or greater, the second engine will be assigned with the same staffing levels. Depending upon the level of severity one incident may require more than one emergency vehicle to respond. This would also include any Volunteer response. This past calendar year there were well over 5,000 responses which does include assists to Med Star Ambulance, our local private provider. All engines are Advance Life Support equipped (ALS). Medical Aid or ambulance responses are staffed with a twoperson crew, at least one being paramedic qualified.

So with the aforementi­oned work load, what does staffing look like? I will not sugar coat this, in my opinion it looks terrible! And has been for quite some time, years actually! Currently

there are eighteen suppressio­n positions on the roster, with three on some level of leave, this does not include the command staff of two Battalion Chiefs and one Fire Chief. Responding to well over 4300 calls for service, including over 2,700 ambulance responses. Command staff can and will on occasion staff and drive the ambulance as they are all paramedic qualified. Active stations are located on Laws Ave., and Lovers Lane. The central station is located at the Ukiah Civic Center and is where the ambulance crews live and respond from. So, if you were merely to count bodies/positions, that's a total of 27, this includes volunteers. Volunteers are an important part of our fire department. However, they typically don't respond to the daily call volume unless needed, larger incidents or additional staffing and such. The Fire Authority is currently seeking to fill at least three authorized vacancies. Not much luck thus far! There are incentives to those who are successful in the hiring process.

So while responding to the call volume as stated above other assigned duties must be undertaken. Reports must be completed, apparatus must be maintained, training must be undertaken, “at all levels”, and crew quarters must be kept up. So let's look at what a typical member may receive or be required to get during any given year. Each member receives about 300 hours of training, plus an additional 80 hours of required certificat­ion training (Incident command, paramedic, state fire training). All of this is accomplish­ed during any given period during the year and must be maintained. Volunteers also receive required training, amounting to about 468 hours per year. None of this is easy, nor is it not necessary!

So as I mentioned earlier, staffing is terrible, (my opinion) and has been for years. I started my time with the Ukiah Fire Department in 1982 as a Volunteer, promoted to paid Battalion Chief in 2005. At that time we had 25 Volunteers and 22 paid staff. Managing to run approximat­ely 2,400 calls for service per year, which includes fire department ALS ambulance responses within the city limits, roughly 4.5 square miles. Upon my retirement from the Ukiah Valley Fire Authority in 2019 there were roughly 18 paid staff, and about 6 volunteers running over 4,300 calls for service, and over 2,700 ambulance responses within our roughly 100 square miles of service area. Now keep in mind with the merger in place the fire department now covers roughly 100 square miles with fewer staff, why is this? The call volume has significan­tly risen and staffing has stagnated or even declined. Cost is often given as the driving factor to not being able to hire new staff. But there are various costs to consider such as the overtime burden, injuries due to over-worked or lack of appropriat­e rest and recovery. The paid staff works a two day on and four days off rotation. Lack of appropriat­e rest and time away from work has negative impacts to well-being and health.

The question must be asked, why are our local leaders, city and county, gambling with the health, safety and welfare of our first responders, and to our community? It may be entirely possible that our community just simply doesn't know of the working conditions of our staff? Working conditions are getting worse largely due to the lack of support. I know we don't have a tax base that will support that of other communitie­s, however we, our City / District must do better. How can this be accomplish­ed as our fire department responds to ever higher demands? —Kevin P. Jennings, Retired Division Chief/ Fire Marshal, Ukiah Valley Fire Authority,newly Appointed Board Member, Ukiah Valley Fire District

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