By Wendy Leung On Apr 13, 2017
Source: Ventura County Star, Calif. (TNS)
April 13–With the green light from City Council on Tuesday, the Oxnard Fire Department will host an academy next month with plans to hire 26 firefighters. The academy, approved unanimously, will cost approximately $1.2 million from the city’s general fund. There are currently 17 vacant positions in the department and according to Fire Chief Darwin Base, there are “whisperings” of others leaving for neighboring agencies. The 26 new employees will be considered firefighters on terms limited to June 2018. Attrition for the academy is estimated to be 25 percent. As positions become available, graduates could become full-time firefighters.
“It makes sense to me to hire in advance,” said Councilman Bryan MacDonald. “It makes perfect sense to plan for attrition.”
Base told council the Oxnard Fire Department has struggled with low morale. Since 2011, 35 firefighters have left for other departments in Los Angeles and Orange counties. During exit interviews, Base said, some firefighters claimed they weren’t valued. Others say neighboring departments pay more.
In November, Base was promoted, becoming the first fire chief to be hired from within the department in nearly five decades. Base succeeded former Fire Chief Bryan Brice, who came from the Orange County Fire Authority and led the Oxnard Fire Department for seven months before resigning. Base said his promotion has improved morale. Blair Martin, president of the Oxnard Firefighters Association, said he was pleased to see the academy received unanimous support.
“I was ecstatic,” Martin said. “I hope that is indicative for the future of them supporting us.”
Oxnard swears in fire chief who rose through ranks Due to budgetary constraints, Base said the department has relied on grants to keep a number of programs going, such as fire prevention and hazardous-materials training.
“We’re quite grant-dependent,” Base said. The chief said he hopes the new hires will relieve some of the firefighters from working overtime.
Base said firefighter overtime has been much scrutinized because it’s expensive, but many people don’t want to work overtime.
“I’m starting to see burnout,” Base said.
During the public comment portion of Tuesday’s City Council meeting, speaker Steve Nash said the narrative of departments being short-staffed and low-paying seems to never change.
“I would like to hear that change for once to a narrative of, ‘Boy, thank you so much for letting us work for the city of Oxnard and serve the residents of Oxnard,'” Nash said. “I guess that’s not the dynamic that’s at play, and that’s unfortunate.”
___ (c)2017 Ventura County Star (Camarillo, Calif.)
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