City lost 7 firefighter-paramedics in 2019, union president says
By Deepa Bharath | [email protected] | Orange County Register
PUBLISHED: January 20, 2020 at 5:25 pm | UPDATED: January 21, 2020 at 9:23 am
La Verne Fire Station No. 3 at 5100 Esperanza Drive, which serves neighborhoods in the area, will be closed for about six weeks until the city can hire more firefighters, Mayor Don Kendrick said Monday, Jan. 20.
La Verne Firefighters’ Association, Local 3624, posted information about the closure Friday on social media. The Facebook post, which received hundreds of comments and nearly 150 shares, did not mention that the station would reopen in a few weeks but suggested that it was permanently closed.
That’s because there is no guarantee the station will reopen, said Andy Glaze, the union’s president and a captain at the La Verne Fire Department. Three new recruits are not going to fix the problem of sagging morale, lack of a safe work environment and a failure on the city’s part to retain firefighters, he said Monday.
“They’re hoping to be able to open the doors again,” he said. “Our problems are a lot bigger than just recruitment. Last year, we lost seven firefighter-paramedics. But people come here and leave to go to cities that offer better pay, better opportunities and a safer work environment. We had one guy work for us for 11 hours.”
Glaze said he has warned the mayor and City Council about the situation for the past two years, but that his warnings have gone unheeded.
Kendrick said he is optimistic the fire station will be up and running again in about six weeks. He said interim fire Chief Devon Leonard made the decision to close the station after taking into consideration the health and safety of firefighters. The department currently employs 34 including the chief, Kendrick said.
La Verne’s two other stations will be able to handle calls received from neighborhoods previously served by station 3, Kendrick said. All firefighters in the city are trained paramedics, he said. The city also has a contract with CARE ambulance, which could step in for medical transports when necessary, Kendrick said.
The city of La Verne has had a turbulent relationship with its firefighters. In February 2019, the city moved forward with a $5.5 million settlement with the firefighters union, bringing an end to a 14-month legal battle. The association alleged the strife began when former fire Chief Peter Jankowski retaliated against union members for throwing their support behind the mayor’s political opponent in 2017.
The initial lawsuit filed in December 2017 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California claimed that firefighters were subject to “frivolous disciplinary investigations” and “unwanted and excessive discipline,” among other complaints.
To repair its relationship with it firefighters in the wake of the lawsuit settlement, the city hired Mike Messina, a professional team building and leadership consultant, who has provided similar services for several other municipal agencies throughout Southern California.
“We are working hard to rebuild that relationship,” Kendrick said. “The Fire Department is very important to the city and our residents. The residents, as well as the city’s leadership, want to stay with their own Fire Department.”
The city’s goal now is to get staffing levels back up as soon as possible and provide residents “with the level of service they are used to receiving,” the mayor said.
Glaze said while Messina has helped in some ways, there is too much bad blood between city leadership and firefighters to be easily fixed. He says he now hopes for new leadership in La Verne come March, when the mayor’s seat and two council spots are up for election.
“(Messina) is not a miracle worker and he has limited time,” Glaze said. “We have the same leadership and the same viewpoint. So what’s going to change? I’ve worked in this city for seven years. I don’t want to work in an unsafe and hostile environment. I don’t like closing a fire station for the citizens or my guys. We need new leadership in this city.”
In addition to elections for city leadership, voters in March will decide on a proposed 0.75% sales tax increase that the city has said would generate an additional $3.1 million for fire and police services, among other things.