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Grand Jury Report seeks improvements in Kern County Fire Department

KCFD serves 3rd largest county in CA by size
Posted: 4:33 PM, Feb 17, 2022
Updated: 2022-02-17 21:38:37-05
Kern County Fire Department (FILE)

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — The Kern County Fire Department serves the 3rd largest county in California by size. And withstanding joint power agreement contracts with Bakersfield and California City, they’re providing additional support to those areas while serving almost a million people around our Kern.

Recruit Academy Looks to Fix Firefighter Shortage

KCFD recruit academies look to help with staffing

With more than 8,000 miles of land to protect their department has a lot of ground to cover. They’ve had staffing shortages over the past couple of years. A KCFD official said more frequent recruit academies should aid in helping fix that issue.

Ricki Shere is one of 18 recruits in the current Kern County Fire Department Recruit Academy, climbing ladders and working 8 to 5, five days a week. Becoming a firefighter is her longtime goal and while she just started training she answered the call all those years ago. She does it for her family and the community she grew up in.

“I grew up not too far from a fire station when I moved out on my own for the first time. I was right down the street from Station 15,” said Shere. “I gathered the courage one day to ring the doorbell. A crew pointed me in the right direction. From my very first station visit, I was absolutely sold that this is what I wanted to do the rest of my life.”

The academy is the first step recruits take to becoming a firefighter, learning both the skills and confidence needed when out in the field.

Sergio Arriaga is from Orange County but he said the Kern County Fire Department awards him more of an opportunity.

“I can pretty much do anything I want in the fire service. I can work on a truck. I can go work on a helicopter. There’s so much opportunity here. Ever since I was a kid, I just grew up idolizing superheroes and stuff. So the next closest thing was becoming a fireman.”

According to Kern County Fire Department’s Andrew Freeborn, recruits like Arriaga can ease the strain on current KCFD personnel who have almost a million people to serve. And according to a recent Kern County Grand Jury Report (see in-depth below), 8,161 miles of unique ground to cover.

“The mountains the deserts, the metro areas like the city here," explained Freeborn. "So we have to have a department that is good at metro calls, medical aids, good at structure fires, very good at all that but at the same time, we have to have firefighters that and confined space rescues”

That same report pointed out that KCFD has 625 permanent employees and 564 uniformed firefighters. Freeborn said they have been 30 to 70 personnel short the past year or two.

The frequency of these recruiting academies is more than in previous history. One recruiting class graduated at the end of January. This is the second one with another academy with 30 more recruits immediately following.

“We’re confident that it’s going to help tremendously," said Freeborn. "The amount of hours the firefighters are having to work, it’s definitely going to help with the mental and physical health.”

Kern County Fire Department Vehicles, Facilities Not Meeting Needs

KCFD firefighter safety

The KCFD has 47 stations. After visiting their facilities, the grand jury report found that 15 stations are more than 50 years old, meaning some of their equipment also needs updates. One of the report's recommendations is that in the next fiscal year the KCFD needs to work on reducing firefighters’ exposure to diesel exhaust and diesel particulate matter.

"KCFD’s struggle has progressed to the point of apparatus and facility deterioration and staffing issues. As a facility ages, it may no longer meet the needs of an evolving workforce and community. This can negatively affect efficiency, morale, safety, security, and overall efforts to provide quality fire, rescue, and emergency medical services. These issues only hamper the ability of the department to keep up with an increasing number of requests for service," said the grand jury report. "Further, KCFD needs to be able to set a good example of good fire and health protection for the populous. Older and obsolete facilities are also expensive to maintain. When these conditions occur, typical remedies include expanding, renovating, or replacing the existing facilities."

Freeborn said that they’re looking into updating some stations. Recently, the county’s Board of Supervisors also approved the department accepting the hazard mitigation grant program. It awards the KCFD almost a million dollars to fund 33 generators for 32 fire stations and their headquarters.

In the meantime, KCFD started to receive new self-containing breathing apparatus which can help filter air and new fire engines.

“A base component in these new fire engines is being able to keep the turnouts outside of the cab," explained Freeborn. "All of the toxic chemicals and other things the smoke that is on those after going into an emergency scene traditionally has been kept in the cab with the firefighters. Now that's on your skin and you're continuing to breathe that. So that's just one example of the steps being taken."

As for fire engines, two have just been placed in service. Ten just received final inspections and they’re expecting those to arrive in the next several weeks. Freeborn said the new trucks are much needed since some of their engines have more than 300,000 miles on them.

23ABC In-Depth

What is the Kern County Grand Jury?

The Grand Jury is a body of 19 citizens, independent of any political or special interest group. NO law degree or specific credential is necessary to be a Grand Jury member though an avid interest in preserving honest and proper conduct of ALL governmental agencies within Kern County is essential. Grand Jurors should also possess the desire to insure that all monies, within these areas of government, are being handled prudently and in the best interest of Kern County residents. The Grand Jury’s purpose is to serve and assist the people of Kern County.

What Does the Grand Jury Do?

The Grand Jury has two basic functions.

  • Civil or "watch dog" function: In this capacity, the Jury has the power and duty to examine the function and performance of public offices and officers. They report their findings and can make recommendations for changes. For more information on the reporting process, see the Reports page.
  • Criminal function: In this capacity, the Jury has the power and duty to inquire into possible public offenses, misconduct in office by public officers, and to determine whether to return indictments charging the commission of felonies.

- Kern County Grand Jury

The Grand Jury Report made the following nine recommendations:

  1. KCFD should, within the next 12 months, develop a comprehensive strategic plan to repair or replace all stations, 50 years and older, over the next 5-10 years. (Finding 1)
  2. The Board of Supervisors should secure necessary funds to coincide with the comprehensive strategic plan. (Finding 1)
  3. KCFD should install smoke detectors and Fire Ready Range Hoods in all kitchens within 12-24 months. (Recommendation #20 CPSM report) (Finding 2)
  4. Replace Station 11’s Air Operation generator with new auto start back-up generator. (Finding 9)
  5. KCFD should request the installation of more dip tanks with reliable water for Air Operations; at a minimum one in the Rosamond area. (Finding 7)
  6. Within the next 3-5 years, Helicopter 407 should be replaced, followed by Helicopter 408. (Finding 10)
  7. Station 11 should contact Animal Control to request one or more feral cats to help control the vermin problem. (Finding 8)
  8. KCFD should expand their efforts, in the next fiscal year, to reduce Firefighters’ exposure to diesel exhaust and diesel particulate matter and protect Firefighters with the goal of preventing future disease by all means necessary. (Finding 4)
  9. KCFD should apply for funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill immediately for Air Operations and Fire Stations in need of repair or replacement. (Findings 1, 2, 7, 9)

Kern County Grand Jury Report: Kern County Fire Department