Kern County Fire Department making budget cuts to combat deficit

Posted at 7:15 PM, Jan 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-13 20:38:18-05

The Kern County Fire Department is reducing staffing at stations throughout the county to combat the current $17.8 million budget deficit.

Staffing will be reduced from three person shifts to two person shifts at nine stations across the county, according to a spokesperson with the fire department.

The nine stations will remain staffed 24/7, 365 days a year but with one fewer firefighter per shift.

This action alone is anticipated to reduce overtime costs within the fire fund between $2 and $3 million, annually.

No firefighters will lose his or her job. Additional staffing will be added to the nine stations in emergency situations.

The Kern County Firefighters Local 1301 released the following statement on the KCFD staff reductions:

The 500 members of the Kern County Firefighters Union want be perfectly clear that we STRONGLY OPPOSE the cuts to the KCFD that are slated to be implemented on Monday, January 16th.

As a result, reducing our staffing from three Firefighters to two at nine different Kern County fire stations, public safety is being put at risk. This is something that the Kern County Firefighters cannot support.

Over the past few years, a decrease in revenue has led to budget cuts throughout Kern County. Unfortunately, in the past budget year, the KCFD absorbed an $11 million dollar cut, while all other County Departments COMBINED absorbed a cut of $15.3 million dollars.

The decision made on January 10th to further cut staffing in the KCFD was a misguided attempt to further address our County’s budget shortfalls.

Nationally accepted guidelines strongly recommend that each fire department apparatus be staffed with a MINIMUM of four sworn Firefighters. There are a number of reasons for this recommendation, but it is primarily based on both public and firefighter safety.

Despite the nationally accepted staffing guidelines, the KCFD has been operating with only three Firefighters at most of our fire stations for many years now. Now, going from three Firefighters to just two is a staffing scenario that is simply unacceptable for our Firefighters and the public that we serve.

It is extremely dangerous and very rare for fire departments in California to operate with two-man crews. Kern County is about to enter extremely unsafe territory.

Last July, former Kern County CAO John Nilon stated that the County has approximately $180 million dollars in our various reserve funds. It is simply unconscionable to implement these massive, unprecedented cuts to our fire department that will immediately put Kern County lives in jeopardy while we have a healthy reserve fund that could be utilized to maintain proper staffing in our fire stations.

In 2016, Kern County experienced our worst fire season in history. The Erskine Fire was one of the largest and most destructive fires in all of California. In addition, our Firefighters battled the Deer Fire, the Fort Fire, the Onyx Fire, and countless others throughout Kern County.

To implement cuts to the KCFD, just months after some of the most destructive and devastating fires in the history of our County, is not only misguided – it’s dangerous.

The Kern County Firefighters Union strongly encourages the Kern County Board of Supervisors to reconsider and reverse these dangerous cuts to our Fire Department. They will put the public and our Firefighters at severe risk. This is a gamble with human life that nobody in Kern County should accept.