– CHICO – The Chico Fire Department folded the engine company at Fire Station 3 in order to deal with a $1.3 million budget cut it was directed to make as the city grapples with a $4.8 million deficit. Commercial flights not affected because one fire officer will be there
The fire company at the Chico Municipal Airport is closed as of 8 a.m. today, Fire Chief James Beery announced Monday afternoon. The closure will not disrupt commercial flights, however, as a Federal Aviation Administration-certified fire officer will be assigned to the station, thus meeting FAA requirements.
The alternative to closing Station 3 entirely was presented by the Chico Firefighters Association Local 2734 Firefighters, Beery said. The association worked with management to come up with the “best scenario” it could, said Chuck Fry, fire apparatus engineer and Chico International
Association of Firefighters representative. City Manager Brian Nakamura is reportedly aware of the change and he isn’t opposed to it, Beery said. “There hasn’t been any direction at this time from staff or council to implement the cuts for this fiscal year that we’re currently in,” Fry said. “So we decided that we needed to come up with an alternative so we can start implementing cuts now …” The clock is ticking and money is being spent, Beery said. The longer it’s put off, the harder it becomes to meet the budget come June 30, 2014.
Having only one person working the station will save the CFD about $2,500 a day, Beery said. That’s not enough. The CFD needs to be saving about $3,500 a day, Beery added.
It’s a positive step, but it’s not going to fix the department’s budget, Beery said. The cut sustained equals the closure of a fire station and right now it’s only closing two-thirds. Although Beery agreed on having one firefighter, there are safety concerns, he said.
“It’s not something that I want to do,” Beery said. “It’s not something that I recommend. It’s something we have to do at this point.” There will be one officer for each shift that will be at Fire Station 3 in case of an emergency and to keep Aircraft Rescue Firefighting apparatus up and running, Fry said. Currently, there are three people that work each 48-hour shift.
It’s a less than ideal situation and there’s only so much one person can do, but it’s something the CFD can do right away, Fry said. The CFD is still developing policies and procedures for the fire officers at Fire Station 3, Fry said.
“We’re going to have tight controls on what that firefighter can do,” Beery said. “If they (fire officers) think they can make a difference, they will go on the line – put the controls on paper that say, ‘don’t go crazy.'” If there’s an incident at the airport, there will be a full response from the Fire Department like there is now, Beery said. However, less people means it’s going to be less safe.
“It’s not the big yellow truck out there that takes care of it,” Beery said. “It’s the people on the yellow truck … It’s the people that staff it, not the equipment that make the difference.” Chico Fire Station 3, although technically open, will not respond to medical emergencies, fires or rescues in north Chico or elsewhere, Beery said. There will be a person around the clock, but he’s not leaving airport grounds.
There’s a business community that works near the airport that depends on Fire Station 3, but the engine will not be available to respond, Fry said. The next closest engine will have to go, and there will likely be a time delay.
Beery remains adamant that the safest move is to completely close Station 3, he said. “I know what’s best and this isn’t it,” he said. “What is best? Close the station.”
Editorial: Chico airport will survive after all
The Chico (CA) Enterprise-Record
Our view: In the best of a bunch of bad options, closing the Chico fire
station at the airport makes the most sense.
Despite scare tactics about ending commercial flights at the Chico Municipal Airport if the Chico Fire Department were forced to close the station there, Fire Station 3 has indeed closed and United Express is still in business.
We hate to say “We told you so,” so we’ll refrain.
Last month, when asked to cut 10 percent of the Fire Department’s budget to help the city solve a multimillion-dollar deficit, Fire Chief Jim Beery said he would have to close one station – and that would be Fire Station 3 at the airport. He said that would result in the end of commercial service at the airport, because federal regulations require that a fire engine be on hand for the arrival or departure of any commercial flight.
We argued in a July 3 editorial that closing Station 3 would be the best of the bad options. We said it was “an exaggeration” that commercial flights would end and offered some alternatives, such as asking other stations to cover the three arrivals and three departures a day.
We also pointed out that the Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t require a staffed fire station on airport property. It requires only that a certificated person and rescue unit be on standby 15 minutes before and 15 minutes after each arriving or departing commercial flight.
Beery resigned the day the editorial appeared. He’ll be gone by the end of the month. On Monday, nearly two weeks after that editorial, he announced the station would close and that he’d do exactly what the editorial suggested – place one certificated person and rescue unit there, and close the rest of the station.
Certainly Beery knew that was an option, but it’s becoming too common for local governments – following the federal government’s sequester lead – to present the worst option to upset the taxpayers, and perhaps angle for a tax increase.
Beery said closing Station 3 won’t be enough to reach the city manager’s 10 percent request. But it’s a good start. If he (or the future chief) is looking for other places to save money, perhaps firefighters can pay their own share of their pensions, rather than having the city pay the employee share. Or perhaps the city can staff each station with one fewer firefighter and eliminate habitual overtime.
Or perhaps the city can examine contracting medical services to Butte County EMS. That would mean fire crews would still respond to fire and rescue operations, such as house fires or car accidents, but wouldn’t respond to “shortness of breath” calls or other medical aid requests you hear all day long on the emergency scanner.
If none of that works, there’s always the option of contracting the entire department to Cal Fire, which handles other cities, such as Paradise, Gridley and Biggs.
Sure, none of these outcomes is ideal. But when the city is $4.8 million in the red, the ideal was left behind long ago.