As of Wednesday, July 1, Placentia’s new Fire and Life Safety Department begins service, making the city the first to quit the Orange County Fire Authority and strike out on its own.
While the change signals the end of Placentia’s more than 23-year relationship with OCFA, officials with both agencies said the city and surrounding communities can still expect a prompt response to 911 calls or any situation requiring fire fighting or medical aid.
OCFA spokeswoman Colleen Windsor said the authority and Placentia’s department have spent several weeks preparing for the hand-off, which officially is set for 8 a.m. Wednesday.
“The transition will be completely seamless to the public,” she said. “When Placentia Fire takes over, they will see no disruption to service or response to emergencies.”
Placentia Fire Chief John “Pono” Van Gieson said the two agencies have worked closely with each other to prepare for the change, and his staff will be at the city’s two fire stations early Wednesday, ready to start taking calls.
The switch is taking place because a year ago, the Placentia City Council voted to end its OCFA contract and form its own department after seeing cost increases city leaders said were unsustainable.
The new city agency will respond to fire and medical calls in the city, and it will provide aid for calls to an unincorporated county island inside city limits, as well as to Fullerton and other neighboring cities.
The department is expected to save money in part by contracting with the private Lynch Ambulance to assist with medical calls, which make up the vast majority of most fire departments’ service requests. Placentia also projects savings from supplementing career firefighting staff with part-time and reserve staff, who also are trained and have the necessary certifications.
Critics, including OCFA Chief Brian Fennessy and the union representing OCFA firefighters, have repeatedly argued that Placentia’s model would provide an inferior service to what city residents have been getting and would end up forcing neighboring cities to subsidize Placentia by providing aid.
Placentia officials have said residents will get the same caliber of service, but a key difference is that OCFA sends a fire engine (staffed with firefighter-paramedics) to nearly all calls, while the city department will send Lynch’s ambulances to medical calls, with one or more of the city’s three fire vehicles assisting if needed.
Under OCFA, each of Placentia’s two stations was equipped with an engine staffed by a firefighter, an engineer, and a captain and firefighter who are both certified as paramedics, Windsor said. Until recently, the Valencia station also housed a smaller truck company with four personnel, but OCFA had planned to move it to Yorba Linda after a 2016 contract change; Windsor said the truck is now in operating in Yorba Linda.
Van Gieson said the city’s engine will reside at the Bradford Avenue station, and its quint (smaller than an engine but can pump water and provide ladders and other equipment) will be at the Valencia station. Each vehicle will be staffed by three career firefighters and one trained reserve firefighter. The city’s daily staffing also includes Van Gieson and a battalion chief.
Two Lynch ambulances, each with two paramedics aboard, will be on call at all times, stationed near where call volumes are expected to be high. A smaller vehicle known as a patrol or mini-pumper, also at the Valencia station, is expected to be staffed up to 12 hours a day during peak times by part-time firefighters, who may also pick up shifts when full-time employees take time off, Van Gieson said.
While Placentia firefighters will start responding to calls Wednesday, the city plans to evaluate the stations for any needed repairs or upgrades before completely moving in. A trailer will provide temporary sleeping quarters at the Valencia station, and Bradford station staff will be housed in the adjacent old city hall, Van Gieson said.
Placentia now has an aid agreement with Fullerton’s fire department and is hoping to sign such agreements with other neighboring agencies, but even without those agreements in place, officials have said no emergency call will go unanswered.
Source: Orange County Register