Firefighters union claims 'no confidence' in chief

DOWNEY - The Downey Firemen's Association said this week it has "no confidence" in fire chief Lonnie Croom, alleging he "deliberately distorted and misrepresented the facts and figures" contained in a feasibility study prepared by the L.A. County Fire District and presented to the city council last month. The study analyzed the ramifications of disbanding the Downey Fire Department and contracting its fire and paramedic services with L.A. County.

Croom briefed council members on the report on May 16. The city council filed the report and elected not to commission a second, more in-depth study.

Three days later, the Downey firefighters union, DFA Local 3473, voted 49-0 to declare no confidence in Croom.

The vote was announced Wednesday by Dan Rasmussen, a captain with the Downey Fire Department and the union's public information officer.

On May 16, Croom explained to council members the differences between Downey's local approach, which benefits from maximum oversight, dedicated resources, and a customized system, versus the county's regional approach, which highlights shared resources, county-wide programs, and a system that dispatches the closest units regardless of city boundaries.

"In a local approach, we benefit from an efficient use of institutional knowledge -- guys like me who've been here for over 25 years," Croom said at the time. "In the regional approach, you have access to 24 L.A. County fire stations in a five-mile radius -- the closest station responds to the call."

Downey Fire currently utilizes three fire engines, one truck company, and two transport paramedic vans with 18 firefighters on duty every day, Croom said.

However, as a result of a $1.8 million federal grant, fire engine 61, which was taken out of service due to budget cuts, will be reinstated and three new firemen will join the fire department on June 21 for a total of 21 firefighters.

Croom said county fire, based on projections from the 2012-13 fiscal year, proposed two fire engines, one paramedic fire engine, one quint, a combined engine and truck company, and one non-transport paramedic van with 16 firefighters on duty everyday.

In addition, fire prevention positions like plan checker, prevention supervisor, and fire inspector would not be housed in the city, but most likely Cerritos.

Fiscally, the study revealed that county fire service in Downey, based on the 2012-13 fiscal year, would cost nearly $12.1 million compared to the $13.8 million adjusted budget Croom projected for the Downey Fire Department.

Croom said the difference in savings would be roughly the same next fiscal year if the council agreed to contracted services. He also noted that switching to county fire service would result in possible layoffs and demotions of rank for current firefighters.

According to Rasmussen, Croom "knowingly and deliberately distorted and misrepresented the facts and figures contained in the feasibility study in his administrative report to the Downey City give council members reason to halt negotiations."

A letter put out by the fire association also accused Croom's presentation of being "desperate" and "self-serving."

The fire union added that it was "prepared to take all actions available under applicable federal, state and municipal law to ensure that Downey residents will exercise their voting rights to determine which agency can best provide fire and emergency medical services in Downey."

At a special meeting Wednesday to discuss the fire department's emergency medical services (EMS) delivery system, council members defended Croom and offered their support for the three-year fire chief.

"We have confidence in you and your leadership," Councilman Roger Brossmer told Croom from inside the Downey City Library. "Clearly we made the right choice for fire chief."

He called the union vote - and the decision to share its results Wednesday - "another bad decision in a series of bad decisions by the fire union."

Meanwhile, the city council moved forward with a plan to double its number of on-duty paramedics in response to an ever increasing number of medical calls. Today, 84 percent of fire department responses are to medical emergencies.

The city recently hired 12 new firefighters -- two are already in the field -- and all are certified paramedics, officials said.

Adding paramedics will ultimately result in a $720,000 savings to Downey, Croom said.

"We take great pride in having our own fire department and want to continue providing our residents with the highest level of service," said Mayor Mario Guerra. "This proposed service model will double our paramedic units and enhance revenue at the same time. There will now be two paramedic units on every fire engine in the city of Downey."

********** Published: June 6, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 08