In 2010, the rural township of Muskingum, Ohio disbanded its fire department after complaints of slow response times and inadequate EMT service. Just last summer, in northern Virginia, the Shenendoah Farms Volunteer Fire Department was dissolved as the local government opted for county fire protection.
Closer to home, Santa Ana reluctantly shut down its fire department in 2012 to help close a $30 million budget deficit. The Santa Ana Fire Department had existed for 128 years.
In fact, all you have to do is search “disband fire department” and Google will spit out no less than 294,000 results. Most efforts to dissolve independent fire departments are last-option attempts by cash-strapped cities to save money by consolidating services with neighboring towns and counties.
Downey’s situation is unique in that it’s the firefighters themselves advocating a switch to L.A. County Fire, claiming they offer superior service and at a cheaper price. For the most part, the Downey community is resisting the move. Downey firefighters are widely regarded as professional, competent and top-notch – a source of pride for our city.
Downey’s charter currently requires that Downey provide staffing for its police and fire departments. In other words, all police officers and firefighters must be employees of the city. Further, the charter requires that any attempt to bring in “alternative methods” for police and fire services – such as the L.A. County Fire Department or Sheriff’s Department – requires a two-thirds approval by Downey voters.
Measure B would change that. Here’s the ballot language: “Shall section 702 of the Charter be amended to remove the requirement that the City shall provide for the staffing of the police and fire departments through its own staff and to remove the requirement that a two-thirds advisory vote is necessary before the City Council may consider alternative methods or agreements for providing police and fire services?”
That is a long and cumbersome way of asking whether you want your rights taken away in determining how emergency services are provided in Downey.
Speaking as a Downey resident, my vote is “no.”
A decision as momentous as potentially hiring L.A. County Fire or even the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department belongs in the hands of voters, not the City Council.
Funding the Downey Fire Department is expensive – its $17.3 million annual budget comprises 24 percent of the city’s total budget – but it’s an expenditure most Downey residents are seemingly willing to pay to maintain control of its own fire department. The same goes with the police department.
There are obvious financial concerns with the Downey Fire Department, not the least of which is how the city will continue to fund nine sworn firefighter positions hired last year through a federal grant. There may also be truth to the Downey Firemen’s Association’s claims that a regional fire approach is best suited for a city like Downey. I’m not a fire suppression expert, so that conversation is negotiable.
But here’s what is not negotiable: Measure B would strip my voting power as a citizen of Downey.
That is not acceptable, and I will vote “no” on Measure B.
Published: May 29, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 07