Placentia’s Independent Fire Dept Saves Millions and Improves Service

On July 1, 2020, the City of Placentia formally terminated its contract with the Orange County Fire Authority, where the average operations employee in 2018 collected pay and benefits in excess of $241,000. Seeking to create a new model that reduced these unaffordable levels of pay and benefits, as well as made more efficient use of personnel, and despite bitter opposition from the firefighters union, the City Council spent the year prior to July 2020 designing and building an independent fire department.

With over three months of operations now behind them, it is possible to review early results of Placentia’s experiment. According to the city’s “final quarterly update” on Placentia’s Fire and EMS Services, released on October 20th, in their first three months of operation, the new independent fire department serviced 40 percent more daily calls than the prior year with OCFA, reduced local response times by over 3 minutes when compared to OCFA, and reduced the need for mutual aid from neighboring cities by 85 percent.

One of the ways Placentia accomplished this was by using ambulances and paramedic squad units to respond to medical emergencies instead of 55,000 pound fire trucks. To further reduce response times, the city also invested in emergency vehicle traffic signal preemption devices through major intersections. To reduce costs, in addition to relying on ambulances for strictly medical calls, the city contracted with part-time firefighters and fully trained reserve volunteers instead of paying overtime to fill absences and vacancies. The city also […] Read More

Firefighting in Orange County – Part Two, Building An Independent Fire Dept

On July 1 the City of Placentia will begin to operate a fire department independent of the Orange County Fire Authority. The motivation for the Placentia’s City Council to take this step was to provide equal or greater service at a lower cost. In this report, those cost savings will be summarized. The figures cited in this report were gathered using 2018 payroll data provided to the state controller, budget documents available from the City of Placentia, as well as via numerous conversations with local elected officials, city staff, and outside consultants familiar with the project.

Providing these estimated savings in a format detailed enough to be useful, yet brief enough to be readily absorbed by policymakers and interested observers, required use of assumptions and projections which are open to interpretation. This is freely acknowledged, and readers are invited to offer alternative interpretations as well as any information that may have been incorrect or overlooked. Taking all of that into account, however, it appears clear that Placentia will save significantly over the next several years by forming an independent fire department.

The first step in understanding how much Placentia will save is to consider what Placentia was paying to the Orange County Fire Authority in the most recent fiscal year which ends this June 30. In the first chart, below, these costs are estimated. The first set of rows shows the average annual pay in 2018, by category of pay, for OCFA’s four primary operating positions. How these pay averages […] Read More