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 One, Firefighter Pay and Benefits

In June 2019 the City of Placentia, in a 3-1 council vote, decided to leave the Orange County Fire Authority and build their own fire department. The reasons for this decision, and the means to accomplish it, will be explored in greater detail in a follow up article. But the decision came down to this: a majority of members of the city council believed that they could build a fire department of equal or greater effectiveness, at an equal or lessor cost.

The consequences of this decision are significant. How Placentia manages their independent fire department could inspire other cities currently being served by OCFA to withdraw from their contracts and also build their own fire departments. Placentia’s experience may also inspire cities in Orange County that already have independent fire departments to renegotiate the terms of the collective bargaining agreements they’ve made with their firefighter unions.

The Orange County Fire Authority, or OCFA, originally served the cities of Cypress, Irvine, La Palma, Los Alamitos, Placentia, San Juan Capistrano, Tustin, Villa Park, and Yorba Linda, along with unincorporated areas of Orange County. Since then, new cities have incorporated, and existing cities have decided to choose OCFA services over managing their own fire department. These additional client cities are Aliso Viejo, Buena Park, Dana Point, Garden Grove, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Woods, Lake Forest, Mission Viejo, Rancho Santa Margarita, San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano, Santa Ana, Seal Beach, Stanton, Tustin, Villa Park, Westminster, and Yorba Linda.

So how […] Read More