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

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