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 Three, Placentia’s War for Independence

On July 1, 2020, the City of Placentia’s new Fire and Life Safety Department commenced operations. As documented in the two previous installments of this report, this new and independent department replaced the more expensive services (part one) that had been provided by the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA), and the savings to the small city (part two) are estimated to be over $2.0 million per year.

How Placentia declared independence from OCFA cannot be described by merely summarizing the process followed by the local elected officials, although that is an essential part of the story. The full accounting of their experience has to include their interactions with one of the most powerful public sector unions in Southern California, Local 3631, the union representing the firefighters of OCFA.

During interviews with local elected officials in Placentia and neighboring cities, city employees, and consultants involved in the effort to create the new department, the power of Local 3631 came up repeatedly. How this union used its influence is a story that cannot be ignored in any accurate account of what it took for Placentia to break free of OCFA.

The Timeline to Independence

Back in 2016, faced with a structural budget deficit that had defied previous attempts to remedy, Placentia’s city council formed a “citizens fiscal sustainability task force.” The goal of this committee was to come up with suggestions to make the city financially sustainable over the next few decades. They came back with a handful of […] Read More