Lompoc Fire Chief Kurt Latipow explained at length to the Public Safety Commission his “recommendations for the future of our department.” In a unanimous vote commissioners supported the recommendations Wednesday evening. The fire staff recommendations have, for the most part, been under consideration for several years. The Latipow memorandum is the first solid set of proposals forwarded by the commission since 2007.
Issues to be addressed are the location and design of a new fire station, a seismic engineering study of the aging Station No. 1, funding for three response vehicles, and a recommendation to contract out a Standards of Cover (SOC) analysis. SOC is the ability of a department to respond to emergency demands. The final recommendation is to develop a “work plan to implement the recommendations generated” by the SOC findings.
In 2007 a citizen’s ad hoc committee formed to address issues of police and fire department staffing and funding (the report). For the fire department, response times and overlapping emergency calls were found problematic. The department was responding below national standards, and overlapping calls meant emergency responders were often called in from the county to cover third calls. Paramedic services were found to be inadequate with periods when the city had no ambulances available. Fire department buildings were reported as deficient.
In response, the city contracted with Robert Olson Associates to analyze “fire protection services.” The “Olsen report” came under criticism immediately for its apparent shallow research and mirroring of the citizen’s committee findings. The Latipow memorandum is critical of the Olsen report and recommends a more comprehensive analysis be conducted.
The Olsen findings were “reported in broad and generic terms” and often based on “anecdotal information to arrive at recommendations,” writes Latipow. “Information in the ROA study was presented as a primer focused on basic elementary concepts, and it lacks definite terms for determining effectiveness and accountability.”
Latipow is also critical of other issues and recommends a more comprehensive study to create a viable working plan to improve fire services.
The Olsen report found “department facilities” to be “inadequate.” The memorandum agrees, but the “consultant fails to backup” the recommendation to relocate Station No. 2 to improve response times. Further study is recommended to justify the expenditures needed to build a new station near the city’s airport. Station No. 1 may be at great risk during earthquakes. An engineering consultant is needed to assess the risk and recommend structural improvements.
The Urban Design and Architecture departments at Cal Poly University have expressed an interest in a collaborative effort to provide several design concepts to the city for a new station. This would create a significant savings.
The department has a “surplus” brush fire engine that was purchased from the county several years ago. It has proven less than reliable requiring high maintenance and needs to be replaced, and a command vehicle needs replacement. A high percentage of emergency calls are for medical responses. Rather than having full fire engine complements responding for every medical call, a “quick attack multi-use vehicle” is requested in the memorandum. This concept has been floating for years. Depending on staffing, the vehicle would increase response coverage allowing for three response calls simultaneously.
“The fire department remains committed to providing an extremely high level of service to our community. However, we are at a point where we must take steps to maintain readiness and plan for future demands,” concludes Latipow. “While fire department staff has been able to conduct some preliminary analysis, we do not have the necessary staff time and additional resources required to carry out the level of analysis necessary for a comprehensive Standard of Cover (study).”