ORINDA -- The number of firefighters and paramedics staffing the Moraga-Orinda Fire District on a daily basis will shrink in an attempt to address a budget deficit.
Directors voted unanimously to trim on-duty daily minimum staffing from 19 firefighters, captains and engineers to 17 after a public workshop Wednesday in Orinda. Staffing on "red flag" or high fire danger days would also be reduced, but the number of chief officers on duty would not be affected.
None of the district's 59 firefighting and emergency staffers will be laid off, but the district could still save up to $73,000 a month.
Exactly how staffers and emergency resources such as ambulances will be deployed is being left up to fire Chief Stephen Healy. The board agreed not to choose between two suggested staffing models discussed at the Orinda workshop and a workshop held earlier this month in Moraga.
"We're leaving it to the chief," said Director Fred Weil after urging his colleagues not to delay a decision on the reduction. "It will be about what the chief defines as being the model he wants to put in place."
Public discussions of the new staffing model are expected to follow meetings with firefighters, who have been negotiating new contracts for the past three years. The current contract -- which calls for 19 daily staffers -- includes an option for a 17-member staffing model based on the district's finances.
The decision not to specify a staffing model came despite a warning from United Professional Firefighters Local 1230 President Vince Wells that such an action would complicate negotiations.
Earlier, firefighters urged directors to hold off making any staffing changes until overtime costs are reduced once nine new hires are fully brought on line.
In addition to the $950,000 general fund deficit and $80 million in pension and health care debt, the district has budgeted $1.5 million this year in overtime costs, despite receiving a federal grant for the hiring of four additional firefighter/paramedics.
Healy has recommended keeping the busiest full-time ambulance in Moraga and replacing the district's other full-time ambulance in Orinda with a "cross-staffed" ambulance whose crew would also operate a fire engine when necessary.
An alternate model that would have placed a full-time ambulance at a station in Orinda and replaced Moraga's full-time ambulance with cross-staffing was not recommended due to space issues at the Orinda station.
Firefighter Anthony Perry asked the board to wait a few months before taking that action.
"Don't do anything," he said. "Before we reduce service to Orinda, let's cut every other penny everywhere else we can."
Orinda City Councilwoman Victoria Smith said in an interview that she, fellow Councilwoman Sue Severson and City Manager Janet Keeter plan to meet with the chief to discuss service options and get more information.
"I'm unclear as to why the district would choose to put the one dedicated ambulance at the farthest region of the district instead of in between," Smith said about Healy's recommended option. "I really don't understand that."
More difficult decisions could also be on the horizon. "This is probably just one of the things we're going to have do," said district Director Alex Evans. "I fear that all of the additional things we might have to do could in fact be much worse."