MORAGA -- A suggestion to address yet another budget shortfall and more than $80 million in pension and health care debt by reducing staffing levels is being pondered by Moraga-Orinda Fire District officials, and they're looking to residents for input.
The district already has a few preliminary ideas, though. During a public workshop last week ¿in Moraga, interim fire Chief Stephen Healy floated plans for potential staffing reductions; if approved, the district would reduce daily emergency staffing from about 19 captains, engineers and firefighter/paramedics to 17. No fire stations would close, according to the plan.
Directors called last week's discussion a "starting point," and took no immediate action. They also said they don't plan to make any decisions at the next public workshop, in Orinda Oct. 16.
"This is an information-gathering session. It is simply a presentation by the staff to the board and to the community of options and alternatives," said director Fred Weil.
The district currently operates one full-time ambulance staffed by two firefighter-paramedics at Station 45 in downtown Orinda, and another full-time ambulance at Station 41 on Moraga Road in Moraga.
A third ambulance, operated by a "cross-staffed" crew comprised of one paramedic and two emergency medical technicians, is located at Station 44 on Orchard Road in Orinda. The district also has one reserve ambulance.
Healy's preferred service model would keep what he called the district's "busiest" full-time ambulance in Moraga, where it would pick up some calls in south Orinda.
Officials would replace the full-time ambulance in downtown Orinda with a cross-staffed ambulance, operated by a mix of firefighters and paramedics, and add another cross-staffed ambulance at a station on Via Las Cruces, for a total of three cross-staffed ambulances in Orinda. The moves would require the purchase of an additional ambulance, estimated at $170,000.
Healy said the changes would provide good distribution between the two communities and maintain firefighting presence in north Orinda, near the Caldecott tunnels, BART and the freeway.
Residents also had ideas for how the district can cut costs, including providing paramedic training for all firefighters, lengthening the workweek, instituting across-the-board pay cuts.
Director Steve Anderson. who asked for new ideas and not for a rehashing "a litany of woes" from the past, wrote down a handful of ideas -- including increasing a special district tax in Moraga for capital equipment and facility needs -- that he said he would "digest."
Healy said any direct changes to the staffing model will be discussed with district employees during ongoing contract negotiations. While the current contract calls for 19 daily staffers, it does include an option for a 17-member staffing model based on the district's finances. MOFD has operated with a 17-staffer model in the past.
While he did not comment at Wednesday's meeting, Local 1230 President Vince Wells said in a separate interview that firefighters understand the seriousness of the district's situation.
"We are willing to sit down with the fire district to come up with a way to get through it and maintain service levels," Wells said. "I don't think we would dispute that there are financial concerns."
The budget trouble may also be having an effect on hiring a new fire chief to replace former fire chief Randy Bradley who left the district in July. The board has been discussing the position in closed session, and an ad hoc fire chief selection committee comprised of two board members has also been meeting, but has made no public progress reports.
"The budget process is impacting the chief selection process," Anderson said in an e-mail, but did not elaborate.