PINOLE -- The city is scrambling to beef up its fire department staffing, with the imminent jump by three firefighters to the adjacent Rodeo-Hercules Fire District. A fourth is heading to the Vallejo Fire Department.
The moves come as Pinole already was hustling to fill four ¿other firefighter positions under a federal SAFER Grant that is supposed to reopen Station 74 in Pinole Valley, one of two in the city, shuttered since July 2011; the open station, 73, is downtown.
The fire department also is in a leadership transition, as an interim fire chief, Carlos Rodriguez, prepares to take over next month from fire Chief Charles Hanley, who has served in the dual capacities of Pinole and Rodeo-Hercules fire chief since early 2011. Hanley became Rodeo-Hercules' chief in late 2010; his contract with Pinole expires June 30.
Rodriguez previously served as fire chief of Hollister, Visalia and Teton County, Wyo., and most recently, Union City. His first day on the job in Pinole was June 5.
In April, after months of deliberation, Pinole opted to continue running its own municipal fire department rather than contract for service with Rodeo-Hercules.
Pinole firefighters Clinton Ballard, Robert Gelhaus and Jerry Short gave notice June 3 and will start next week with Rodeo-Hercules, where they will work under the same fire chief, Hanley. Steven Dorsey will leave for Vallejo. The resignations come on top of the March 31 retirement of Pinole firefighter Keith Fields.
The hiring of the three Pinole firefighters by Rodeo-Hercules while Hanley heads both agencies did not sit well with Pinole Mayor Debbie Long.
She said she is not aware of anything in Hanley's contract that would address the hiring issue but added: "I don't think it was the honorable thing to do."
"Because (Hanley) is serving both agencies, he would have to represent both of our interests equally," Long continued. "He should have waited until he ended his tenure as Pinole's chief."
Hanley, in an email Friday, explained that the Rodeo-Hercules board had authorized him to fill three positions that had been vacated because of retirements.
"The Pinole firefighters were among the most qualified," Hanley said. "The timing is due to the length of time it takes to complete a criminal background check and medical examination.
"The Fire District does not discriminate in its employment practices as it relates to hiring the most qualified candidates," Hanley continued. "The filing and screening to fill these positions began early this year."
Pinole had 14 rank-and-file firefighters at the beginning of the year, plus a battalion chief. The retirement and four departures will leave Pinole with nine rank-and-file firefighters.
"With one station, you need a minimum of 12 (firefighters)," Pinole City Manager Belinda Espinosa said. "Where we have a soft spot is controlling overtime costs."
Twelve firefighters staff one firehouse with four people per shift, as long as no one calls in sick or goes on vacation.
Before the recent wave of resignations, Pinole had been well on its way to hiring three of the four firefighters under the SAFER grant; the three will be hired instead to fill recent vacancies, said Pinole Assistant City Manager Hector De La Rosa.
Espinosa noted that while Pinole has accepted the SAFER grant, it has not implemented it or drawn any of its funds.
"We will revisit the question of the SAFER grant and the opening of Station 74," she said Friday.