Placentia may create its own fire department, breaking away from OCFA

by in News

Frustrated by rising bills from the Orange County Fire Authority, Placentia is poised to consider creating its own fire department and contracting with a private ambulance company for emergency medical services.

The Placentia City Council will discuss the idea on Tuesday, June 4. The proposal comes after detailed research and recommendations from a panel of experts, City Administrator Damien Arrula said Friday, May 31.

It would be a momentous change for Placentia after several decades of contracting with the fire authority, but Arrula said that whatever the council decides, the goal is to provide residents with top quality emergency services while keeping costs manageable.

“We value and appreciate OCFA as a partner and will continue to do so regardless of the decision that’s being made on Tuesday night,” he said, adding, “at the end of the day we need to do what we believe is best for our community.”

The fire authority serves 23 cities in Orange County, with Garden Grove set to join this summer.

Last June, considering fire service cost increases that far outpaced the rest of the city budget, Placentia officials gave the authority the required year’s notice that they might withdraw from the contract.

In the decade since 2009, Arrula said the city saw its bills from OCFA go up nearly 47 percent for the same service while the general fund budget overall rose less than 10 percent and the cost for the city’s police department decreased.

Forming a new department to focus on fire protection, hazmat and rescue services, and hiring Lynch Ambulance for emergency medical and transport services, would carry one-time startup costs projected at $1.5 million. Once established, a typical year of operations would run about $5.7 million, versus the annual $7.4 million the OCFA contract would cost, Arrula said.

The city owns the two fire stations within its boundaries that OCFA operates from now, but would have to purchase equipment and hire staff. One potential cost saving measure would be supplementing professional firefighters with trained reserve personnel, who could move onto the career track as positions open up, Arrrula said.

Because Placentia operates its own police department, it already has 911 dispatchers, so they could handle fire and medical calls rather than transferring them to the fire authority.

If the council chooses the route of a city department, it could take nine months to a year to establish.

Based on the city’s research, Arrula said, the proposal is expected to help reduce costs and response times while also providing more local control over fire and emergency services.

The City Council meets at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 4, in the council chambers at Placentia City Hall, 401 E. Chapman Ave.

The agenda and reports on the fire service proposal can be found at www.placentia.org.