Fire Chief to Present Plan to Guide Department : Government: Report will serve as a blueprint for the county agency, which has been criticized in the past two years over some policies.


Seven months after taking charge of a troubled Ventura County Fire Department, Chief James E. Sewell today will present county supervisors a strategy to lead the agency out of an administrative and fiscal mess.

Two years in the making, the report will serve as a blueprint for defining the agency’s goals and priorities--which include upgrading communications equipment or considering a plan for paramedics on firetrucks, officials said.

“Now we have a general road map, something that will give us direction, yet remain flexible during budget and administration changes,” said Assistant Fire Chief Bob Roper, who wrote most of the plan.


The 440-member department was sharply criticized during much of the past two years for policies an audit called a waste of money. The October, 1993, review concluded that the department was top-heavy in managers and consistently racked up too many hours of overtime.

Roper said he began work on the plan months before Fire Chief George E. Lund abruptly quit last March amid a dispute with county supervisors, who refused to give his agency a share of millions of dollars in voter-approved sales taxes.

The supervisors cited the department’s management problems in their decision to overlook the Fire Department when doling out Proposition 172 tax revenues. Sewell said the strategic plan could change the board’s mind in the next budget season.

“I hope it raises the status of the department in the board’s eyes, but whether that translates to (Proposition) 172 money, I don’t know,” he said. “But we’re a $48-million corporation. When you’re handling that many resources and funds, you need to have a plan about where the department’s been and where it’s going.”


Roper said he began working on the report in 1993, months before the supervisors’ decision to deny the Fire Department any of the sales tax revenue.

“We saw the need for a document to guide us through the future,” Roper said. But, “we moved from a planning mode to a survival mode (during the budget crisis) at that time.”


Fire officials already have cut several managerial positions and tightened overtime in the last year, Roper said.

The strategy to be considered today includes an updated mission statement and numerous objectives the department hopes to accomplish by 2001.

Short-term goals, which the chief hopes to achieve within 18 months, include evaluating a county-run paramedic service, developing a records-management system and finalizing an affirmative action plan.

Over the next 18 to 36 months, the department also will develop plans to pay for new buildings and equipment, review ways to beef up revenues, survey its track record and discuss hiring civilians to perform some tasks.

Within three to six years, Sewell wants to upgrade his communications network, develop long-term planning techniques and initiate a video training program for firefighters.

“It covers just about everything that everybody wanted covered,” Sewell said. “We haven’t started using it as a firm planning tool yet, but we’re already using it to develop next year’s budget.”


Sewell plans to conduct periodic reviews of the plan’s implementation with his staff and update county supervisors on his progress at least once a year.

Capt. Ken Maffei, who heads up the Ventura County Professional Firefighters Assn., said having the strategy in writing will help.

“He does what he says he’s going to do,” Maffei said of Sewell. “If he’s put it down on paper in a plan, I feel pretty confident he’s going to do it.”

Despite having worked without a contract since July, firefighters feel better about the department since Sewell was brought in from San Diego last August, Maffei said.

“The morale is improving,” he said. “He’s gotten some things done that were promised for a long time.”


Sandi Webb, the Simi Valley councilwoman who last year sat on a citizens panel that reviewed Fire Department policies, said the goals and policies cited in the report are overdue.


“Businesses have been doing strategic plans for quite some time,” she said. “But with government entities, it’s still a relatively new concept.”

Webb said she hopes Fire Department officials act on the strategy, rather than simply filing it away.

“Very often, reports are just received and filed,” she said. “But I suspect the things that are action items, like getting new equipment, those have a better chance of getting implemented.”