Fountain Valley considers changing fire services

The Fountain Valley City Council directed the city staff Tuesday to further study the possibility of drafting a contract with the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) or undergoing a complete or partial merger with the Huntington Beach Fire Department.

The council met in a study session to address aspects of how the city would deliver fire services and how its staff and budget would be affected by a new contract or merger.

"We're not bringing forth a problem," said Fountain Valley Interim Fire Chief Mike Macey. "You have an excellent fire service right now. We're just bringing forth, perhaps, opportunities to look at other options and perhaps increase the service that you're given."

The city began looking at its options at the request of the firefighters' association. Looking at sharing services has been a common trend to save money in light of the economic recession.

If the city opted to maintain the department as is, however, it would need to hire a fire chief, a nurse educator and a training officer, Macey said.

Fountain Valley would save $225,000 a year if it chose to share Huntington Beach's fire chief and $430,000 to $450,000 if it completely consolidated its department with Huntington Beach's.

The OCFA gave Fountain Valley three options. The first would save the city about $1.8 million, the second would trim $10.2 million, and the third would save $6.8 million over a five-year period, according to a city staff report.

While the city would continue to deliver services, merging with Huntington Beach or contracting with OCFA could affect response time and decrease staffing — concerns some council members took issue with.

"The number is not magical to me, because when you provide less personnel, you give us some savings, and I'm deeply concerned about the level of personnel we would have," Councilman Michael Vo said.

Councilmen John Collins and Larry Crandall also expressed concern with the staffing level and response time. They said they worried that their employees would not have the same opportunities for promotions if the city contracted with Huntington Beach.

Fountain Valley Firefighters Assn. President Erin Wright said some in his department might like to keep it as is, but some might like to merge or contract out services. He said at this time, he doesn't have an opinion on which would work best

"All have their own uniqueness," he said about the options.

Darrin Witt, president of the Huntington Beach Firefighters Assn., said if Fountain Valley is worried about the opportunities for its fire employees, the better option would be to contract with the OCFA, which is made for such arrangements. He said his city's department is not built to fully merge with another but only contract some services out.

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