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Firefighters: Cuts could put public at risk

By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald Correspondent
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Rocklin’s Firefighters Union and some citizens are concerned continued cost-saving measures are putting the city’s public safety at risk. The city recently directed the Rocklin Fire Department to reorganize staff to reduce overtime by $100,000. “Public safety is not where you cut corners,” said Firefighters Union President Captain Rick Holmes. In July, three apprentice firefighter positions were eliminated from the department. Even so, Fire Chief Bill Mikesell said his department is sharing cost-saving measures with every city department. “It is a very tough time,” Mikesell said. “The council who represents the citizenry has made the decision that we’re not going to be exempt from these cuts. We are going to use whatever means we have to use to reduce our overtime costs.” Concerned Rocklin resident Leann Quinn said the city needs to focus on public safety especially in hard times. “I don’t think they need to be cutting the fire departments, especially for emergency services,” Quinn said. “It puts public safety at risk.” Vice Mayor Scott Yuill who reluctantly voted, “yes” on the Aug. 29 overtime proposal, said public safety is not at risk because the fire department will control what savings the city will actually earn, if any. “Chief Mikesell and his team will organize staffing in such a way that it creates the least impact on public safety and the safety of his team,” Yuill said.  Mikesell said overtime is used to cover vacancies caused by injuries, vacation and sick time. “That sounds very simple,” Holmes said. “But what people don’t understand is we are so understaffed, anytime someone takes off, it has to be filled with overtime.” Mikesell said he’s still considering when to roll out an option to occasionally reduce fire personnel at Fire Station No. 3 from three to two. He said crews at No. 3 handle only 20 percent of the total calls for service. Fire Captain Martin Holm said the move may backfire by creating more injuries. “You tend to take short cuts when you only have two people and don’t have enough hands to do what needs to be done,” Holm said. Holmes said the city needs to hear from the citizens if the council is going to get the message. “If they are willing to sacrifice public safety this early (in the recession) it is going to get worse,” Holmes said. “If the citizens don’t stand up and say, ‘this is not right,’ they are going to continue to decrease the service levels in this city. That’s a scary thought.” Yuill said citizens need to remember the council is routinely updated by fire department activities and adjustments can always be made if there is a “significant safety degradation.”