Four years ago, when a battalion chief position became vacant at the Brea Fire Department, the city managers of Brea and Fullerton put their heads together to come up with a novel idea:
Why not have an existing battalion chief at Fullerton Fire assume the extra duties in Brea?
After all, with six fire stations in Fullerton and four in Brea, the extra work for the Fullerton battalion chief didn’t seem too onerous.
An informal agreement to do just that was sealed with a handshake.
That pact in 2011, the result of city managers from Brea, Fullerton and other north Orange County cities looking at ways to share services, formally was renewed in 2014 for five years, and has grown to include a handful of other fire command staff members.
A savings to date of about $5 million for residents of Fullerton and Brea, according to Tim O’Donnell, city manager of Brea. O’Donnell and Fullerton City Manager Joe Felz were instrumental in getting the command staff consolidation agreement created and approved.
“That ($5 million) isn’t hay,” O”Donnell said. “We’ve created efficiencies that go straight to the benefit of the taxpayers.”
In addition to Wolf Knabe, fire chief of Fullerton and Brea, the command staff consolidation agreement includes five other top-level fire service officials who oversee both cities, including deputy chiefs in charge of operations, training, support services and administration.
A total of six positions have been eliminated as a result of the command staff merger, with nine fire service officials now splitting their duties between both cities.
This sharing of fire department command staff resources is saving about $700,000 a year for Fullerton and $500,000 for Brea, Knabe said.
“This is all about operational and economic efficiencies and effectiveness,” Knabe said.
Fullerton Fire has a total payroll of 93 positions and Brea 40. Fullerton Fire receives about 13,000 calls for service a year, and Brea Fire about 4,800.
Following the success of the command staff consolidation agreement, both cities are in the process of looking into a merger of their entire fire agencies into a single entity.
Recent state legislation has cleared the way for such a joint powers agreement, and if it happens, Fullerton and Brea would be the first cities in the state to merge their fire agencies following the approval, in 2014, of SB 1251, which amended a section of state government code relating to public employees’ retirement.
“We’re in the process of looking into it now,” Knabe said. “Whether it comes to fruition, we’re not sure yet.”