La Verne Fire Department loses more personnel after funding proposal nixed –

Four firefighters left the La Verne Fire Department in the weeks following the City Council’s decision to forgo a plan to use reserve funds to replenish staffing, and more departures are possible, according to union officials.

The department’s losses include the resignations of two firefighter/paramedics, both of whom were offered positions with the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Acting captain John Connolly (accepted a similar position with a nearby agency, and 27-year engineer John Grapentin retired, the La Verne Firefighters’ Association and department said.

The recent departures widen a hole in the department’s ranks. Currently, the department employs 28, and there are five funded but unfilled positions, according to interim Chief Larry Waterhouse. With current staffing, the city can maintain nine suppression staff per shift, which is below industry standards.

In a Facebook post Wednesday, June 23, the union announced the recent exits from the department and noted another four firefighters are actively seeking work elsewhere. The union in May passed a no-confidence vote against the council after it declined to increase funding to hire additional staff, and it has since held rallies in front of City Hall asking for community support.

“When (City Council members) choose to not adequately fund the fire department, there are real consequences,” the post read.

The council’s rejection of Mayor Tim Hepburn’s proposal to take $1.5 million from reserve funds to hire new fire personnel “was the final straw” for Connolly, the 27-year department veteran said.

Before city leaders made their decision, Connolly said, he and other personnel gave input on ways address issues within the Fire Department, including lack of leadership and recruitment and retention of staff.

“We met with every council member and it really was a glimmer of hope among the department,” Connolly said by phone Wednesday. “But when they said ‘no,’ that was it for me.”

Hepburn and City Manager Bob Russi referred questions to Waterhouse, who said the council’s decision to postpone funding another fire engine is “logical” until results of a Standards of Response Coverage report, which reviews the entire agency and gives feedback, is complete.

The council will begin the analysis process after the Fire Department presents a staff report in July, Waterhouse wrote in an email Thursday, June 24.

Previously, city leaders agreed to let residents have the final say on a possible contract with L.A. County to take over the city’s fire and emergency medical services. However, that vote won’t take place until June 2022. The city and Fire Department recently met with representatives of county fire to clarify cost and service components of their proposal, according to Waterhouse.

“Both of these processes’ are necessary to determine the best future fire service model for the citizens of La Verne,” Waterhouse wrote.

The city is also currently in the process of recruiting a permanent fire chief for the department and two paramedics to staff Station 3 on Esperanza Drive, which was forced to shut down in January 2020 because of inadequate staffing.

Last month, Hepburn proposed staffing a paramedic fire engine company, requiring two more hires to push staffing to 13, and then subsequently increasing that number to 15 and 17 in the following years to reach the industry-standard recommended number of fire personnel needed to tackle building fires.

Council members who rejected the idea said it was not a sustainable solution for a reoccurring expense that would force the city to dip into its reserves.

Andy Glaze, the union’s president, said he doesn’t buy that argument, citing the city’s recent decision to approve $90,000 on a public relations firm to help with communications. If Hepburn’s proposal was approved, he said, it would take months to hire staff.

“For us, it’s a safety issue but they want to make it a money issue, that’s how far apart we are right now,” Glaze said by phone Tuesday.

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