Yolo County News

Davis considers tapping university fire chief for double duty

The Davis City Council will vote today on whether to have UC Davis’ fire chief also oversee the city’s fire department in a proposed cost-saving move.

Under the shared management agreement proposed by Davis City Manager Steve Pinkerton, UC Davis Fire Chief Nathan Trauernicht would lead the two departments for at least a year. The city would add two deputy chiefs to run day-to-day operations and lead fire training.

The moves, Pinkerton says in his report to council, would save the city an estimated $78,000 and as much as $250,000 if higher-ranking Davis division chiefs are moved out of the city’s more costly benefits plan, onto the university’s payroll and folded into UC Davis’ benefits plan. A benefits package for the city’s division chief position costs the city about $48,000 more than the university pays for its employees.

While a merger between the campus and city fire departments was under consideration, employee costs for city fire staff appeared to make that difficult for UC Davis. The university would have taken on more than $1.3 million in annual costs in a merger, much of that a result of the city’s benefits package, according to city documents.

The council will consider tapping UC Davis’ fire chief as the city remains in a labor dispute with its rank-and-file firefighters. An agreement has yet to be reached on a labor contract months after the city declared a bargaining impasse in April. A permanent fire chief isn’t in place – though Trauernicht would move into the job if council members approve the shared management pact.

In January, Davis Police Chief Landy Black and Assistant Police Chief Steve Pierce stepped in to manage the fire department. They replaced interim Fire Chief Scott Kenley, who came out of retirement but could no longer serve due to state rules limiting how many hours he could work.

In July, Davis’ firefighters union soundly rejected Black and Pierce with “no confidence” votes, saying that their chief should have fire experience.

Blue-shirted city firefighters, members of Davis’ Professional Firefighters Association Local 3494, showed up en masse at the last City Council meeting two weeks ago and took to the streets with pickets at the beginning of the month to rally against possible staffing cuts and planned relocating of the city’s fire station at Fifth and E streets.

Calls to Local 3494 were not returned Monday.

Trauernicht on Monday called the proposed agreement an example of good government, saying the plan expands on the two agencies’ partnership and builds on the relationship between city and university.

“UC Davis and Davis Fire already work heavily together,” Trauernicht said, adding later, “We can function as one department without being fully merged.”

Pinkerton, in his report, pointed to ways the university and city fire departments work together.

They have lifted their respective boundaries so that the closest engines, regardless of agency, are dispatched to service calls. A UC Davis division chief oversees training of UC Davis and Davis city firefighters, along with West Sacramento and Woodland firefighters out of the West Valley Regional Fire Training Consortium. And, in 2012, Davis began providing duty coverage for Davis and UC Davis fire departments.

“At the end of the day, it’s (the council’s) decision,” Trauernicht said. “No matter which way it goes, we’re ready if they believe it’s in the best interests of the community.”