Sparks Fly at City Council Debate over Setup of ‘Volunteer’ Fire Brigade
• One Member Says Professional Firefighters Aren’t Enough
BY BILL KOENEKER
BY BILL KOENEKER
The Malibu City Council meeting got a little heated this week when members were told Los Angeles County Fire Department officials were not going to recommend Malibu create what is likened to a quasi-volunteer fire department, a Call Firefighter Program.
The program is described as an integral part of the department’s emergency services delivery system serving the rural and remote areas of the county. The firefighters work on a part-time basis, as needed for all types of emergencies. They are trained and paid.
Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich called on Malibu to create its own volunteer department and had asked city and county staffers to provide feedback.
Fire department spokesperson Marie Grycan told council members the battalion chief and captain saw no reason for Malibu to have its own program.
That seemed to set off Conley Ulich and Councilmember Ken Kearsley who peppered Grycan with questions about the denial.
Conley Ulich, who insists the matter is one of protecting lives, urged council members to question the opinions of lower ranking officials and appeal directly to the head of the county fire department Michael Freeman or the county board of supervisors.
“People will die if they don’t get training. I want to make sure people are protected,” she said.
Kearsley wanted to know how and why Topanga has a program and not Malibu.
Grycan said Topanga has one fire station serving 20,000 people, as opposed to Malibu, which has four stations within its city boundaries serving fewer residents. “It is not just a matter of training,” Grycan responded.
Grycan attempted to continue the department’s rationale but was cut off several times with more questions and challenges.
The fire department spokesperson told council members there are five firefighters assigned to the call program in Topanga. That the personnel can be assigned anywhere and, in the event of wildland fires, be sent outside the area. Grycan also said the department thinks Topanga is more rural.
Kearsley shot back he wanted to know the parameters for such definitions and the rationale for how the department arrived at these conclusions.
Grycan said that one of the parameters is how long it will take an engine company to arrive on the scene. In Topanga, it is 20 to 30 minutes.
She said the call teams are deployed usually in remote places, such as desert communities like the Leona Valley or Pearblossom, or other distant locales such as Catalina Island.
By contrast, Malibu has four stations in its city limits, another just outside the city on Decker Canyon Road, and two other stations located over the hill in Monte Nido and Agoura Hills.
Kearsley said he was not buying any of that and added that if the department “did the numbers,” the size and remoteness of Malibu would be evident.
Grycan answered, “There are 12 stations in this battalion.”
It was also pointed out that the call firefighters are not ideally suited for wildfires. They can be assigned anywhere and would not necessarily stay at home base.
Another issue the council kept bringing up was about people staying with their homes. “That is another issue,” Grycan said. “If you are talking about training them. Call firefighters won’t fix all of those problems.”
Councilmember Sharon Barovsky then began asking Conley Ulich what kind of program she was seeking. “I am hearing you say the program you want is they could be sent to fight fires in the Antelope Valley? It is ultimately the fire department’s choice. They are the experts. I am the only one that criticized the fire department and got smeared. Topanga has one station and that is such a fire trap,” she said.
Mayor Jeff Jennings asked about the training of the firefighters.
Grycan said they have 64 hours of training during eight Saturdays, Afterward, they are obligated to drill with their engine company one Saturday per month.
Conley Ulich, who at one point insisted the county board of supervisors should be called in to grant Malibu’s request, took a different tack and suggested the key was the backfill of the existing stations during the summer months when fire officials were making many paramedic calls. “These programs would help. It is not about property it is about lives,” Conley Ulich said.
Grycan again answered that the only reason Malibu has four stations is because of the use of the shift in population during the summer months. “The beach traffic is the biggest reason the stations are there,” added Grycan, who emphasized to council members that the department also relies on the paramedic training of the lifeguards, which are then also used as backfill for the stations.
Barovsky said she would support sending a letter to Freeman asking to explore the possibility of meeting with an ad hoc committee to find out the rationale for the department’s decision. Other members agreed and voted unanimously to direct the staff to send off the letter.
In other action, the council heard from Point Dume Marine Science Elementary school children about their drive called Pennies for Peace.
Each of the students spoke for several minutes from a prepared script about why they were embarking on an effort to save pennies for school children in Afghanistan and Pakistan. “The kids do not even have papers or pencils,” one student remarked.
Another student said while pennies have no real meaning in our society a penny saved for their project could buy a pencil or paper.
“A penny cannot buy a gum ball here, but it can buy a pencil there,” another student told council members.
“It gives kids like us a chance to help other kids in other parts of the world,” one student added.