“’I’m happy the public is served and the mutual aid deal has been struck,” Truckee Meadows Fire Chief Charles Moore said Wednesday. “That’s a good thing. Despite the emotions that came along with it, the public is going to be served at least for a little while.”
Moore fought for changes to a proposed mutual aid agreement sent to the new fire district by the city — whose elected officials are still showing signs of scorn following the county’s decision to divorce fire services this year. The county’s move put 80 Reno firefighters at risk of losing employment after 10 years of a consolidated fire district. Citing financial woes, the county plowed through a nasty divorce from the city of Reno and stood up the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District on July 1.
Reno City Council members — David Aiazzi being the most outspoken — made it clear the city did not approve of Truckee Meadows’ plan to change a proposed aid agreement.
However, the agreement, which was changed to allow more flexibility for the county fire service to operate, was approved with the caveat that the two entities would meet again in August.
The only Reno council member not to vote was Aiazzi, who stomped out of the chambers prior to the final vote.
One main concern is something called a “true-up,” which will be discussed in August.
At the end of every fiscal year, fire departments’ outstanding costs are addressed and “checkbooks are balanced,” Reno Fire Chief Michael Hernandez said. The city sent the new district a “true-up” bill of just more than $1.1 million to settle costs, he said.
This letter was answered by Truckee Meadows with a letter of its own, stating that the district did not, in fact, owe Reno any money, Moore said.
“We sent a response to what they alleged was a payment for us to make for a million dollars,” Moore said. “We sent our response that basically said, in fact, you owe us money. There needs to be some discussion at the staff level, but ultimately, it’s never gone to the board or the councils. I’m somewhat surprised to see it go to a joint meeting. But nothing surprises me anymore.”
The most significant difference between the two districts centers around the fact that the county has decided to staff its stations with two- or three-man crews while keeping all stations open.
Reno was able, through a two-year federal grant, to keep its stations open with four-man crews, making it the only agency in the region able to enter a burning home under federal standards. Two- and three-man crews cannot enter burning homes until another engine crew arrives.
Aiazzi pounded Moore with questions and comments regarding the decision to divorce the county fire service from the city Tuesday.
“I don’t think you can help me in any event. Mutual aid should be equal,” Aiazzi said. “If one of our stations is empty, you cannot provide us the same service we provide you. You have to wait for a second crew to show up.”
The general consensus among Reno’s elected officials was that Truckee Meadows’ attempt to save money has resulted in a lower level of service. That service would not equal the service Reno fire provides, the reasoning goes, so any mutual aid would not be equal in nature.
The long-awaited joint meeting was hosted by the county and included the Sparks City Council members, however not much was said by any of the Sparks contingent. Sparks elected officials left prior to the end of the meeting.
If a joint meeting is not scheduled in August, the Reno City Council authorized the city manager to send a 30-day termination notice for the mutual aid agreement.
Tuesday’s amendments to the mutual aid agreement included: the addition of Sierra Fire Protection District as a signatory on the agreement in addition to Truckee Meadows district; language related to a fire command officer being on scene of an incident before requesting mutual aid; and provisions clarifying the purpose of mutual aid and the conditions under which it can be utilized.
The “true-ups” in question are a financial reconciliation of the costs associated with the operation of the former consolidated fire department between the Reno Fire Department and the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District for the fiscal years 2009-2010 and 2010-2011. This has been an annual process as it was outlined in the Reno-Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District Interlocal Agreement.
“I think many of them were disrespectful,” Commissioner Bonnie Weber said. “There are decisions made you might not like. I hope we can work together in the future.”
The date for the August meeting has not been set.
“I think it was very productive today and hope next month’s meeting will be productive as well,” Commissioner Kitty Jung said.
For the city of Reno, Hernandez said the mutual aid agreement has no effect on its operations.
“It’s business as usual, as (citizens) expect,” he said. “We have all stations fully staffed and operational. We have off-duty personnel recalled quickly. We’re in a much better position now than we were 12 months ago.”
Even in the face of what many forecasters say will be a disastrous fire season, Hernandez said his crews are ready to go.
“We have continued to train,” he said. “We’re training as we speak … in water rescue, training in hazmat, to fire response. We continue to train and be prepared.”