Eliminating volunteer firefighter positions and replacing them with a reserve program would prove disastrous to Riverside County's already battered budget, claims a group formed to save the volunteers.
All anyone need do to see proof of this, they say, is to look down the road to Orange County.
The Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) eliminated its volunteer firefighter program in 1998 and immediately replaced it with a reserve program. The reserves have been fraught with problems ever since, including recruitment, retention, response times and training issues.
Responding to a six-month report that exposed continuing problems with the reserves, the board for the cash-strapped OCFA on Thursday is expected to eliminate reserve units in 11 fire stations across the county, representing about 245 positions.
Riverside County'sSave Our Volunteer Firefighters
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blames meddling by special interests with the original elimination of a damn-fine volunteer firefighter program in Orange County--and claims the same is now afoot in the inland county.
The Riverside County Board of Supervisors was scheduled last Tuesday to vote on an ordinance brought by Fire Chief John Hawkins, and spurred by a county grand jury recommendation, to establish a reserve program. Due to the rancor the matter has produced, the board--which already delayed a vote before--decided to wait another 60 days.
Save Our Volunteer Firefighters maintains the program Hawkins is pushing for is modeled after Orange County's troubled reserve program, which the current OC budget shows gobbles up $3.6 million or $12,396 per reserve firefighter. That, Save Our Volunteer Firefighters claims, compares to a current budget of $663,931 or $1,327 per volunteer firefighter in Riverside County.
"It's just fiscally irresponsible to eliminate a valuable and efficient volunteer firefighter program," says Tim Young, vice chairman of the Riverside County Volunteer Firefighters Association, in a statement. "Our county shouldn't embark on a journey into the unknown with a program that our neighboring county has shown to be completely unmanageable with a runaway budget."