First published in the Nov. 26 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
Burbank Fire Chief Eric Garcia addressed concerns surrounding the Burbank Fire Department’s current firefighter shortage in a report to the City Council last week.
Concerns were raised when the department announced that Engine 12 would temporarily go out of service because of the shortage. Instead, the department will reallocate firefighters from other stations to staff Engine 12.
The department, in partnership with City Council and the city manager’s office, has begun a competitive recruiting process to bring in new staff, and to ensure firefighter retention.
“We currently have a recruitment underway to bring us to full staffing. The BFD, City Council and city manager are working diligently to address the components that will make the BFD more competitive in regard to compensation and benefits. This will begin to help retain and recruit the necessary firefighters within the BFD,” Battalion Chief Dave Burke told the Leader.
Because of the shortage of firefighters, the department faced the risk of “browning out” one of Burbank’s 12 engine companies, temporarily reducing the number of operating fire stations in the city. After concerns were raised about the safety of such a brownout situation, the department revised their decision, choosing to keep all engine companies in service. Now, BFD will reallocate three firefighter positions on three of BFD’s four-person Engine Companies and relocate those employees to achieve the same intent of improving staffing resources across the department.
“This temporary modification will meet the original intent through different means and allow BFD to better serve the community by bringing respite to firefighters and their families. BFD staffing status will routinely be evaluated to ensure BFD is providing the highest level of service to the community,” the department stated in a press release.
According to Burke, the department is losing firefighters because other departments throughout the region offer higher pay and benefits.
“There is a large demand for firefighters in Southern California. The firefighters are leaving for a variety of reasons including compensation and benefits, opportunities in larger departments and proximity to their homes,” Burke said.
Many firefighters travel to Burbank from other cities throughout Southern California in part due to rising housing costs, an issue that Burbank City Council has set out to address by building more affordable housing. The city currently maintains a 3-to-1 daytime jobs to housing ratio.
“We currently have a recruitment underway to bring us to full staffing. The BFD, City Council and city manager are working diligently to address the components that will make the BFD more competitive regarding compensation and benefits,” he added.
A training academy for new firefighters will take place in February, so staffing issues are likely to continue into the new year. Garcia told the council that the department not only lost firefighters, but that they have lost a “tremendous amount of experience.”
He petitioned the council to shift their focus to the recovery of the BFD. “I know that there have been some extraordinary circumstances that have been fiscally challenging for the city of Burbank. … We simply cannot sustain the path that we are on, and I have grave concern for the vitality of the BFD if steps are not taken to correct our retention recruitment challenge,” Garcia told the Council.