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Fullerton considers joining Orange County Fire Authority

During a study session on January 18, representatives from the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) presented a proposal for Fullerton to join this regional fire service. This would mean the end of the over 100-year-old Fullerton Fire Department as an entity. No decision was made, but the Fullerton City Council asked for the item to be brought back at a future meeting with analysis and cost comparison.

According to the proposal, joining OCFA would result in a cost savings to Fullerton of around $28 million over the next four years.

Cost comparisons from a presentation by OCFA.

The proposal also includes a nearly $1.6 million start-up cost. Also, current unfunded pension liability (for retired firefighters) would stay with the City. A member of the public asked if the 2021/22 costs would be lower since the City would be getting less than a full year of service. This question was not answered.

The OCFA serves 23 cities and Orange County unincorporated areas. It serves two million residents in 587 square miles. It has 77 fire stations throughout the region.

Map of OCFA service area from a presentation given to City Council.

The OCFA is governed by a Board of Directors that includes one council member from each city. There are two types of members: 1) Structural Fire Fund Members (16), who are funded through property taxes that go directly to the OCFA and, 2) Cash Contract Cities (8) that pay monthly membership fees to the OCFA. Fullerton would be a cash contract city.

The other cash contract cities are Buena Park, Garden Grove, San Clemente, Santa Ana, Seal Beach, Stanton, Tustin, and Westminster.

Under an OCFA contract, Fullerton would receive all the fire and emergency services that this regional body provides.

As a member of OCFA, all Fullerton Fire Department sworn employees would be allowed to transition to the new department, conditional on background and pre-employment medical checks. Non-sworn personnel would be hired based on vacancies and OCFA needs.

Deployment comparison from a presentation by OCFA.

As a member of the OCFA, ownership of Fullerton’s six fire stations would remain with the City. The proposal would keep all six fire stations open and fully operating. Fullerton will lease the fire stations and the training tower to the OCFA for the nominal fee of $1.00 per year for each station.

The City will lease all current fire department vehicles and apparatus to the OCFA at no cost.

Under the proposal, Fullerton will be responsible for all maintenance, repair, and alterations considered a capital improvement (any single project that exceeds a cost of $15,000). The OCFA will utilize the yearly facility maintenance charge of $90,000, which is part of the contract costs, to cover any repairs that may arise.

The OCFA contract would be for 20 years with an option to withdraw after ten years.

Dan Lancaster, president of Fullerton Firefighters Association, called the proposal “a big step toward a brighter future for our fire service in the city of Fullerton….Your fire department is struggling right now, and we don’t have long until more firefighters are lost to surrounding agencies. We need your help to get back on track to better serve this community.”

Brian Fennessy, fire chief for Orange County Fire Authority, acknowledged that the proposed change may be difficult for “the thousands of firefighters who have worked for the city of Fullerton over the decades” yet spoke of the benefits of regionalization of fire services.

Fullerton’s Fire Department began in 1908. To read a history of the department click HERE.

Mayor Fred Jung said that before making a decision, he would like to reach out to the other cash contract cities.

“We need to have all the data points. We need side-by-side comparisons of what our true costs are and that of the OCFA proposal,” Jung said.

Due to COVID protocols, members of the public were only allowed to comment via Zoom during the study session. Prior to the presentation, Jane Rands asked whether the public would have an opportunity to ask questions after the presentation. She received no answer, and the public did not have the opportunity to speak or ask questions after the presentation.

City Council asked staff to come back with a more detailed analysis and side-by-side comparison of Fullerton Fire Department vs. OCFA services for a future meeting.

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