Davis Chief of Police Landy Black has been tasked with temporarily supervising the Davis Fire Department while the city explores a range of options to foment more cooperation and efficiency between the UC Davis Fire Department and the Davis Fire Department.
The appointment, which was made on Jan. 8 by City Manager Steve Pinkerton, follows the departure of Interim Fire Chief Scott Kenley. Kenley left the post because he had reached the maximum number of hours permitted to work for the city as determined by state regulation.
“It makes a lot of sense to merge the public safety departments on a temporary basis during this period of transition and Chief Black was the logical choice to oversee this process,” Pinkerton said.
The appointment is expected to last between six and nine months, during which time the city will comprehensively assess the prospect of shared management to oversee both fire departments.
“We don’t have any prior expectations. We’re considering a range of options and we’ll be using this time constructively so we can reach the outcome that makes the most sense,” Pinkerton said.
The priority for the city is to find a cost-effective management model that encourages greater cooperation, thereby improving response times to emergency calls. Black said he considers his appointment to be a move toward achieving this level of collaboration.
“It reflects that both departments believe there is a lot of lost efficiency by standing separately. It’s not efficient and doesn’t provide the highest-quality service. Our goal is to provide a better service for the people asking for help,” Black said.
It is thought that this level of efficiency can be attained by dropping logistical boundaries that currently exist between the two departments.
“Dropping these boundaries would statistically improve response times to emergencies,” Black said. “We want an operation that enables us to respond in the fastest, most effective way possible while reducing the risk of any serious injury or casualty.”
Discussion over the coming months will focus on the budgetary, staffing, logistical and management considerations before a decision can be made. While the culmination of the projected six- to nine-month period is by no means a strict deadline, it is hoped that a permanent solution will be reached within this timeframe.
“We have to find a solution that everyone will be comfortable with. Our task is to work out the most effective way of delivering public safety services while maintaining our responsibility to be good stewards of public money,” Black said.
The appointment, however, has not been unanimously well received. Reservations have been voiced with regard to Black’s qualifications for the role due to limited experience in the firefighting field.
“Chief Black has done a fine job with the police department, but there’s quite a difference between firefighters and police officers. It’s a completely different mindset. It’s not an administrative person we need; it’s someone that has the knowledge of what the fire department entails,” said Bobby Weist, fire captain and 3rd District vice president of the California Professional Firefighters (CPF). “This isn’t something that would have been done with any other department that has public safety in mind.”
Weist, furthermore, raised questions surrounding the legitimacy of Black’s appointment, given that California’s government code 38611 stipulates that “the fire department shall be under the charge of a chief who shall have had previous training and experience as a fireman.”
Frustration was also expressed with the length of time taken to reach a permanent solution.
“The Davis Fire Department has been without a permanent chief for almost four years. We need a Chief, and this is the person that leads the department as well as makes decisions on operational issues,” Weist said.
Weist said while he has no issues with Chief Black, the city’s priority should be to find a permanent chief.
“He’s [Chief Black] very personable and all my dealings with him, whether on a professional or personal level, have been fantastic. But in order to carry out this role you have to have the relevant expertise in managing the day-to-day operation of the fire department,” Weist said.
While Chief Black’s appointment could be interpreted as suggesting the contrary, the city is not considering a joint management model between the police and fire departments at present.
“The discussion regarding police and fire relations has been in limbo for some time, but at this stage the city is not ready to explore what a combined model would mean for both communities,” Black said.
The City Manager’s office says that during this transitional period there will be no noticeable difference to fire services provided for the community.
JOE STEPTOE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.