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Chiefs: Police and fire are doing more with less

By: Stephanie Dumm, News Messenger Reporter
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One fire engine covering the city at times and reserve officers in police cars are new ways Lincoln’s public safety is coping with this year’s budget reductions. Lincoln’s police and fire chiefs discussed current and future impacts to their departments during Tuesday afternoon’s Public Safety Committee meeting. Seven residents were present at the meeting, along with Mayor Paul Joiner, City Councilman Stan Nader, City Manager Jim Estep and Assistant City Manager/Chief Financial Officer Anna Jatczak. Lincoln Fire Chief Dave Whitt discussed how lack of backfilling for firefighters on vacation or are who sick or injured has affected staffing. “I have made a conscious decision when we have two on each fire engine to close one station so at least we could meet OSHA mandates for two (firefighters) in and two (firefighters) out so we can go inside (a burning structure),” Whitt said. According to previous News Messenger reports, two firefighters must be available outside of a structure fire to relieve the two battling the fire inside the house. “We are not backfilling. We are allowing one person off per day and, if someone is sick or injured, we adjust operations accordingly,” Whitt said. “We currently notify dispatch and the next step is notifying all other dispatch centers to know what we have available for mutual aid.” Whitt also addressed why a fire engine and brush rig respond to all calls for service. “The rigs are running tandem, two firefighters on an engine and one trailing behind, because if they catch a grass fire on a medical aid call or have to fill up on gas, they don’t have to run home to get the apparatus, which is a further delay,” Whitt said. “During grassfire season, we run with two pieces of apparatus, and engine and a brush (truck). That’s why you’ll see lots of fire engines going through.” Lincoln resident Sherrie Hickerson asked Whitt if the fire department has considered having a volunteer system. “I have considered it. It’s difficult to manage volunteers when we don’t have anything. If I were to add or hire a volunteer, they would have to come fully trained, which is difficult, especially when people work,” Whitt said. “To clothe a volunteer is $4,000 for turnouts, helmets, gloves and a uniform. There’s a lot that goes into it and we would have to have staffing to manage all of those people and we are slim on that.” Lincoln Police Chief Paul Shelgren said two police officers will have left the Lincoln Police Department after this week for the Placer County Sheriff Department, and four officers and one community service officer received their layoff notices on July 14. “At current staffing level, we are able to deploy one sergeant and three officers on the street at a time if everyone shows up,” Shelgren said. “The weekend night schedule is four officers and a sergeant for coverage.” Shelgren said the police records clerk has been moved into dispatch “to cover the shortage.” “We are in the process of recruiting an internal recruit,” Shelgren said. “With records in dispatch, volunteers have taken over the front (counter at the police department).” Shelgren spoke about the department’s reorganization once the remaining four officers are laid off on Jan. 14, which includes “pulling one detective out that will go on patrol.” “(Lt.) David Ibarra will basically be acting as a patrol sergeant and I will pick up his responsibilities,” Shelgren said. “Staffing at that time will be a sergeant and two officers during daylight and a sergeant and three officers during the night shifts.” Volunteer reserve officers will soon ride as the “second person in a car to ride as backup,” according to Shelgren. “Reserves are great to have to basically complete all requirements a regular officer does. The only problem is they are part time,” Shelgren said. “Most reserves work full time, supporting their families and come to us on their off-time to give back to the community.” The purposes served by the reserve officers are for “officer safety and to continue to provide a level of service with reduced staffing.” “An extra person will make a big difference for officer safety,” Shelgren said. The News Messenger asked Shelgren how the department will ensure officer safety once the four employees are laid off in January. “The only thing we can do is ask officers to be very cognizant of what is going on and their surroundings,” Shelgren said. “They are under a lot of strain and pressure and they will do their job, but have to be very aware of what’s going on and know when to go into a situation, and slow down until they get a second car there.”