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Daily Pilot

The fire chief's plan

By Mike Reicher and Lauren Williams

9:13 PM PDT, September 29, 2012

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While the exact savings of his restructuring plan are difficult to project, interim Fire Chief Tom Arnold says the data are solid.

He created several maps showing where the majority of Costa Mesa's fire emergencies happen, how quickly firefighters are able to arrive at locations across the city, and how the department's resources can best be utilized.

Another computer model helps him balance how many people are in each fire station's coverage area.

Using these projections, Arnold developed an option that would close Station 6, near Sunflower Avenue and Bristol Street.

While there is no set plan to close the station, doing so and reallocating its vehicles and people to other stations could save money while improving service to residents, Arnold said.

"We need to engage the public in that discussion," said city CEO Tom Hatch.

Station 6 serves about 3,000 residents while the other five serve between 17,000 and 24,000. Near South Coast Plaza, the area has mostly office buildings and shopping.

Its emergency vehicle is used for incidents 5% of the time. Ideally, emergency vehicles are used 10% of the time to properly balance resources with demand, Arnold said.

But with financial constraints, he said, most cities are budgeting closer to 15% to 25%.

One option for restructuring would shuffle the positions. It would cut the number of supervisors from 21 to 15, and engineers from 24 to 18, while maintaining the number of battalion chiefs at three and paramedics at 30, and increase the number of firefighters from nine to 15.

Because some positions are open now, the city will have to hire. For reductions, it will rely on attrition, officials say.

In total, under this option, there would be 81 firefighters, with 27 firefighters per day. Today, the city is budgeted for 87, which requires more than $2 million in overtime because of a hiring freeze that left the department staffed with 78.

Each fire station would have an ambulance under the proposed plan to free up emergency vehicles that could respond to other calls.

Currently, if a paramedic needs to accompany a patient to the hospital, a fire truck has to travel to the hospital as well, leaving that truck out of commission. Another fire station is then responsible for that station's calls.

mike.reicher@latimes.com; lauren.williams@latimes.com

Twitter: @mreicher and @lawilliams30