South Pasadena Fire and San Marino Fire Department are sharing workers. Photo by Steve Whitmore

To alleviate staffing shortages that occur from time to time, the South Pasadena and the San Marino fire departments have joined forces in a program where the two agencies share workers.

The program, started about six weeks ago, has been very effective, according to So Pas Fire Chief Paul Riddle.

“It’s been working incredibly well,” he said. “This cannot happen unless there is complete cooperation between the two cities and there is with us. We have always worked well together.”

In a nutshell, when a staffing position opens up here and there is nobody to fill it, So Pas will offer that slot to a San Marino firefighter or vice-a-versa. In the past, when this would occur, a system known as the “forced hire” would take place.

When a slot in the shift would open and nobody was available to take it, then it would go to the low-person on the list and they would be “forced” to fill the slot. 

“So, if a person had made plans with the family or a planned vacation or even a holiday away from the job, they would have to cancel those plans to work the shift,” Riddle said. “This way, we can ask San Marino if someone wants to work the shift before we go to the forced hire.”

It is still possible that the forced hire would have to be implemented if no one from the two agencies is available but that is unlikely to happen. Riddle said that since the shared-worker program was implemented about five to six people have jumped at the chance.

“It’s also a good way for someone to work at a different station and break up the routine,” Riddle said.

San Marino Fire Chief Mario Rueda agrees, adding some historical perspective to the agreement.

“In July of 2017, the cities of San Marino and South Pasadena agreed to the sharing of command officer response coverage,” Rueda said in an email to The Review. “This was a step forward in ensuring proper supervision for both cities’ fire departments and good government by sharing resources. In September 2018, the cities of San Marino and South Pasadena again came together to agree to share personnel between the fire departments when either department experiences unusual or extended vacancies that requires firefighters being forced to work to ensure adequate firefighting, rescue, and emergency medical services coverage. The South Pasadena and San Marino fire departments are nearly identical in terms of size, deployment of resources, daily staffing of personnel, policies, procedures and standard operating procedures. The new agreement between the two cities is another example of good government and provides for the ability to pool resources and share personnel between fire departments and may provide an opportunity to reduce the number of circumstances that firefighters are forced to work. Experience has shown forcing personnel to work long hours increases the likelihood of injury, fatigue, and often results in poor morale.”

The idea for the shared workers germinated about five years ago when San Marino and South Pasadena were operating under a tri-city program, which had the cities under the same operational umbrella. That proved to ineffective, Riddle said, but the idea of combining the work force had value.

“It just makes so much sense,” he said. “But as I said, the two departments have to get along and we do. That’s why it’s so effective.” The department that needs the slot filled pays for the shift, Riddle said.

The So Pas Fire Department has 21 full-time positions. Of those, two are division chiefs (one shared), three captains, six engineers (drivers) and 9 firefighter/paramedics. The San Marino Fire Department has about the same number.

“In addition to the sharing of the division chiefs position, the SPFD and SMFD operate together on a daily basis,” Riddle explained. “Both departments train together, use similar equipment and operate on the fire ground using the same tactics and strategies. During the past year, additional training has also taken place to ensure all personnel are highly familiar with the other agencies’ SOP’s and Standard Operating Guidelines (SOG’s). Since the City Council approved the agreement on September 19, we have had approximately 5 shifts covered by San Marino Firefighters.”

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Steve Whitmore is the editor for the South Pasadena Review. Steve has spent more than four decades as an award-winning print and broadcast journalist with a 16-year stint as the senior media advisor for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Steve comes to us from the Keene Sentinel in Keene, New Hampshire, where he covered politics and was a columnist.

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