La Verne Fire & Emergency Services

City of La Verne Makes Unanimous Decision to Keep City Fire Department and Abandon Service Negotiations with County

On Monday, February 28, the City of La Verne held an adjourned Council meeting to discuss the future of the City’s fire protection and emergency medical services. Council sought to better understand its options between retaining its own 115-year-old fire department, or moving to contract with the Los Angeles County Fire Department. In the last year, Council elected to bring forth the issue to La Verne’s residents for an advisory vote on the June 2022 ballot if they deemed the LA County contract a viable option. However, Council unanimously decided to move forward with retaining its own fire department and withdrew from negotiations with the County.

“Chief Nigg has provided much needed leadership and guidance that will allow us to maintain our fire services at a sufficient level,” said La Verne Mayor Tim Hepburn. “I’m grateful for the research our staff shared with us and the community, as well as the partnership and collaboration with my fellow Councilmembers to accomplish what our residents have been wanting to achieve for several years.”

La Verne requested an initial feasibility study in June of 2019 after concerns regarding Firefighter safety, fire department sustainability, despondent employee culture and questionable ability to meet community and operational area needs were brought to City leadership. Once the initial feasibility study was received, the City elected to continue negotiations with the County and solicit a formal proposal. The proposal subsequently provided details for two in-City deployment options, fire prevention services, department transition, employee transition, fire leadership interaction and the associated costs.

In comparison with the County proposal, the La Verne Fire Department exceeds the County’s resources by one additional operational fire station, two additional personnel, double the number of Paramedic units, a ladder truck, a Battalion Chief and an additional ambulance. Moreover, the La Verne Fire Department offers more than just the day-to-day emergency responses; the City’s department also brings more hands-on administrative services to best serve the community of La Verne.

Converting La Verne’s fire department over to the County would cost nearly a net of $2 million in one-time expenses, with the bulk of costs stemming from converting vehicles, personnel, ancillary equipment and fire stations. In aCurrent Day Fleet of Vehiclesddition to the $2 million conversion, the annual cost of contracting with county services for FY 22-23 is nearly $12 million after incorporating loss of revenues and accounting for a private ambulance contract need. A 5.5% annual increase for continued services with the County is also standard for all fee-for service contract cities. In comparison, the City’s fire services would require just over an $11 million budget allocation for FY 22-23.

“I want to emphasize that this has been a team effort among all of the Councilmembers, City department heads and the La Verne Firefighters' Association,” said Chief Nigg. “From day one of my arrival, our firefighters were on board with moving this department in a positive direction and trusted that I had their best interest at heart. I will always walk the line between what best serves both this community and the Firefighters who work so hard to keep that very community safe. I’m grateful for the direction that Council took to continue investing in our City fire department and for also taking the time to understand the dynamic nature of the fire service. Fire department maintenance requires constant evaluation and adjustment. I’m looking forward to continuing to serve the community of La Verne and improving the equitable relationship with our County fire partners. As a small city and fire agency, they are, and always will be, a key to our success on large, complex incidents. They are a top-notch fire department and we’re fortunate to work alongside them.”

During the presentation on February 28, Chief Nigg and City Manager Bob Russi provided an overview of the La Verne Fire Department’s history and reviewed the timeline of department negotiations with the County for context. In addition, Council was also reminded that they are undergoing a Community Risk Assessment and Standards of Cover study in order to modernize its approach to fire department deployment. AP Triton consultant Kurt Lapitow provided a preliminary report of the findings so far as to provide Council with a true understanding of the City’s needs based on empirical data and industry standards. Council’s decision to retain the City’s fire department will keep the City moving forward with a redeployment implementation Chief Nigg previously recommended to Council. The Fire Department has already taken steps to reopen Station 3 and implement an ambulance operator program based on direction received by Council in November 2021. Residents can read more about the history and timeline of this issue on the City’s fire and emergency services webpage.

Overview

The City of La Verne engaged a third-party consultant to evaluate a report provided by LA County Fire on the services they could provide to La Verne and the associated costs, as well as to conduct a preliminary analysis of the City’s current state of fire operations along with a path forward to maintain its independent department. 

Based on what was provided in this evaluation, the Council requested that LA County Fire provide the City with fire services contract terms for review and consideration, as well as conduct a detailed analysis of La Verne's current resources to determine the costs of conversion facilities and equipment. 

The evaluation also recommended initial steps for pursuing options for continuing services by the La Verne Fire Department (LVFD) including funding a Standards of Response Coverage (SOC) study to determine how resources can best be deployed to meet actual community needs, as well as the hiring of a permanent fire chief (which has been completed). The SOC is currently being pursued while the City continues discussions with the County. 

Residents are encouraged to read through the following timeline and additional information to gain a more holistic understanding of the fire services matter discussed here.

Timeline

View a timeline of the City's plans regarding La Verne's Fire and Emergency Services.

City’s Recruitment Efforts

Beginning in the middle of 2019, the City entered a stage of continuous recruitment to fully fill firefighter vacancies. Since that time, the City has hired 10 firefighters out of a department total of 36 full-time employees but still has yet to keep up with the vacancies created by employee departures. The predominant loss of personnel has been to larger agencies and most notably Los Angeles County. While the City Council has committed additional dollars toward employee salaries in order to be more competitive, larger agencies generally offer additional desirable opportunities for employees compared to La Verne. The recent retirement of a fire engineer coupled with two firefighters accepting offers from another agency will only continue to affect the City’s efforts in fully staffing the department.

Status of Fire Chief Recruitment

The City originally began recruitment for a permanent fire chief in early 2020 but later suspended those efforts due to discussions regarding the delivery service model options and challenges brought about by COVID-19. When the decision was made in February 2021 to postpone any final action until after the June 2022 election, recruitment efforts were restarted. 

The first round of assessment interviews was completed in mid-May 2021. Each candidate was interviewed with three separate panels - community, technical, and the La Verne Firefighters’ Association. Based on input from the panels, the second round of interviews were conducted in June 2021. 

The La Verne City Council approved Christopher Nigg as the new Fire Chief of the La Verne Fire Department (LVFD) on August 16, 2021, ending the over two-year hiatus of a permanent Fire Chief leading the department. (Learn more.)  

Status of Discussions with County

The City received an initial cost assessment from LA County Fire and is currently reviewing the document. Staff is pulling together questions to clarify some areas of the cost assessment and will be submitting them to the County.

How La Verne Residents Can Keep Updated

Residents and other stakeholders are encouraged to check this webpage for updates and follow the City's social media channels. Additionally, updates on this process will be provided periodically at City Council meetings, which allows for public comment and concerns.

City of La Verne Fire Department Service Deployment Review

The City previously engaged a third-party consultant, Messina and Associates, to evaluate a report provided by LA County Fire on the services they could provide to La Verne and the associated costs, as well as to conduct a preliminary analysis of the City’s current fire operations by the La Verne Fire Department (LVFD). Messina and Associates completed their analysis, culminating in the release of the City of La Verne Fire Department Service Deployment Review (Review), also sometimes referenced as “The Fire Study.”

The fundamental findings of the Review surfaced a key question for the Council’s consideration and represents a fork in the road for options for the community: shift to a highly functional fire department in a relatively short time frame with a move to LA County Fire but experience increased costs for services; or, maintain local control of the City’s fire services and spend additional funds which would need to be identified to implement reforms, improve staffing levels and address an array of management issues.