Mountain Views News, Sierra Madre Edition [Pasadena] Saturday, January 12, 2019

MVNews this week:  Page B:3


From Inside The Firehouse

 Mountain Views News Saturday, January 12, 2019 

From the Editor: Normally, this page is set aside for Opinions on matters of interest to our readership. However, this week, this page has been set aside so that one of the voices inside the Sierra 
Madre Fire Department can speak up and share his opinion on the current SMFD situation. It is printed as submitted, unedited. S. Hendeson, Publisher/Editor

Mountain Views



Susan Henderson


Dean Lee 


Joan Schmidt


LaQuetta Shamblee


Richard Garcia


Patricia Colonello




John Aveny 




Mary Lou Caldwell

Kevin McGuire

Chris Leclerc

Bob Eklund

Howard Hays

Paul Carpenter

Kim Clymer-Kelley

Christopher Nyerges

Peter Dills 

Rich Johnson

Lori Ann Harris

Rev. James Snyder

Dr. Tina Paul

Katie Hopkins

Deanne Davis

Despina Arouzman

Jeff Brown

Marc Garlett

Keely Toten

Dan Golden

Rebecca Wright

Hail Hamilton


I am writing this letter to you as an 
individual, however, I am a full-
time – paid Captain working for 
the Sierra Madre Fire Department. 
I am writing this letter to you to 
give you my perspective of what 
is currently being proposed to the 
Sierra Madre City Council regarding 
a possible reorganization of the fire 
department. I am deeply concerned 
about many aspects of this proposal, 
and I fear the city council may decide 
to move forward with something 
that has not been well thought out, 
nor, was it adequately vetted by the 
people of Sierra Madre. 

 The City Council was presented 
with an agenda report, and a staff 
recommendation on Tuesday 
January 8, 2019. The subject of 
the report was “Fire Department 
Reorganization and Non-Binding 
Term Sheet for provision of Fire 
Response Services from the City of 
Arcadia.” There is a recommendation 
from the city staff to the city council, 
for the termination of the current 
Sierra Madre Fire Department, to 
be replaced with an engine response 
from the City of Arcadia. Just for 
the record; the Sierra Madre Fire 
Department officers, firefighters, 
and paramedics, were not privy to 
any information about this proposal 
until a meeting just five days prior to 
the January 8th city council meeting. 
Shock and surprise are the two 
words I would use to explain the look 
on our collective faces when we were 
told of this news. 

 Before I go any further in my 
letter, I just want to ask all of you 
to think of the history of the Sierra 
Madre Fire Department from your 
own individual experiences. Ask 
yourself if you were ever helped by 
the fire department, or any member 
of the fire department. Ask yourself 
if you have ever known personally, 
a member of the Sierra Madre Fire 
Department (if you can’t think of 
one, you must have just moved to 
the city, as we have had so very many 
members of this fire department 
reside within the city limits since the 
1920’s). The reason I ask you to do 
this as individuals, is I am sure you 
will find yourself saying, “The fire 
department personnel have been 
truly dedicated to the protection of 
life and property of its citizens.”

 In addition to asking each of you to 
reflect on your personal experiences 
with the Sierra Madre Fire 
Department, I want to personally 
thank every individual who has 
ever worked for the fire department 
in any capacity. Whether they 
were actively participating in fire 
suppression and emergency medical 
services, or volunteering their time 
in an administrative role, or, the 
spouse or child of a member of the 
fire department. To each of you, I 
salute you and say thank you for your 
dedication, and time given to the 
department, and to the community. 
It is because of you, the citizens of 
this town have been safe since 1921, 
and you laid the foundation of where 
the fire department has evolved to – 
today. For this, I thank all of you. 

 I am going to return to the other 
focus of this letter, and that is to 
the proposed reorganization of the 
Sierra Madre Fire Department. As 
I stated earlier in this letter, this 
proposal was shown to the fire 
department personnel just days 
before it was released to the public. 
The proposal to the city council was 
prepared with no input what-so-
ever from the captains, firefighters, 
or paramedics currently employed 
by the fire department. This fact 
alone is deeply concerning to me. 
Also, as I read through the agenda 
report document, it looks as though 
there has been some real thought 
put into this by just a few people, 
so I am assuming this document 
has been sometime in the making. 
This is a real concern of mine, and 
I would think it would be a concern 
of many others, knowing a proposal 
to eliminate a city public safety 
department (the fire department) 
was authored without thoughts and 
input from current fire personnel. 
This is alarming.

 During the January 8 city council 
meeting, I found it very interesting 
that the city council members made 
it quite clear their decision was not 
about funding, it was purely about 
safety. If this is truly the case, then I 
think a real easy solution would be 
to increase the current budget of the 
fire department so we can increase 
manpower, daily staffing levels, and 
pay a living wage comparable to 
other fire departments of the same 
size and staffing levels. Clearly this 
is not the case, and let me assure 
you, our fire department provides 
the exact same services as other 
fire departments do that are similar 
in size and organization. San 
Marino and South Pasadena Fire 
Departments are just two examples 
currently in the Verdugo Dispatch 

 The main focus of the discussion 
seemed to be the need for the fire 
department to participate in Unified 
Response, or “auto-aid.” The fire 
department, city staff, and city 
council has been aware of this fact 
for many years, and significant steps 
have been undertaken by the fire 
department, and the city council to 
make entry into unified response 
a reality. The city council voted not 
long ago, to move the fire department 
towards full time, and increased the 
department budget in order to hire 
full-time engineers, and firefighter 
paramedics. The city also made 
very compelling arguments in favor 
of keeping the UUT at 10% in order 
to keep the fire department budget 
intact to ensure its continued and 
long-time existence. 

 The city council and the interim 
fire chief discussed the possibility 
of moving the fire department into 
the unified response – automatic aid 
system. During their discussions, 
one of the city council members 
asked the chief if we currently had 
any auto-aid agreements, or mutual 
aid agreements in place. The fire chief 
stated that he would have to look into 
that question further. Currently the 
Sierra Madre Fire Department does 
in fact have in place two agreements. 
One of the agreements is with the Los 
Angeles County Fire Department. 
This agreement provides auto-aid 
dispatch for any structure fire to 
send an immediate second in engine. 
Additionally, Los Angeles County 
would respond to any wildland 
fire incident within the city, and in 
turn our engine would respond in 
“auto-aid” into the Chantry Flats 
area which is in Los Angeles County 
Engine 44’s / 244’s response area. The 
other agreement is with the United 
States Forest Service. This agreement 
provides for response to wildland 
incidents north of Grandview. 
These are current agreements that 
are in place with our current fire 
department configuration of a 
combination department; composed 
of both full-time, and part-time 

 The concern from the Verdugo 
system fire departments regarding 
unified response seems to be the 
issue of some of our personnel being 
part-time. Again, the city, the city 
council, and the fire department 
addressed this concern, and made 
the significant step to convert the 
Sierra Madre Fire Department to a 
full-time – paid department. This 
transition is happening right now as 
I write this letter, and full-time status 
is just weeks away if we are allowed 
to continue with this transition. 
Currently, the department has been 
asking a “hypothetical” question of 
the other departments whether or 
not we can join the unified response, 
and the current answer is no because 
we are not entirely full-time with fire 
personnel. Again, if we are allowed to 
continue our transition, the question 
can be asked with legitimacy, and in 
my personnel opinion, we should be 
allowed to work within that system. 

 I have other concerns with this 
plan other than the fact the fire 
department was not allowed to 
participate in any of the discussions 
that led to a very concerning staff 
recommendation. Again, the main 
argument is unified response. We 
still have mutual aid, and I can assure 
you, we will always have mutual aid. 
Cities will always help each other in 
times of crisis and emergency, and, 
you will most likely not be billed for 
services as I heard argued by a few 
people during the meeting. Some of 
the concerns that were raised were 
to such extremes, that if mutual aid 
programs did disappear, all cities in 
California would be greatly affected, 
not just Sierra Madre.

 The Woolsey Fire in Malibu was 
used as an example of how “we” the 
City of Sierra Madre was sending a 
bill for services rendered by sending 
our police department to help with 
evacuations. This example does not 
really tell you what is really going 
on behind the scenes. If this fire 
was controlled quickly, and was not 
declared a disaster, and the City of 
Malibu did not request an F-Mag 
(Fire Management Assistance 
Grant), any city that sent resources 
to that city for assistance would have 
done so as a mutual aid request, and 
therefore would receive no funds. 
If the grant is awarded, the City 
of Sierra Madre may be paid for 
services, but not if the grant is not 
awarded. Another easier example; if 
we had a brush fire, helicopters that 
are sent by the county are partially 
funded by property taxes paid by 
residents. The City of Sierra Madre 
would not receive a bill for services. 

Let me go back to getting the Sierra 
Madre Fire Department into 
unified response, auto-aid. The 
main concern is our department is 
not providing like services because 
we are currently a combination 
department. The city and the fire 
department have remedied this, 
and we are currently in the final 
stages of completing the transition 
from combination to full-time. 
Additionally, our fire department 
personnel train the exact same way 
as our surrounding departments, 
and we achieve the training hours 
recommended by the NFPA. Our 
personnel are highly educated 
academically, and in fire suppression, 
and emergency medical services.

 Many individuals on our 
department hold bachelor degrees 
and graduate degrees. All of 
the current members of the fire 
department who work in fire 
suppression have State of California 
certifications in firefighting, 
emergency medicine, and other 
varied certificates specific to fire 
suppression and medicine. All 
of our Captains are qualified as 
State of California Fire Officers, 
and some have taken Chief Officer 
level course work. In addition 
to these achievements, all of our 
Paramedics are licensed by the State 
of California, and accredited by Los 
Angeles County. The Paramedics 
are also required to have certificates 
of training that exceed that of the 
requirements of Los Angeles County 
Department of Health Services for 

 My personal belief is the Sierra 
Madre Fire Department has not 
made the proper request to the 
Verdugo system departments. I 
believe when the Fire Chief presents 
to the other departments the facts:

 1. The Sierra Madre Fire 
Department has made the transfer to 
a fulltime department. 

2. Our personnel meet, and 
most likely exceed any training 
requirements that would be required 
to work in this system. 

3. Our paramedic staff is highly 
qualified, and is required to 
exceed any requirements made 
by the County of Los Angeles for 
accreditation and reaccreditation. 

4. Our fire department has been 
successfully operating and providing 
quality fire suppression and EMS 
services to the City of Sierra Madre 
and to some areas of Los Angeles 
County since 1921. 

5. The Sierra Madre Fire Department 
will enhance the overall capabilities 
of the entire system by adding an 
additional fire engine, and, at a 
minimum, 16 fulltime personnel that 
are subject to recall for any reason to 
aid in major incidents or disasters. 

 If our Fire Chief presents these facts 
to the Verdugo system Fire Chiefs, I 
believe these men and women will 
see the real asset they will be adding 
to their excellent portfolio. 

 I have discussed in detail our 
capabilities and my thoughts on 
our ability to get into the Verdugo 
unified response. I believe our 
department is more than qualified 
to meet the requirements once our 
transition is completed in the very 
near future. Now, that being said, I 
want to discuss some real potential 
issues of moving ahead with allowing 
another fire department take over 
fire services for our city. 

My first concern is there will not 
be a city fire department anymore. 
If this proposal goes into effect, 
there will only be two paramedics 
at the station, and you will need to 
receive additional manpower and 
suppression services from another 
agency. The closest engine is Engine 
107 in Arcadia, however, you 
absolutely cannot rely on that engine 
being in house all the time, waiting 
for the call from Sierra Madre. The 
discussion the other night focused so 
much on this fact it was borderline 
ridiculous. You will get whatever unit 
is closest at the time, and that unit 
maybe farther than you one might 

 In times of major incidents, or 
major disasters, such as a significant 
wind event, or let’s say, a very large 
earthquake; Sierra Madre will most 
likely be alone, as the surrounding 
agencies, and most likely, E107 will 
be responding to their own incidents 
(and they should as their tax payers 
are paying for their response). 

Let’s examine just a few of the 
things that went on during the last 
major wind event a few years ago 
that devastated our town, Arcadia, 
and many others. The Verdugo 
dispatchers were being overwhelmed 
with calls for service. The Verdugo 
dispatch center asked us to start 
taking over our own calls, and to 
self-dispatch through our police 
department dispatch system. Our 
department was overwhelmed with 
calls for service, just as all other city 
departments were at the time, thus 
we handled the calls as they came in, 
and by ourselves. (The call volumes 
were in the extreme. Hundreds of 
calls were coming in for trees and 
wires down, small spot fires, etc.). 

 The Sierra Madre Fire Department 
handled this excess call volume 
as best we could, and we did this 
utilizing the entire fire department. 
Meaning: We recalled as many Sierra 
Madre Fire Department personnel 
that we could get to respond, and 
we put into service every emergency 
vehicle the fire department had to 
respond to these requests for service 
and emergency. The point I am 
trying to make here is that currently, 
if there were to be a major incident, 
and we needed to respond to alarms 
alone because other agencies are tied 
up, or need to operate in their own 
jurisdictions, the Sierra Madre Fire 
Department would be able to recall at 
a minimum, 16 personnel. (All of our 
engine personnel, and ambulance 
personnel) (With our part-timers, we 
could ask for even more personnel 
if they would respond). Now, this 
recall would give the citizens of 
Sierra Madre 16 personnel, and if 
we divided them into five, 3-man 
engines and ambulances, we would 
be able to respond to a minimum 
of 5 calls for service at a time. This 
would allow our department to at 
a minimum, initiate, and attempt 
to mitigate the various situations. If 
you have contracted out the engine 
personnel, you would absolutely lose 
this benefit.

I hope the last example demonstrates 
the absolute importance to keep fire 
services in house. Another example 
of why I believe the city needs to 
continue with operating its own 
fire department has to do with fire 
inspections; especially brush and 
commercial fire inspections. Brush 
and commercial fire inspections are 
extremely important to keeping the 
citizens safe from potential danger. 
In addition to making the inspection, 
and making recommendations to 
help mitigate potential hazards, 
the inspections are completed for 
another extremely important reason.

 The fire engine personnel who 
arrive to complete the inspections 
are not only there to look for and 
mitigate hazards. These personnel 
are getting a first-hand view of 
the layout of terrain in the case of 
brush inspections, and they are 
able to see first-hand, the interior 
layout of a commercial building. 
This is extremely important, as 
firefighters must make entry into 
buildings in sometimes very difficult 
circumstances. Power will be out, 
or smoke will fill rooms, leaving 
visibility to a minimum, or none 
at all. Also, there may be obstacles 
such as; large machinery, fuel storage 
areas, employee break rooms, etc., 
and so on. Having this detail before 
you arrive to an emergency incident 
is invaluable. Will the Arcadia Fire 
Department be conducting our fire 
inspections as well? Or, will that be 
done by the new inspector? Again, 
and in my opinion, this will reduce 
the overall safety to the city, not 
increase it. 

 I have discussed unified response, 
and I have discussed some aspects 
that may be significantly affected 
by giving up our fire department. 
Now I would like to discuss a little 
about the emergency medical service 
program the city stated they intend 
to keep. I am in total agreement the 
city needs to keep its paramedic 
program. To give up this program, 
the city would make a grave mistake. 
In some circumstances, giving 
up such a program would forever 
remove the city’s ability to provide 
such services in the future under 
their own management. However, 
keeping the program in place with 
no fire department personnel to 
immediately assist them will be very 
different indeed. 

1. There would most likely only be 
two personnel on duty each day, 
making it almost impossible to do 
any significant training. 

2. Fire department crews work in 

 The camaraderie built up between 
those who work together at a station 
is truly invaluable. You learn the 
strengths and weaknesses of each 
other, and you learn how to trust 
each other, and most importantly, 
you learn how everyone is going to 
operate on a call. This is absolutely 
a key aspect of how we train, so 
when you are under immediate and 
extreme pressure, you are able to 
work seamlessly with your fellow 
firefighters and paramedics. By 
having a crew constantly responding 
from various different stations, 
you will never quite have the same 
rapport with another department, 
than that of the crew you work with, 
and live with side by side, every day. 
You really become family, and it 
something every firefighter, police 
officer, and those who have served in 
the military, absolutely understand.

 I would also like to address the 
current salary being paid to our 
new firefighter paramedics. In the 
discussion on January 8th, all of 
the arguments made it quite clear 
the removal of our fire engine 
personnel was not related to the 
budget. I think my arguments show 
we have a real strong chance to enter 
unified response once the transition 
is complete, however, let’s say this 
proposal moves forward. Is the 
city saying this is not a budget issue 
because of what they are currently 
paying the paramedics? Or, are 
they saying it is just not a real issue 
regarding the fire department budget 
in general? I am making this point, 
because currently, the City of Sierra 
Madre is paying its paramedics just 
over $15.00 per hour. This is far lower 
than most ambulance companies are 
paying their paramedic staff, and it is 
significantly lower than what similar 
fire departments are paying their staff. 
If this program is to move forward, 
will the city significantly increase 
the pay for these paramedics? Or, 
will the pay remain the same. If it 
is the later; there will be a constant 
turnover in these positions, and I 
believe, you will find in the future, 
the only paramedics who will apply, 
will be newly minted paramedics 
fresh out of school. I do not think 
this is what the residents of Sierra 
Madre are looking to achieve with 
this potentially new reorganization. 
Nor is it what they deserve as a 

 I have a few more thoughts, and 
then I will conclude my letter. I 
hope you are all still with me. I 
have another real concern about the 
proposal in its current form because 
of some statements that were made 
by members of the city council on 
January 8th. Some of the members 
made statements to the audience, 
and they stated the City of Arcadia 
was possibly going to declare a fiscal 
state of emergency. I did some follow 
up with that statement, and I have 
been told that in fact that may be 
true, and the emergency could be 
so significant the city may consider 
laying off police personnel and 
reducing the number of fire engines, 
or stations by one. If this is the case, 
I find it absolutely concerning our 
city would even consider putting our 
fire department in the hands of a city 
that is having its own real problems, 
especially with a budget. What if 
we eliminate our fire department; 
give the responsibility to Arcadia 
Fire Department, and then this 
potential crisis becomes a real crisis. 
Do you think the citizens of Arcadia 
will stand by and allow their fire 
department to respond to calls for 
service in our town for $800,000 
per year, when they respond to calls 
for service in their own town for 
far more? This alone should bring 
this proposal back to the drawing 
board for serious discussion on the 
ramifications of just such a scenario. 

 The reorganization proposal in its 
current form; and in my personal 
opinion is the wrong way to proceed. 
I do not believe it was well thought 
out, and I believe many other options 
were never even considered, nor 
explored. I believe some of the fire 
departments current personnel 
have various ideas as to achieve all 
of the needs necessary for the City 
of Sierra Madre to maintain a high 
level of fire and emergency services. 
Just one option to reorganize the fire 
department without displacing any 
of the current personnel would be to 
change the current configuration on 
the department, and make the engine 
a full-time paramedic engine, and 
convert the ambulance operations 
to an “ambulance operator” 
program. This configuration could 
be implemented with a man engine, 
or, a four man engine depending on 
budget constraints.

 Our ambulance would still be 
staffed by two paramedics, or, two 
EMT’s, or, a combination of the two, 
and the fire engine would be staffed 
with a minimum of two paramedics 
on board, thus meeting all of the 
requirements of Los Angeles County 
Department of Health Services for a 
full paramedic engine as opposed to 
the modified “Assessment Paramedic 
Engine” it is now. The difference 
between the two is a Los Angeles 
County EMS Agency requirement 
of two paramedics on any unit to 
be designated as a “full paramedic 
engine.” A paramedic engine is 
allowed to perform all of the skills, 
and provide all of the medications 
allowed by the Los Angeles County 
EMS Agency. 

This response configuration has 
been tested, and has been in use by 
the Glendale Fire Department for 
many years, and has been found to 
be very successful. This response 
configuration would not only meet 
all of the needs of what is required 
by the Verdugo cities to join unified 
response, it would also significantly 
reduce the overall budget 
requirements for the fire department. 
With this type of configuration, 
the Sierra Madre Fire Department 
would be able to reduce the fulltime 
personnel needs to 9 or 10, and 
continue to operate the ambulance 
as an ambulance operator program, 
utilizing part-time personnel. If the 
engine company were to be staffed 
by four personnel, it would increase 
our overall capabilities even further. 
This is just one example of how we 
can make a significant and positive 
change to the department, without 
giving up personnel, and autonomy, 
and at the same time, reducing the 
current authorized budget for a full-
time fire department. 

 I have many more ideas, and I 
have many more concerns about 
what this proposal, if implemented, 
could mean for the Sierra Madre Fire 
Department. I maybe incorrect; and 
maybe this proposal will be in the 
best interest of the city. Or, I maybe 
correct, and you find the current 
proposal has flaws, and find the 
City of Sierra Madre needs to keep 
control over its fire department, and 
keep the safety net that has always 
been there for the citizens since 
1921. Either way, I believe all of you 
need to ask more questions, and 
have conversations regarding other 
potential alternatives before moving 
forward so quickly on something so 
very important to the community.

 I want to thank you for reading 
my letter, and considering the 
information. I am truly dedicated to 
the Sierra Madre Fire Department, 
and to the citizens of the City of 
Sierra Madre. I hope to continue to 
serve you as a member of the fire 
department for many years to come, 
and I will always be an advocate 
for our fire department, all of the 
current and past members of the fire 
department, and to seeing that all 
of the citizens of the city, and those 
who come to visit this wonderful city 
feel safe, and are provided with the 
highest quality emergency services 


Gregory Christmas 

Mountain Views News 
has been adjudicated as 
a newspaper of General 
Circulation for the County 
of Los Angeles in Court 
Case number GS004724: 
for the City of Sierra 
Madre; in Court Case 
GS005940 and for the 
City of Monrovia in Court 
Case No. GS006989 and 
is published every Saturday 
at 80 W. Sierra Madre 
Blvd., No. 327, Sierra 
Madre, California, 91024. 
All contents are copyrighted 
and may not be 
reproduced without the 
express written consent of 
the publisher. All rights 
reserved. All submissions 
to this newspaper become 
the property of the Mountain 
Views News and may 
be published in part or 

Opinions and views 
expressed by the writers 
printed in this paper do 
not necessarily express 
the views and opinions 
of the publisher or staff 
of the Mountain Views 

Mountain Views News is 
wholly owned by Grace 
Lorraine Publications, 
and reserves the right to 
refuse publication of advertisements 
and other 
materials submitted for 

Letters to the editor and 
correspondence should 
be sent to: 

Mountain Views News

80 W. Sierra Madre Bl. 

Sierra Madre, Ca. 

Phone: 626-355-2737

Fax: 626-609-3285


Mountain Views News

Mission Statement

The traditions of 
community news-
papers and the 
concerns of our readers 
are this newspaper’s 
top priorities. We 
support a prosperous 
community of well-
informed citizens. We 
hold in high regard the 
values of the exceptional 
quality of life in our 
community, including 
the magnificence of 
our natural resources. 
Integrity will be our guide. 

Mountain Views News 80 W Sierra Madre Blvd. No. 327 Sierra Madre, Ca. 91024 Office: 626.355.2737 Fax: 626.609.3285 Email: Website: