Firefighter Concessions Keep Blythe Station Open Adoption of Contract with Pension Reforms Creates Savings for County
BLYTHE – Riverside County’s fire station in Blythe, which had been slated for closure at the end of this month, will remain open thanks to union concessions that are saving the county $1.6 million, Supervisor John J. Benoit and Fire Chief John R. Hawkins announced today.
Firefighters in CDF Firefighters Local 2881 agreed to benefit reductions and pension reform with the state of California that are reducing Riverside County’s contribution to the state retirement system, allowing the county to keep Fire Station 43 open. The station, which sits in the city limits of Blythe, provides key fire and medical services to city residents and unincorporated county areas.
“Due to the shared sacrifice by the firefighters, the county can protect jobs, public safety services and this important station for the Blythe community,” said Supervisor John J. Benoit. “ From the earliest onset of possible fire station closures, I was eager to find less drastic alternatives. This is certainly a success story of employees making reasonable adjustments to help governments navigate the economic downturn.”
Not only will the pension changes benefit Riverside County, but cities that contract with the Riverside County Fire Department will get $1.75 million in savings.
“Based on a CalPERS rate reduction, we are able to rescind an earlier decision to close Station 43,” said Riverside County Fire Chief John R. Hawkins. “We feel a definite need exists to protect the unincorporated area surrounding Blythe and to respond to any mutual aid request in Blythe.”
Riverside County’s union leaders were pleased that the citizens of Riverside County will be the beneficiaries of the union’s new contract.
“It is good to see that the agreement our union negotiated with the state will benefit citizens of Riverside County and allow the Blythe county fire station to remain open!” said Ray Martinez, chapter director of CDF Firefighters, Riverside Chapter Local 2881. “This kind of collaborative relationship is a great success story and demonstrates our union’s willingness to make tough decisions in these challenging economic times.”
The county is now realizing the savings created by last summer’s new contract between CDF Firefighters Local 2881 and the State of California. The firefighters agreed to benefit reductions and pension reforms that included: raising the retirement age from 50 to 55 for new hires, altering the definition of final compensation for new hires by replacing the single highest year with the three highest years’ average for determining final compensation and increasing the employees’ contribution to the retirement system to at least 10 percent of pay.
Fire Station 43 has operated in Blythe (140 West Barnard St.) since 1949. The station is staffed with a fire captain, a fire apparatus engineer and a firefighter II seven days a week, 24-hours a day, of which at least one firefighter is a certified paramedic. Fire apparatus at Station 43 includes one fire engine, one reserve fire engine, one water tender and one squad.
In 2010, the station responded to 579 calls, providing service to residents in the city and adjoining county area. Prior to the accrued savings, the station was included on a list of recommended fire station closures to overcome the department’s budget shortfall.
Cal Fire Deputy Chief Ignacio C. Otero will present this information before the Blythe City Council at its meeting Tuesday.