Merced

Merced OKs firefighter “brownout” staffing contingencies amid COVID-19 shortages

Facing a spike in COVID-19 cases over the last month, the City of Merced agreed to a measure to limit the number of firefighters on the clock in order to prevent overworking. 

The Merced City Council unanimously approved the agreement with the Merced Firefighter’s Association, Local 1479, on Monday. 

“COVID-19 cases are on the rise and we need to remain diligent, with not only our response to emergency calls, but in how we staff the department,” Merced Fire Chief Derek Parker said in an email to his staff last month. 

“The health and wellbeing of the membership is our most critical asset. We cannot realistically expect to have all members stay healthy through a spike in COVID and not have it impact the staffing of the Fire Department.” 

Under the new staffing arrangement, which will be in place through April 1, the fire department will identify three tiers of staffing to deal with COVID-19 cases within the department: 

  • Tier 1: normal staffing
  • Tier 2: brown outs
  • Tier 3: two-platoon system

The brownout tier will kick in when three or more vacancies due to COVID-19 need to be mandatorily hired. 

Per Parker’s letter, the intent of the brownout tier is to not fill vacancies created by COVID-19 which are not able to be filled by voluntary overtime and out-of-class hiring. 

The fire department will return to normal staffing when no brownouts have been required for seven days. 

“With many of the COVID transmissions occurring in the station the membership may benefit from pauses in staffing which may present in the form of a brown out,” Parker wrote. 

If enough vacancies in the department occur, the Tier 3 two-platoon system will be necessary. 

That would see the department shift all firefighters off the normal three-platoon system. 

Staffing will return to a three-platoon schedule when there is a positive increase in available personnel for five days in a row.

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.