By Jim Tortolano
After several hours of presentations, discussion and debate, the Garden Grove City Council voted Tuesday night to replace the Garden Grove Fire Department with a 10-year contract with the Orange County Fire Authority, effective in August.
Voting in favor were Mayor Steve Jones and Councilmembers John O’Neill, Phat Bui, Stephanie Klopfenstein and Kim Nguyen. Voting against was George Brietigam, while Thu Ha Nguyen abstained.
The GGFD was established in 1926 as the Garden Grove Fire Protection District. It became the fire department when the city was incorporated in 1956. The council’s decision came after more than a year of hearings, budget analysis and lobbying by the Garden Grove Firefighters’ Association Local 2005.
Under the contract, all GGFD sworn personnel and several non-sworn personnel will be taken into employment by the OCFA, which is based in Irvine and which serves 23 cities – soon to be 24 – as well as unincorporated communities. It has 71 fire stations; Garden Grove will add six more.
In the end, the concept of better service carried the day over increased costs. The city’s financial study indicated that the switch to the OCFA would add between $12.4 million and $13.3 million extra in expenses over a 10-year period.
But backers of the contract argued that going to the OCFA – with additional paramedic staffing – would improve response times and potentially save lives.
Discussion between council members and between the council and speakers sometimes grew rancorous. Exchanges between Brietigam and Eric Thorson, spokesman for the GGFA were heated and part of the in-council debate revolved around Cadillacs and Chevrolets.
“The OCFA is the Cadillac of fire services,” said Brietigam. “But can we get along with a Chevy?” Councilwoman Stephanie Klopfenstein shot back with “I want a Cadillac for my family.”
Based on their comments, it appeared that council members would split 4-3 in favor of the OCFA contract. But Mayor Steve Jones’s remarks may have altered the math, as he told the council and audience that the OCFA deal “was never about money” but about improving firefighting and medical services.
After that Kim Nguyen decided to cast to a “yes” vote and Thu-Ha Nguyen abstained.
When the motion to approve passed, firefighters who lined the walls of the council chambers waiting for the outcome erupted in cheers and applause.
Also on Tuesday night, the council honored retiring Chief of Police Todd Elgin for his 32 years of service to the city.
Additionally, the council approved the use of $340,000 in grant funding for a “Garden Grove Downtown Active Downtown Plan” and awarded a contract for its development and coordination to KOA Corporation.
The next council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, April 23 at 5:30 p.m.
Categories: Garden Grove