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KINGSBURG – Kingsburg’s Interim Fire Chief Tim Sendelbach has some changes in mind for their department to make Kingsburg safer and their crews operate more efficiently financially. And now that they’re officially a 12-pack, they have the staff to make those changes happen.

Sendelbach said that with their latest hire in place, they will now have four crew members working each shift, but he has plans to increase even that.

Firefighter/Paramedic Adrian Bavery was introduced at the previous City Council meeting and was already serving as a reserve with the Kingsburg Fire Department while also working with American Ambulance.

“But now we’re officially have him and we’re officially a 12 pack as of today,” Sendelbach said just before Bavery’s swearing-in ceremony at the April 3 regular Council meeting. His son, Diego, pinned on his badge and his family, including wife Amanda and youngest son, Max, were in attendance.

Since his hire, along with the three most recent hires made with Measure E money, the new crew members have been undergoing rigorous training.

“The point was to have them demonstrate their competence [and] their ability to function in the equipment we wear,” Sendelbach said. “They’ve demonstrated a great deal of competence, confidence and more importantly, their ability to make decisions and work as a team and a cohesive unit. They did an exceptional job.”

Sendelbach said he’s also evaluating the entire department’s response plans and KFD along with fire crews from Sanger, Selma and Fresno County fire departments are training in live fire settings at Selma’s training facility.

“It’s changing based on our staff configuration to make it a more effective, more efficient model. What that requires us to do is carry a little different equipment at times and do different tasks than they’ve typically done.”

Now, Sendelbach’s goal is to upgrade the reserve program so their training is on par with what a firefighter I and an EMT. Their status would change to legacy reserves and they’d have an equal status as full-time staff.

“We are not running anybody off that’s contributed. In fact, we’re supporting them and want them to continue with us.”

The reason for the change is to be able to “move personnel around and, more importantly, to open up more units to create redundant coverage. When one of units has to go to cover [a fire elsewhere], we’d still have coverage within the City.”

The ultimate goal, Sendelbach said, is to have six crew members on duty during peak hours Monday through Friday.

They’ve examined their call statistics to find their peak hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

“If we have a 12-hour shift and put part-timers there, it opens up another medic unit and it’s an opportunity for additional coverage and an additional opportunity to bring in revenue for transport.”

The reason for that additional coverage is to have another medical unit open to take calls that wind up going to nearest available unit.

Sendelbach said after reviewing statistics from the City’s contracted emergency medical service billing company, Sharp Ambulance, he estimates only $358 of an average $1,884 bill gets collected. The amount that is actually collected fluctuates as it’s getting closer to an estimated $425-450 per EMT call.

“We had a 19 percent collection rate. I don’t think in anybody’s math that is good,” he said adding that the amount is this low because not all residents calling for emergency services have insurance or the ability to pay. Some do have health insurance coverage but “they’re all lumped in there.”

During the most recent collection time frame from November through February, a total of $234,591.82 was collected.

“These numbers should be getting better from our folks at Sharp,” Sendelbach said. “Our collection ratio will be fine-tuned and will get better over the course of time. They’ve echoed that statement.”

Since six crew members would be available during peak call hours, Sendelbach estimates that second EMS unit would wind up paying for the additional coverage even if they only respond to one call per shift.

Councilman Sherman Dix asked if there were additional EMT service calls made to which their department could not respond. That’s difficult to answer since Selma and Kingsburg fire departments cover each other when one is already out on a call. Thus, it’s unknown how many calls they’re missing without that second unit available, Sendelbach said.

“What [dispatch] does is automatically dispatch the next closest unit based on the AVL [automatic vehicle locator]. It just picks whatever unit’s there and if we had a unit in service that would be us.”

Sendelbach said they will also be increasing inspections in town to improve fire safety and have businesses start taking part in the BSAFE inspections each year. He also wants to bring in a part-time fire marshal to help citizens comply with fire safety standards.

The interim chief said a recent fire on 10th Avenue made them realize more needs to be done to inspect and prevent fires that can quickly turn deadly.

The call for that fire was relayed as an outbuilding and their crews weren’t expecting people to be involved, he said. It turns out the garage that was on fire had been converted into living quarters for a family of three and their pet. Only the man was present at the time of the fire and he sustained serious burn injuries.

“When you say ‘small outbuilding’ to our dispatcher, you get a totally different response than if you say, ‘a house is on fire.’ It’s a scaled-back response with fewer resources to assist because [dispatch] assumes it’s just an outbuilding. The problem is this was an illegal conversion to a residence. This is an extreme, extreme problem.”

Sendelbach said the focus will now be on prevention.

Only six fire inspections have taken place over the previous year, Sendelbach said, and this needs to change. Now that they’re fully staffed, he wants those in the forefront and for citizens to get involved in this prevention.

The Building Safety And Fire Education Inspection program will be put into action where business owners use a 21-point, self-inspection checklist. Any hazards found are to be corrected and submitted to the department within 30 days of notice with a $10 fee.

“Then you’re done for the year. But when you sign on the bottom line, you’re telling us you’ve checked those 21 things are in compliance.”

The next year, the Fire Department will conduct an inspection to ensure everything is in compliance.

To enforce fire safety codes, Sendelbach said he’ll have Selma’s fire marshal work part-time to educate residents about such matters as how to safely convert a garage to a living quarters and meet code requirements.

Another recent fire turned out to be an illegal burn in a backyard. This would be another instance where a fire marshal would help with code compliance, Sendelbach said. The need for uniform fire safety code enforcement is also crucial as Kingsburg is developing a number of housing projects and new businesses are either coming in to town or current ones are remodeling.

“The other part of it is plan consistency. We have development occurring [and] this brings opportunities for inconsistent application of the codes. This fire marshal would do plan reviews to give us that consistency and apply the code appropriately for the City.”

Sendelbach said their department will also be conducting more inspections of high-occupancy buildings such as hotels, schools and hospitals to comply with Senate Bill 1205. That law was put in place as a result of Oakland’s Ghost Ship warehouse fire in 2016 where 36 people died.

The warehouse did not have sprinklers or fire alarms which violates California’s fire safety code. The Oakland Fire Department also had not inspected that warehouse despite complaints about the fire danger, according to Bay Area News Group reporter Thomas Peele’s investigation.

Sendelbach said the Fire Department is also required to report their inspections to the City Council and thus, within a year he’ll return with that report.

“It’s by law that we do inspections. It something we absolutely have to find a way to do. It also has to be documented in a resolution. We’re trying to get ahead of that curve for you and put out a cost-effective and appropriate plan for you.”

Mayor Michelle Roman thanked the interim chief for being so thorough in his report.

“Thank you for taking a look at everything. This is the first time we’ve had one of these so it’s great to hear all the good things going on.”

Girls water polo recognition

During the meeting, Council also recognized the 2018 Kingsburg High School girls’ water polo team who won the Division III Valley Championship for the second year in a row after beating out Sierra Pacific.

The team consists of Claire Bennett, Sofia Righetti, Jessica Burch-Konda, Megan Buendia, Julia Gamble, Jillian Gipson, Mikayla Vierra, Abigail Lunde, Shay Hanson, Mirjana Quattrin, Gabby Cantu and Audrena Butts. Their head coach is Emily Dewey.

“They lifted each other up through encouragement, helpful, constructive suggestions and praise,” Mayor Roman said reading a proclamation. “The way they treated one another was key to their accomplishments. Coach Dewey stated that the greatest contribution to the success of the team was that they truly cared for one another, which was evident in and out of the pool.”

Council went on discuss changes for special events in town. The goal is to make charges and fees for special events and outside vendors equitable to existing business in town. Several revisions will be made to the current proposals and brought back for further discussion before being approved.

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The reporter can be reached at 583-2427 or lbrown@selmaenterprise.com.

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