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Covina Move Revives Fire Agency Dispute

August 04, 1988|CRAIG QUINTANA | Times Staff Writer

The future of the San Gabriel Valley Fire Authority, which serves Covina and West Covina, could be in jeopardy because of action by the Covina City Council that may fuel a dispute between the cities.

On Monday, Covina accepted a compromise gesture from the larger city to move a truck manned by four firefighters from West Covina to a Covina station. However, the Covina council tacked on a condition that may scuttle the agreement.

At the suggestion of Councilman Thomas O'Leary, Covina added a provision that each station in the city have at least one fire engine and three firefighters to guarantee an adequate level of protection.

Such a staffing provision was previously rejected by West Covina and has been a major stalling point in yearlong contract negotiations between the firefighter's union and the Fire Authority.

Although Covina would have the staffing it seeks at each station after the transfer, city officials want the levels guaranteed in the future. West Covina officials have refused to set levels, contending that such action could tie their hands.

West Covina officials said the transfer was intended to allay Covina's concerns. The additional crew would give Covina a 15-member firefighting complement within its city limits, a larger force than it had before the merger two years ago. It would reduce the number of firefighters in West Covina to 17.

"I got slapped in the face," said Fire Authority President Robert Bacon, a West Covina councilman who shaped the compromise to transfer the truck and firefighters to Covina. "I'm livid. We're right back to square one."

In June, West Covina City Manger Herman R. Fast recommended that the city pull out of the Fire Authority, citing a deteriorating relationship with Covina. But Bacon said he wanted more time to save the agency by working out the cities' differences.

A new Covina council majority elected in April has been critical of the Fire Authority's $8.8-million budget for 1988-89, which calls for eliminating the position of an engineer to operate a snorkel truck in Covina.

Covina critics claim that their city has been unfairly targeted for a disproportionate portion of cost reductions. A Covina citizens committee is expected to report back to the City Council in September on whether the city should continue its participation in the agency.

O'Leary, a critic of the authority, said the transfer does not end the dispute.

"It satisfies a minor concern on a resolvable issue," he said. "That does not resolve the fundamental problems of the Fire Authority." He complained that the response time to fires in Covina has risen since the authority was formed.

Bacon predicted that the manning guarantee requested by Covina will probably be rejected by the West Covina council. He said Covina's insistence on setting staffing levels and his city's determination not to approve them will again lead to an impasse between the two cities.

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