4TH DISTRICT REPORT | VINCE WELLS
Solano Co. Rejects Backroom Effort to Privatize 9-1-1 Dispatch
Private ambulance providers and their allies in local EMS agencies (LEMSAs) have opened up a new front in their ongoing war against fire-based EMS: 9-1-1 dispatch. In a move that is gaining traction in other areas, a Solano County joint-powers authority – guided by the EMS director and other county officials -- sought to implement a plan to completely privatize that county’s medical dispatch system.
If the experience in Solano County is any indication, the privateers are in for a rough ride with the public.
Facing angry citizens and a remarkable show of unity among firefighters, chiefs and local government leaders, the Solano County Board of Supervisors rejected a planned “request-for-proposals” (RFP) to implement the privatization plan and terminated the consultant contract, rebuking the backroom dealing.
“The people of Solano County spoke loud and clear, and the supervisors listened,” said Firefighters Local 1186 President Todd Matthews.
The privatization proposal – drafted by a Pennsylvania-based consultant – fire departments in Solano County would no longer be able to dispatch based on patient need. Instead, privateers would handle dispatch, which would be based on the bottom line of the contractor. Amazingly, the report put its cost-over-care biases right out there for public view, arguing that, in rural areas of the county, medical response times of up to 60 minutes were acceptable.
With the JPA and its handlers seeking to force a quick and quiet decision, Local 1186 mobilized its partners in the fire service and local government to push back.
In conjunction with CPF’s political, legislative and communications services, Local 1186 launched a multi-pronged effort. A letter from CPF President Brian K. Rice detailed the potential risks of privatized dispatch. CPF worked with Local 1186 to develop a web and social media campaign that included a short video and a web-based petition that eventually garnered well over 1,000 signatures.
“The help we got from CPF made a huge difference,” said Matthews. “The video and the web petition helped us galvanize the public and our partners.”
In addition to the public campaign, fire chiefs, local government officials and local Assemblyman Tim Grayson all weighed in with the supervisors against the sneak attack. When county supervisors came together in December to vote on the proposed RFP, they were greeted by a packed hearing room and a stack of petition signatures from angry residents. Members of Vacaville Firefighters Local 3501 and Dixon Firefighters 4665 turned out in huge numbers in a show of support and solidarity.
The supervisors got the message. They scrapped the expensive and dangerous consultant report and decided to completely reevaluate the process.
The victory in Solano County was decisive, but far from complete. A similar privatization plan is being proposed in Monterey County and indications are that other LEMSAs and local medical directors are eyeing the idea.
Wells Elected 4th District VP in Milestone for CPF
Vince Wells is an Air Force veteran, a firefighter for more than two decades, and the longtime president of United Professional Firefighters of Contra Costa County, Local 1230.
When Wells was, by acclamation, elected as 4th District Vice President for California Professional Firefighters, he became something else – a trailblazer. Wells is the first African American to serve on the CPF Executive Board.
“It’s an honor to serve the members of the 4th District and all firefighters throughout California,” Wells said. “CPF is a pivotal organization within the California fire service, and I look forward to working with President Rice and our board to further the mission of protecting the lives and livelihoods of frontline firefighters.”
Wells has been an active figure in the firefighter union movement at the local and state level. He actively participated in statewide efforts to protect the united voice of firefighters throughout the state, and has been honored in Contra Costa County for his service to the labor movement. Vince has also paid tribute to fallen colleagues by participating in the California Firefighters Memorial. In 2015, he spoke at the Memorial on behalf of fallen brother Richard Voisey.
Wells’ election as CPF’s first African American vice president is not the only milestone within the Bay Area labor movement. Earlier this year, Shon Buford was elected to serve as president of San Francisco Firefighters Local 798. Buford is that local’s first African American local president.