Fire services consolidation would cut costs on Peninsula 

A large new fire agency is being pitched for San Mateo County as departments across the Peninsula struggle with budget shortfalls.

The idea for regionalized fire services comes as San Carlos plans to disband its joint department with Belmont in October amid a dispute between the cities about how to share the costs. The new agency could include Redwood City, San Carlos, Belmont and Foster City.

Last week, Redwood City officials submitted a 20-page proposal for taking over San Carlos’ fire services at a cost of $5.9 million a year that would include cutting several Belmont-San Carlos command-staff positions. Along with the formal proposal, a joint letter from Redwood City and San Mateo County officials about the regional agency was included as an attachment.

“We believe that such an approach will produce efficiency and economies of scale that will benefit the communities while providing exceptional fire service to our region,” the letter said.

A mid-Peninsula multiagency department already has the support of San Mateo County Firefighters Local 2400, the union that represents firefighters in 11 county departments, including several joint agencies formed by neighboring cities.

Union President Ed Hawkins said there is a natural fear of job losses if cities consolidate, but he said the departments must focus on being solvent in the long term. Some Peninsula fire departments are struggling with rising costs, particularly in employee salaries and benefits.

“If we don’t come together and create something that’s sustainable, the city’s going to be out of business, which means we’ll be out of business,” Hawkins said. “So we’re all kind of in this together to provide a service.”

Also, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection is expected to join with San Mateo County to submit a competing plan to take over fire services in San Carlos. The San Carlos City Council is expected to discuss both proposals Jan. 24.

“That’ll give the community and the council a real choice,” Assistant City Manager Brian Moura said.

Fighting fires

A new proposal from Redwood City officials aims to take over fire services in San Carlos. A handful of facts have emerged in the pitch, but others remain in question.

- Two fully staffed engine companies in San Carlos
- Cost savings through eliminating fire chief, three battalion chiefs, fire marshal, two fire inspectors, administrative staff in existing Belmont-San Carlos Fire Department
- Management provided by Redwood City command staff
- Aerial truck provided by Redwood City Station 9
- Proposal does not address cost of station or equipment upgrades, hazardous materials unit, emergency preparedness training

Source: City of San Carlos

sbishop@sfexaminer.com

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Shaun Bishop

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