The Other Half of the “Preferred Option”.
Today, Cal Fire submitted their first-pass proposal to provide San Carlos with fire and emergency services. If you recall from my post earlier this week, the City Manager has stated that his preferred option to balance the city’s budget is to outsource both police and fire services to outside agencies. The San Mateo County Sheriff’s office is due to deliver their proposal for police services by Friday of this week, in advance of the Budget Workshop on Saturday, March 13th.
The Cal Fire Plan:
The detailed plan can be found on this link on the City’s website, but here are some of the key points of their proposal:
- It provides two, 3-person, Advanced Life Support (ALS or paramedic) engine companies rather than the current Fire JPA mix of one Engine Company and one Truck Company in San Carlos
- It uses the Cal Fire approach to staffing and scheduling rather than the Fire JPA approach
- The proposal offers both a Cal Fire Staffed cost and a “Red Circle” Staffed cost where Fire JPA employee salaries are frozen until they “catch up” with the salary levels paid by Cal Fire
- The proposal also assumes that all current Fire JPA and Cal Fire employees are at the highest salary step. To the extent that is not the case, actual costs to the City will be lower and potential savings will increase
- Annual cost for Cal Fire Staffed services: $3,495,262
- Annual cost for Cal Fire/Red Circle (frozen salary) Staffed services: $4,257,525
Just like the situation with the San Carlos Police Department, the initial glance raises more questions than it answers. Here’s just a few:
- What exactly is the “Cal Fire approach to staffing?”
- What happens to existing members of the Belmont-San Carlos Fire Department? Absorbed, or fired? Are we going to get crews that know anything about San Carlos?
- What is the disposition of Station 16 on Alameda? There’s some vague wording about “sharing of fire resources between San Carlos and San Mateo County/Cal Fire to address the existence of the overlapping stations on Alameda (BSCFD) and Cordilleras (Cal Fire). That sure sounds like it’s leaving the door open to a station closure somewhere….
- What happens with the existing ladder truck that currently is staffed between Belmont and San Carlos on alternate years? Do we now have to rely on a neighboring city for basic ladder service?
- What happens to the HazMat rig?
- Do we have references from other municipalities (preferably local) that have contracted their fire service to Cal Fire? What is there experience with this arrangement? Did they achieve the cost savings that were promised?
One problem that is not solved is the staffing level for each engine company. The existing law requires that before a strike team can enter a burning building, there must be an equal number of support firefighters on the outside. So if a 4-man engine company is first to respond to a burning building, they can send a strike team of 2 firefighers inside immediately. But if a 3-man engine company is first to arrive on the scene, they must wait for the next company to arrive before anyone can enter the building. This is exactly what happened at the recent fatal fire on Devonshire. So on the surface this is no better than what we already have — and with the loss of the tiller rig, it seems inferior.
The City claims that Cal Fire’s proposal will save the City save between $1.2M-$2M annually. Just like the Police Department proposal, more details are supposed to be forthcoming at Saturday’s Budget Workshops on March 13 and 22nd. And the same question needs to be raised in both cases: How are they able to provide the same level of service that we have now at such a drastic discount?
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