Privatization of Fire Services Divides Residents, Council in San Carlos.
April 24, 2011
Here We Go Again.
Just as the dust seemed to settle from the impassioned debate regarding outsourcing police services in San Carlos to an outside agency, the San Carlos City Council must again decide whether to do the same with the other critical element of public safety in San Carlos: Fire services. After a lengthy mediation over the weekend failed to save the Joint Powers Agreement with Belmont, both cities left the table in different directions to seek their own solutions for providing fire services before the October dissolution of the Belmont-San Carlos Fire Department.
The failure to revive the Belmont-San Carlos Fire Department now leaves the City Council with the following three alternatives to provide fire services to the City of San Carlos:
- Create an standalone San Carlos Fire Department.
- Merge fire services with Redwood City.
- Outsource to a private company – Wackenhut Services.
The latter two solutions are the ones being most strongly considered by the City Council, since a standalone department isn't economically feasible with the current budget deficit. And it's the choice between these two that is polarizing many in the City of Good Living.
Firefighters Against Privatization.
This past weekend, nearly 100 firefighters canvassed the City of San Carlos distributing flyers that decry the option of outsourcing fire services to Wackenhut. Unlike the police solution where a known, local entity (San Mateo County Sheriff's Department) took over the reins, the fire solution is a bit more nebulous. Wackenhut, a company that specializes in security and emergency services, is a corporation that is located out of state, so there is a palpable uneasiness with many about handing over such a critical piece of public safety to a corporation that doesn't appear to have a single firefighting contract in the state of California.
Still, many are still divided about the merits of this approach, whether it's San Carlos residents or even members of the City Council, as is evident in this report:
Redwood City is the Right Choice.
While Wackenhut is very likely a solid organization and their proposal *may* save the City some funds up front over the Redwood City proposal, I think it's important that the City Council takes a long, hard look at the strategic direction of fire services not only in San Carlos, but throughout San Mateo County. Communities throughout the county such as San Bruno and Millbrae have already merged, and others are very seriously considering working on some sort of a hybrid model (Foster City/San Mateo.) As I have said before on this site, I could easily see in the next 20 years the emergence of a single, unified fire department that's run by the county and that serves the entire county — or something very close to it. We're already heading in that direction today.
That makes merging fire services with Redwood City a logical step in that direction. Privatization is not.
Much like law enforcement, fire services rely heavily on the mutual planning and cooperation from surrounding communities for boundary coverage and more important, response to large-scale disasters (i.e. San Bruno) San Carlos can't afford the risk of being the broken arrow in the bigger picture. For that very reason, the City Council absolutely made the right call by aligning with the Sheriff's Department for law enforcement. And for that very reason, they now need to make the same decision and make the Redwood City/San Carlos fire merger work.
With the October deadline creeping closer every week, the Council may very well decide the future of the San Carlos Fire Department in the next City Council meeting, which is Monday April 25 at 7:00 PM in the City Council Chambers. The Firefighters Union Local 2400 are organizing a strong opposition to this plan, and will be there in force at Monday night's meeting.
If you have a strong opinion one way or the other about fire services in San Carlos, be sure to show up to this meeting. It may be the only chance you'll have to speak your mind before this crucial decision is made.