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Fire chiefs collaborate on cutting costs

Decreased income, demand for services spur committee
By: Amber Marra,
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Fire chiefs from multiple Placer County areas are attempting to determine the feasibility of sharing resources to cut costs for individual departments.

The Western Placer County Fire Chiefs Association recently put together the Long Range Planning Committee to begin talks of how to reduce financial burdens for fire districts.

Ian Gow, Meadow Vista fire chief and president of the fire chiefs association, said the committee was recently formed, but the goal is to potentially save money by examining sharing jobs, training or supplies.

Some area fire departments have suffered financial hardships in recent months. The Ophir fire station on Wise Road was saved from closure only through a $1.2 million Federal Emergency Management Agency grant and the Newcastle Fire Protection District worked to pass a parcel tax in March to pay for a new fire station to replace its current 90-year-old station. The tax is currently being challenged with a counter measure on the November ballot.

“In this economy it’s the right thing to do to look at ways we can provide the same or better service for less of a financial impact on our constituents,” Gow said. “There isn’t a department in Placer County that isn’t struggling due to decreased funding, so we’re trying to maintain the same level of service to the public, which is exceptional, with a decreased amount of income.”

The possibility of consolidating fire departments is not off the table.

“You could look even further and ask if there would be enough cost savings if we merged some departments together,” Gow said.

The committee has only been in existence for a few months, but Auburn Fire Chief Mark D’Ambrogi, the committee chairman, said one of the main focuses for the group is identifying issues fire departments have in common.

Unfortunately, the root of all of the issues brought forward is funding.

“It comes down to money in some form or another. Staffing issues, funding for equipment, facilities, you name it, the underlying theme is the financial support structure out there,” D’Ambrogi said.

He added that in addition to fire chiefs having resource-sharing discussions, Placer County officials, special fire districts and city officials all have to be involved.

Brad Harris, Placer County fire chief and local Cal Fire chief, is also serving on the committee and said it is only through collaboration with county and city elected officials that any resource sharing or possible consolidation plans could be hashed out.

“We’ve got to bring our elected officials alongside to make sure that is how they want us to work. Once we have a plan together it will be a matter of flushing it out, but elected officials are the ones who are ultimately in charge of determining the future of these districts and it is their input, guidance and vision that will be used as we proceed,” Harris said.

Rocklin Fire Chief James Summers pointed out that Placer County fire departments operate under the Closest Resource Agreement that guarantees that if an emergency occurs close to another department’s jurisdiction, firefighters and emergency personnel from that district and others close by will respond. As long as those departments are able to provide each other with services on equal grounds, they will help each other under the Cooperative Fire Services Response Agreement.

Summers also said Rocklin has joint battalion chief and rapid intervention training with South Placer and Roseville fire departments.

He said though the idea of consolidating some smaller fire departments is a long way off, it is still an interesting prospect.

“I think as long as residents call 911 and someone shows up, they’re happy, but we’re all looking at how to do things better economically,” Summers said.

But combining resources or even departments could be complicated for fire protection districts farther out in the county. Foresthill Fire Chief Luanna Dowling said it is difficult to always respond to emergencies in other parts of the county because her protection area is so far out.

She said her firefighters have participated in training with other districts, but that it is too early to name any specifics regarding how the Long Range Planning Committee will determine cost saving measures for departments.

“(Consolidation) is part of the discussion in the Long Range Planning Committee, but the who, what, when, where, that has not even been approached yet,” she said.

Roseville Fire Chief Marc Reed said the committee is more about eliminating any duplication of services that exists within Placer County’s fire departments so taxpayer money is better used.

Before any action can be taken, however, elected officials have to be brought in on the conversation and individual department needs have to be identified.

“There are three things needed to make this come together: It has to make sense operationally for everyone involved, it has to make fiscal sense for everyone involved and there has to be the political will to do it,” Reed said.

Contact Amber Marra at amberm@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @Amber_AJNews.