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Fires Without Borders: San Rafael and Larkspur Fire Consider Merging Services

"Sometimes you have to look beyond your borders," San Rafael Fire Chief Chris Gray said.

The is considering combining forces with Larkspur in hopes of creating a more efficient and sustainable emergency service.

City officials are currently working on a draft agreement that would combine the administrative staff, technical assistance and resources of both fire agencies to serve the combined area. The agreement could help fill holes left by budget cuts in the past years and increase efficiency, according to San Rafael Fire Chief Chris Gray.

“Sometimes you have to look beyond your borders,” he said. “Fires don’t know borders.”

The San Rafael and Larkspur fire departments have already been sharing San Rafael’s battalion chief officers for the past three years. In 2009, they approved an agreement after Larkspur’s deputy fire chief position was eliminated.

San Rafael’s battalion chief officers, who supervise emergency operations, are available 24 hours. Larkspur is then billed on an hourly basis when San Rafael personnel respond to their emergency calls. 

According to Larkspur Fire Chief Bob Sinnott, it has been a success. “We look forward to expanding our partnership through further regional blending with the San Rafael Fire Department,” he said.

Past Agreements with Other Fire Agencies

San Rafael and Larkspur are not the only fire agencies collaborating to close gaps in service. In March 2009, 11 Marin fire departments, including San Rafael, entered into a contract with the county for fire dispatch communications.

Before that, three full-time dispatchers from the San Rafael worked at a leased space adjacent to Fire Station 51. The total cost to the city was $510,000 per year.

Since 2008, five administrative positions in the San Rafael Fire Department have remained vacant and eight positions have been eliminated, including those fire dispatchers, according to Gray.

At the time the county agreement took place, the dispatchers would work a 48-hour shift alone, where they would take meals and sleep by the phone. “I remember the old system, and it was quite frightening,” Councilwoman Barbara Heller said at a January meeting when the City Council renewed the contract.
Now, there are three dispatchers who work 12-hour shifts and are overseen by a manager, according to Gray.

When San Rafael’s position for a training officer was not filled, San Rafael Fire Captain Steve Davis as well as Larkspur’s Fire Captain Scott Shurtz and Paramedic Don Stasiowski began to form the Central Marin Training Consortium.

The CMTC members included personnel from San Rafael, Larkspur, Corte Madera, Kentfield and Marinwood. The group would arrange for training sessions on structure fires, wildfire, rescue and hazardous materials to compensate for the eliminated position.

The Future for San Rafael and Larkspur

San Rafael firefighters respond to around 7,000 emergency incidents each year. With 23 on-duty staff, the department is not be able to simultaneously handle more than a house fire, a traffic accident with injuries and a medical call.

The draft agreement will include a reimbursement plan like the one for the battalion chief services. Larkspur’s emergency service would improve by sharing San Rafael’s 43 licensed paramedics and equipment could be shared among the agencies.

Gray hopes that this and past agreements will serve as stepping stones for regionalizing more services in the future.

“In the end, if people know someone will consistently respond to their emergencies they don’t care who’s name is on the side of the engine,” he said.

Gary Tobin April 24, 2012 at 01:42 PM
A reasonable approach that should benefit everyone. Congratulations to the forward thinkers involved. gpt

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