February 25, 2012
  • 2/25/2012 -- County, cities consider fire consolidation 

    By Michelle Durand 

    San Mateo Daily Journal 



    Redwood City, CA -- San Mateo County, San Carlos and Redwood City could 

    collectively save millions of dollars and provide more efficient fire service by 

    consolidating three overlapping stations and rethinking how they are equipped, according 

    to initial reports and ongoing discussions with the stakeholders. 


    The San Carlos City Council on Monday night will discuss the possibility of shared 

    service opportunities which Assistant City Manager Brian Moura said is really a 

    reiteration by the current members to continue strategic plans by the prior council. 


    A large basis of the discussions between the cities and the county is a 2010 report by 

    TriData commissioned when San Carlos was looking for a new fire partner following the 

    dissolution of its joint department with Belmont. TriData suggested looking at Redwood 

    City Station 12 near the San Carlos border, county Station 18 on Edmonds Road near 

    Crestview Drive and Station 16 on Alameda de las Pulgas. Each station only averages 

    one to two service calls per day and collectively costs their respective cities or county 

    $7.5 million per year. 


    At the time, Redwood City Fire Chief Jim Skinner and San Carlos officials agreed their 

    hybrid department was the priority but the council also agreed to an annual review of the 

    department and future opportunities. Now is that time. 


    During his State of the City address Thursday night, Mayor Andy Klein cited greater 

    government efficiency as a key to a sustainable budget and called out further fire 

    consolidation as a primary opportunity. 


    In the last few weeks, the city managers and Deputy County Manager Peggy Jensen have 

    been meeting and showed interest in consolidation, Moura said. 


    Another consideration in those talks is what the new stations might look like — how 

    many firefighters from each agency? Engines, trucks or light-duty vehicles? Improve the 

    existing stations or start from scratch with a modern facility? 


    Moura thinks consolidation might not stop there. 


    “Who knows? This discussion in San Carlos coupled with the work the county is doing 

    might trigger some discussions with other cities,” Moura said. 


     Supervisor Don Horsley is excited by the idea of consolidation and cites it as preferable 

    to a fire fee or tax to close the county’s own $1 million to $2 million deficit for Cal Fire 



    “It’s a better way to go instead of asking people to fork up more money,” he said. 


    Station 18 in particular is on his radar. 


    “Unless someone can show me a diminution of services, I think in the long run this is a 

    model of the way to go with municipalities,” Horsley said. 


    Supervisor Adrienne Tissier is also a fan of the discussions and thinks they may be a way 

    to revisit the idea of a consolidated department with multiple cities. 


    “They could certainly lead back into that,” she said. 


    Tissier and Supervisor Carole Groom urged such a move last year when San Carlos 

    approached them about subcontracting fire service but the suggestion fizzled and now 

    San Mateo Fire Chief Dan Belville — a proponent of shared services — is retiring. 


    Currently, the county contracts with Cal Fire to protect the unincorporated areas like the 

    Highlands which taxes itself to receive an enhanced level of service. The existing $65 tax 

    is coming up for a four-year renewal which the Board of Supervisors will on Tuesday 

    consider putting on the ballot. 


    A tax has been in place since 1982 and set at $65 per parcel since 1996. The tax generates 

    about $92,000 annually.