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Friday, May 4, 2012

CFPD Looking to end CAL FIRE relationship

Half Moon Bay - CalFire contract is extended 1 year by default

CalFire may not continue beyond 6/30/2013.  The backstory is still quiet. 

Split board looks beyond CalFire

Majority ignores grand jury recommendations

Coastside Fire District, Half Moon Bay
By a 3-2 vote, the Coastside Fire Protection District board of directors last week hired new consultants in a continuing effort to determine the feasibility of a stand-alone department, one that would be run without CalFire management. In so doing, the board majority effectively ignored strong warnings contained in a San Mateo County grand jury report issued the very same day.
Meanwhile, the board majority declined to sign a new contract with CalFire, and the state fire agency exercised its option to extend the contract one year — to June 30, 2013. At that time the state agency would hand over operations to some other organization.
Board President Doug Mackintosh and board members Mike Alifano and Gary Riddell carried the day, assigning a $48,000 consultant team to investigate the costs and operational questions necessary to reconstitute a locally managed department. The consultants include a retired San Ramon firefighter who will charge the district $225 an hour for his expertise and Susan George, recently retired town manager of Woodside, who will charge $150 an hour.
Citing ongoing frustration from working with a large state bureaucracy, Mackintosh said after the meeting that the Coastside would see better fire protection and long-term savings if it went back to local staffing. He declined to point out any specific problems with the services provided by CalFire.
“In some cases it seems like everything is pulling teeth,” he said, “The majority of the board feels that we need to move someplace else for service.”
The other two board members say there is absolutely no reason why the district should dump CalFire. Director Gary Burke pointed out the state fire agency has not been embroiled in any lawsuits or complaints over four years on the Coastside.
That is in contrast to the stand-alone Half Moon Bay Fire Protection District, which paid more than $1.2 million in settlements and legal costs between 2000 and 2006. That was a dark period for the two Coastside fire districts. Infighting led to lawsuits and highly publicized scraps between management and labor. Eventually, a series of interim chiefs recommended a newly combined district contract with CalFire for management, and the Coastside Fire Protection District did just that in 2008. Since then, the district has won praise in a separate grand jury report, and the board has boasted of saving taxpayers money by virtue of CalFire’s salary scale and work schedule.
But the board majority has pointed to what it thinks are deficiencies in the deal. Alifano has said the district needs the protection of an independent contract manager and that without one he can’t be certain the state agency is delivering on its promises. In addition, board members claim CalFire isn’t doing all it could with training and that some firefighters are unfamiliar with local neighborhoods.
Burke was instrumental in setting up the CalFire contract and is unmoved by the majority’s complaints.
“This is an attempt to return the district to the cronyism that we had before CalFire,” he said. “The action taken by the board was dangerous, irresponsible and without justification.”
“We’re in uncharted territory here … and there’s so many unknowns,” said CalFire unit Chief John Ferreira who supervises Coastside firefighters. “It’s never happened that a contract has expired and the contracting body expects us to vacate.”
In a letter sent before the board meeting, CalFire officials announced they saw no other option but to enact an emergency clause in their contract to extend the current terms for one year in order to guarantee that the coast kept a capable firefighting force. That means the district could end its relationship with the state agency no earlier than 2013, and it also gives CalFire time to redeploy its personnel on the coast.
Extending the contract for another year made sense, Mackintosh said, because it gives the district time to work out a transition.
“You don’t just do these things and jump from one service to another without some work done, unless you’re stupid,” he said.
The most recent grand jury report claimed that much of the criticism of CalFire was “unfounded, outdated or of relatively minor significance.” It pointed out that Mackintosh himself was once a plaintiff against the district and claimed that much of the discord over district management through the years was the result of squabbling unions.
In an interview last week, Mackintosh dismissed the grand jury report because it wasn’t prepared by firefighting professionals.


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