Millbrae seeks fire services partnershipBy Neil H. Dempsey
City and fire officials looking to save money and improve service are pushing to expand collaborations with other local agencies while keeping an open mind to the possibility of a merger.
Millbrae's Fire Department currently shares battalion chief assignments with San Bruno and collaborates with Central, San Mateo and San Bruno fire agencies on emergency medical service (EMS) training. Fire Chief Dennis Haag got the go-ahead this week from the City Council to pursue expanding both efforts, to include administrative tasks with San Bruno and operational firefighting training with all three agencies.
Haag's plans for furthering the collaboration fit into a five-year plan officials in cash-strapped Millbrae have developed to replenish city coffers by $2 million to $3 million, according to City Manager Ralph Jaeck. Haag said the expansion is also in response to the foreseeable end to city Fire Suppression Assessment funding, which constitutes about $1.1 million of his department's monies -- nearly half of its annual budget -- and is set to expire in 2009.
Sharing the battalion chiefs has saved on overtime costs, Haag said. Sharing administrative tasks with San Bruno will begin this month and, if all goes well over the next months, the two agencies could arrange a formal agreement. "It seems to be working very well," he said.
Haag said adding firefighter training to the collaboration Millbrae currently has with Central, San Mateo and San Bruno fire agencies -- in addition to EMS training, the four also share an EMS supervisor -- could enhance response capabilities and save Millbrae $70,000 a year.
The program will be headed by a Millbrae division chief and provide standardized training and performance assessments to each of the four agencies, which often work together on responses. Haag said although full mergers are "complex" and "dynamic," pursuing one "is not out of the question."
"Those are things we have to be open to to sustain the level of service that's currently here," Haag said.
Jaeck reiterated support he showed last year for combining Millbrae's departments with those in Burlingame and Hillsborough, which merged in 2004. "For a department with two fire stations, I think we need to consolidate with others for efficiency of operation," Jaeck said.
A merger could come in many forms -- from simply paying one administrative department to oversee separate operational forces to a complete, top-to-bottom integration, he said.
In addition to Hillsborough/Burlingame, a number of city fire departments have already merged forces, including Belmont/San Carlos.
Copyright ©2006 Peninsula Examiner. Published 01/16/2006.