A call for consolidation

The author makes a case for Chico contracting with Cal Fire

The author is a former part-time firefighter/EMT in San Bernardino County. He is a 1983 graduate of the Butte College Volunteer Academy and lives in Chico.

Recently, in the Los Angeles County community of Diamond Bar, a drunken wrong-way driver initiated a multicar high-speed accident that resulted in six fatalities. Several dozen professional firefighters of the L.A. County Fire Department responded to the horrendous incident.

Fifty years ago, that same fire department responded primarily to incidents within the unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County. Incorporated cities had their own fire departments.

Over time, the communities of L.A. County recognized the cost benefits of contracting with the county fire department for daily services rather than maintaining a smaller local department. Currently, the LACFD serves 88 incorporated cities spread across 2,200 square miles.

Next door, the Orange County Fire Authority serves 23 incorporated cities. Across the state, more and more local fire departments are giving way to larger countywide departments.

In Butte County, there is a similar trend. Most recently, Paradise merged its department with the Butte County Cal Fire Unit. The cities of Biggs and Gridley have been protected by Cal Fire (California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection) for many years.

Within the greater Chico area, there are six city fire stations and three Cal Fire stations. For several years, the two departments have had an agreement whereby the nearest staffed fire apparatus responds to all life-threatening incidents.

If the city of Chico were to turn over fire protection responsibilities to Cal Fire, it would immediately resolve the greatest point of contention in the public debate: overtime. Cal Fire/Butte County Fire Department is the largest fire department in California north of Sacramento. It is easily able to reallocate resources within the staffing of its 22 professional stations in Butte County.

The ongoing debate over salaries and benefits would also end with a merger. All Cal Fire firefighters are employees of the state of California and are represented statewide by a single union, CDF Firefighters. Local government, therefore, is removed from the bargaining process.

Consolidation is logical. It saves local government both money and headaches. There is no loss in the level of fire protection. City of Chico and Cal Fire professional firefighters have the same level of training and actually work side by side on a daily basis. The city’s Fire Training Center on Humboldt Road is regularly used by both departments.

Consolidation is simply common sense.