Cities may join forces to fight fires

The Millbrae and San Bruno fire departments could be finally be folded into the Central County Fire Department after the Burlingame City Council on Tuesday agreed to fund a study on the potential merge.

The fire departments from Burlingame and Hillsborough united to form Central County in April 2004. The merger saved $2.4 million in the first year. Millbrae and San Bruno could reap a fair amount of savings by joining forces with Central County by combining stations and reducing staff.

Millbrae and San Bruno, along with San Mateo, almost joined Central County the year it was formed but backed out because of Central County’s higher salaries. San Mateo reneged because of complaints from its fire union.

This is the fifth time since 1994 that the possible merge has been up for consideration, Millbrae fire Chief Dennis Haag said. One reason for the renewed interest, Haag said, is that Millbrae’s fire tax, which raises $1.1 million of the department’s $4.2 million budget, expires in 2009.

The merger, which may take at least a year to materialize if approved, would also help consolidate San Mateo County’s fire services. Belmont and San Carlos merged to form the South County Fire Authority; Daly City, Pacifica and Brisbane make up the North County Fire Authority.

The study, which will cost $9,000 from Burlingame’s contingency operating reserve, will look at how much each city would save by examining possible station locations that could be eliminated. If all goes well, a second, more in-depth study would be approved before each city’s council decides whether they should fuse.

The union would combine Central County’s five stations with Millbrae’s two and San Bruno’s three. The stations would wait for voluntary firefighter departures and retirements to reduce staffing, Burlingame Mayor Terry Nagel said. Fourteen Central County positions were eliminated through attrition during the first merger.

City Manager James Nantell said at least $500,000 to $1 million in savings would be necessary for Burlingame to take on the project.

“Saving tax dollars to provide the same services obviously benefits the communities,” Central County Fire Chief Don Dornell said. “It’s doable; we already help out each other.”

mrosenberg@examiner.com

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