Having served for the last years of my career as the fire chief of the Arroyo Grande/Grover Beach Fire Department, I would like to share some of the historical perspective, goals, and objectives regarding the formation of what is known today as the Five Cities Fire Authority. Though we achieved sharing of services only between Grover Beach and Arroyo Grande, full consolidation of the fire agencies continued to be the goal as I reached my retirement in 2006. The consolidation of the fire departments in the three communities into the Five Cities Fire Authority (FCFA) in 2010 created cost efficiencies, economies of scale, and, most importantly, a quantum leap toward providing a higher level of service to the three communities and surrounding area.
Given my background as the previous fire chief, I also have an understanding of the need for the benefit assessment measure being considered. I am aware of misconceptions regarding the benefit assessment measure and I would like to offer my perspective.
MISCONCEPTION: The FCFA was formed just to save money.
The FCFA was formed to provide cost efficiencies, a greater depth of coverage and service level, increased response capability, to provide a regional approach to fire and emergency response, and to use the closest unit response model for calls for service. I personally spoke before the city councils and community groups, mostly stressing elimination of redundancies, better response times, and improved levels of service.
MISCONCEPTION: The FCFA is counting the ballots and will be posting them.
The League of Women Voters of California is collecting and tabulating the ballots. The votes will not be posted or publicized by the FCFA.
MISCONCEPTION: The FCFA has money set aside for fire engines.
No capital apparatus replacement funds were allocated to the FCFA by any of the participating communities, and the FCFA does not currently have a capital apparatus replacement fund. Additionally, the communities do not have these funds allocated in their current budgets, nor, to the best of my recollection, has any replacement fund ever existed in these communities prior to the establishment of the Five Cities Fire Authority. A recent replacement of a nearly 25-year-old fire truck, which no longer complied with current safety and operational mandates, was accomplished after pursuing a rarely awarded federal grant.
MISCONCEPTION: The Cities/CSD has money set aside for equipment.
No capital equipment replacement funds were existent, nor were allocated to the FCFA by any of the participating communities, and the FCFA does not currently have a capital equipment replacement fund for such things as emergency medical equipment, fire-fighting breathing apparatus, rescue tools, ladders, etc.
MISCONCEPTION: The SAFER Grant should have been spent on the needed fire engines and equipment.
The Federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grant can only be used for staffing, and is valid for a maximum of two years. The grant was obtained to provide additional staffing of six firefighters for this two-year period.
MISCONCEPTION: It is unnecessary to have firefighters and ambulance personnel respond on medical emergencies.
To provide emergency and non-emergency medical treatment and transport for the area between Avila Beach and the county line at the Santa Maria River, and eastward, the service is provided by three private-provider ambulances. Because of the frequent commitment of these resources, the FCFA response personnel arrive at the scene prior to the ambulance approximately 70 percent of the time, thereby allowing an earlier start of emergency medical treatment.
MISCONCEPTION: The 4 percent Consumer Price Index (CPI ) increase is automatic.
The FCFA Board must vote on any proposed CPI increase at an open meeting, allowing for input and discussion from members of the community.
MISCONCEPTION: There was no public discussion regarding this ballot measure.
Presentations at multiple community, city council, and OCSD board meetings, Fire Authority Board meetings, and meetings of Service Clubs and Civic Organizations have been given to discuss and answer questions regarding the benefit assessment measure.
MISCONCEPTION: The cities/OCSD didn’t vote on this issue.
In open session meetings, as publicly noticed and agendized, the councils of Grover Beach and Arroyo Grande, and the Board of the Oceano Community Services District voted unanimously to support the benefit assessment measure.
Hopefully, this perspective will allow for better understanding of some of the issues and questions that have arisen in the matter of the benefit assessment measure. In my opinion, this measure will provide the fire authority with a more secure funding mechanism. this means that our communities can depend upon a fire authority that is safely trained, staffed, and equipped. It also helps insure that you and your neighbors can depend upon a timely response to your call for assistance, no matter what the need.
I sincerely and respectfully ask you to join me in support of this measure!
Terry Fibich is retired fire chief of the Arroyo Grande/Grover Beach Fire Department. Send comments to the executive editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.