Merger of Calif. emergency services encouraged by county

A county grand jury report said combining or sharing services, personnel and locations would reduce overhead costs and free up funds for new equipment and training


By Kathe Tanner
The Tribune

CAMBRIA, Calif. — A report on the state of Cambria’s emergency services from the county grand jury, issued Tuesday, April 7, urges the service providers to consider merging or sharing services, personnel and locations.

Negotiations have been underway for some time about some of those topics — such as combining ambulance/fire protection services provided by the Cambria Fire Department and Cambria Community Healthcare District, both of which can provide advanced life support via paramedics.

Robert Sayers, healthcare district administrator, said he wasn’t surprised by the recommendation, and that it’s “at the top of our list” for the district’s next strategic planning session, which he expects will happen within this fiscal year.

“We’re taking it (the negotiations and grand jury recommendation) very seriously. … I realize it’s been going on for a long time, and there’s a lot of frustration over that.”

He also said there might be a silver-lining result from the report: More public interest and involvement in healthcare district matters and strategic planning.

The report also notes that some of the town’s emergency equipment, such as ambulances and a fire engine, are outdated by industry standards, and the agencies that own them (Cambria Community Healthcare District and Cambria Fire Department/Cambria Community Services District, respectively) haven’t set aside funds to replace them.

Another grand jury recommendation is that the services district should explore contracting with Cal Fire to handle Cambria Fire Department’s responsibilities. Cal Fire also has a Cambria station.

The services district has explored that possibility several times in the past, with Cal Fire giving presentations to the community in several venues. Previous decisions have been to retain the local fire department.

Robert Lewin, this county’s Cal Fire chief, said in an email interview that the two fire agencies “enjoy a strong and cooperative relationship in our joint mission, fire protection, particularly during these drought conditions. Cal Fire has a strict policy of not soliciting cooperative agreements for fire protection. If the CSD is interested in an agreement for fire protection from Cal Fire, it will require them to take action to request it.”

The report says those consolidation opportunities could help “reduce overhead by merging organizations and use the savings to establish equipment replacement funds or to pay for other activities such as training, fire prevention and public education.”

Community members have voted several times to pay extra fees and taxes in order for Cambria and the North Coast to have its own, in-town fire department and ambulance/healthcare service. Among the reasons voters cited during those elections were the area’s high percentage of senior citizens, two-lane access highways and the North Coast’s remote location, about 30 minutes away from hospitals and other emergency service providers.

Representatives of the services district and Cambria Fire Department were in a meeting Tuesday morning, and were unavailable to comment.

The services and healthcare districts are required to respond to selected findings in the report, which can be found at www.slocourts.net/grand_jury/.

Workshop planned

A coalition of first-responder agencies will present an emergency preparedness workshop from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, April 9, at the Cambria Veterans Memorial Building, 1000 Main St.

The forum will tell North Coast residents how to prepare themselves for wildfire, earthquake and other potential disasters, along with how to plan for and accomplish evacuation, should that become necessary. The information is considered crucial as the state goes into a fourth year of drought and Cambria's Monterey pine forest is dying off at an alarming rate. Many homes are situated within parts of the rare, aging forest.

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©2015 The Tribune (San Luis Obispo, Calif.)

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