The San Marino City Council last night received information on a plan that could eventually lead to the cities of San Marino, South Pasadena and San Gabriel sharing a single fire command over all three municipalities.
If the idea is eventually approved by all three governing bodies, the arrangement will become official on January 1, 2014 with current San Marino Fire Chief Jim Frawley commanding the fire departments in all three cities.
The opportunity to implement the agreement – which will save each city approximately $200,000, according to Frawley – came about when San Gabriel Fire Chief Joe Nestor announced that he is officially retiring on December 31, 2013 after 45 years of service.
Jerry Wallace, who served 42 years in the fire service and was most recently chief at South Pasadena – retired eight years ago and has been serving part-time in that capacity to the present time. He will also step aside on on New Year’s Eve.
The San Gabriel City Council discussed the matter in closed session a month ago and the San Marino City Council is expected to vote on the matter at their regularly scheduled December 11 meeting, but the matter could seep into January, according to Frawley.
Frawley told The Tribune that all three departments will remain independent from one another while sharing resources and programs. He also said residents of San Marino should expect an increase in services when the new arrangement is put into action – not a reduction.
“At no time will there be less firefighters or less paramedics on duty,” Frawley insisted. “We will be able to share training and share cooperative response agreements but where the cities are really going to see a benefit is we can now create outreach programs for the community and better provide service in a more proactive manner.”
Frawley said that citizens of all three communities will now be able to attend CERT training classes in any of the three cities – increasing opportunities to a maximum training seminars per year.
“That is one example of how we reduce redundancy and how we enhance service,” Frawley said.
He also mentioned a desire for the firefighters from all three cities to develop a better relationship with elderly residents in the communities as well as increased fire-safe programs for school children.
Frawley currently draws a salary of $155,000 as San Marino Fire Chief, but that figure is expected to increase if and when the three-city arrangement is finalized.
Frawley will serve as fire chief for all three cities and maintain an office at each main station. He said he will attend city council meetings for all three cities as well as maintain a high visibility at social functions, community events and service clubs. He will remain an employee of the City of San Marino and costs for his leadership in South Pasadena and San Gabriel will be settled quarterly.
Currently, both San Marino and South Pasadena employ eighteen firefighters and/or paramedics while San Gabriel has twenty-four.
All three cities’ fire departments belong to an eleven-member Unified Response system, in which fire and emergency response duties throughout the San Gabriel Valley are shared. Frawley said that arrangement will not change.
Frawley said that money saved by the City of San Marino due to the new arrangement (if approved) will be immediately used to replace an outdated ambulance at the cost of about $200,000 – an item Frawley said will be included in his 2014-15 budget.
Future savings will be used to purchase a new fire engine in about five years. At that point, San Marino’s current fifteen-year-old reserve engine would be sold, the five-year-old front-line engine would be relegated to reserve duty and the city would purchase a new machine.
When asked if he felt San Marino residents – who last year renewed a special Police and Fire Safety Tax – would recoil at the idea of sharing resources with other communities, Frawley insisted the plan would result in better service. A plan to share batallion chiefs, Frawley said, will spread more expertise throughout the area.
“You will still have the same service,” he said. “I will still provide the same oversight. Yes, I will have fewer hours in the city, but I will be at all the places I should be. We will have six people instead of two. With six people in the mid-management level, we will be getting better service delivery. That is not a diminishment. You could say ‘Frawley is spending fourteen hours in San Marino instead of forty hours,’ but we will be realizing a savings that can bolster our resources. We will reduce redundancies in many areas.”
Frawley first mentioned the idea to The Tribune six months ago and has since received feedback from citizens.
San Marino’s safety tax varies from $415 to $1,125 for residential properties and from $912 to $2,369 for commercial properties, depending on lot size.
The five-year tax is valid through the 2016-17 budget year and is expected to raise $2,772,000 for the current fiscal year.
The budget for the San Marino Police Dept. is $5,737,374, according to City Finance Director Lisa Bailey and $4,861,667 for the San Marino Fire Department.
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