Moving a fire department ladder truck from Foster City to San Mateo may decrease its response time in Foster City, but doing so will enable its costs to be shared between the two cities and Belmont.
The three cities share fire department management staff, which includes the fire chief, deputy chiefs and battalion chiefs. After conducting a pilot study on how to best utilize its resources, fire officials are now approaching the three cities’ councils with an opportunity to share in the approximate $2.25 million it costs to operate a truck each year, Belmont City Manager Greg Scoles said.
During the four-month study, Foster City’s Truck 28 moved from East Hillsdale Boulevard to San Mateo’s Station 23 on 27th Avenue, according to a Belmont Fire Protection District report.
The study concluded that although it took the truck an additional two minutes and 17 seconds to respond to calls in Foster City, the average response time throughout the jurisdiction decreased, according to the report.
“By moving the truck to the San Mateo location, it balances those response times out to all three agencies and actually puts all three agencies in alignment with response times based on industry standards,” said San Mateo Fire Chief Mike Keefe, who oversees operations for all three cities.
Also, fire trucks typically don’t respond to calls alone and are often preceded by another unit, according to the report. Each vehicle has a distinct purpose, engines respond with water, hoses and pumps; while fire trucks carry the massive ladder and heavy machinery like ventilation equipment and the Jaws of Life.
About four years ago, San Mateo and Foster City began to partner and Belmont joined in January 2013, said Deputy Fire Chief Michael Gaffney.
San Mateo County also pools resources by running on a joint powers agreement in which fire units respond based on their proximity to a call, regardless if it’s outside of the departments’ city boundaries.
There are only seven fire ladder trucks in all of San Mateo County. One is currently at Station 28 in Foster City and the other at Station 21 in San Mateo, Gaffney said.
Because there are three cities with just two trucks, fire officials conducted a pilot study to determine where Truck 28 should be placed to best serve the jurisdiction as a whole, Gaffney said.
“There was a need to look at having efficient truck services throughout the entire area between the three cities. So we looked at where would be a good placement. We had an idea where it was, but we didn’t have any statistics, so that’s why we did the pilot study,” Gaffney said.
Foster City’s Truck 28 is currently manned by just three people, Keefe said. However, as another benefit under the proposed agreement, a fourth person would be assigned to the truck and most of the time it would be a paramedic, Keefe said. Because tasks are always assigned to teams of at least two, the truck’s relocation and increased staffing would allow it to do more during an incident, Keefe said.
“Yes, it’s going to have a little longer response time, but when it gets here it’s going to have an increased delivery of service by having a fourth person,” Keefe said. “Providing a four person [advanced life support] truck service to each of the agencies, essentially for Foster City there’s cost savings involved in that, for Belmont and San Mateo they’re both going to contribute to that service because it’s going to provide them with a better level of service.”
Because trucks are so costly to manage, this new agreement would involve Belmont paying for about one third of the necessary staffing, Foster City would pay for two thirds and San Mateo would contribute to Belmont’s portion of the cost and be responsible for housing the truck.
“When you have the opportunity to staff that with multiple agencies and share in some of those costs, it’s significantly less than if each individual agency had to do it on their own,” Keefe said. “Part of the benefit of having a shared service agreement is we’re able to share equipment in a way that’s fiscally responsible.”
The Foster City Council approved the proposal at a meeting last week and Mayor Charlie Bronitsky said truck teams provide support to engine teams that arrive first and that adding a member to the truck team, a paramedic, provides additional life safety to all three cities.
“This continued collaboration effort will provide enhanced safety services to all three cities and will also do so at reduced cost to the taxpayer,” Bronitsky said.
The Belmont City Council will review the Belmont Fire District’s proposal during a 6:30 p.m. meeting Tuesday, June 10 at City Hall, One Twin Pines Lane, Belmont. The San Mateo City Council will review the proposal at a meeting Monday, June 16.
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