GUEST OPINION: Ex-Rohnert Park fire official: Public safety system inadequate
Published: Sunday, April 7, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 7, 2013 at 8:38 a.m.
I was the fire commander for Rohnert Park between 2008 and 2010, and I don't believe the city can achieve even a basic level of safe, competent service without drastic changes to its current public safety model.
I want to be clear that Rohnert Park has some of the most dedicated and courageous line personnel I have worked with in my 30-plus years in the fire service. However, as presently structured, Rohnert Park isn't able to provide adequate police and fire services under a single department.
The managers and supervisors have difficulty understanding fire service operations, resulting in resistance to change.
There are problems maintaining and funding training programs.
There are problems dealing with criticism from outside fire agencies.This has been a pattern for many years.
I was hired to make changes, but within my first year of employment, the city manager departed and the public safety director retired, and the city “discovered” a huge deficit. The momentum for change turned around, and it's been sliding backward ever since.
Statements made by Rohnert Park officials after The Press Democrat's report on fire protection (“Department under fire,” March 10) were in obvious conflict with those of the fire chiefs from other departments the city relies on to assist with firefighting. Those agencies are essentially subsidizing fire protection for a city that isn't committed to safe, effective fire operations. As long as the outside agencies do the heavy lifting at Rohnert Park incidents, the city behaves as if there is no basis for concern or criticism.
Rarely does Rohnert Park rely on outside agency support for law enforcement, but it's totally dependent on outside agencies for fires and complex rescues.
A combined public safety operation can work, but it's a rarity in California.
If combining public safety functions was a viable idea, such departments would be flourishing everywhere. Rohnert Park's model is not viable because of inadequate funding, staffing and training. Rohnert Park doesn't save money with this model; it simply cuts corners, relies on the expertise of outside agencies and tries to convince everyone that nothing needs to change.
It is common knowledge inside and outside the department that Rohnert Park lacks the most basic ongoing fire training and fire incident supervision. Using the same personnel to handle two disciplines requires a great deal of continuous training.
The analogy I often use is that of asking an electrician to also be a plumber. Each trade is complicated enough without blending one with the other. The same is true of policing and firefighting. The training needed to stay current is massive and expensive if done correctly. I think most line personnel would agree that Rohnert Park fire is just barely getting by, or less.
Comparing Rohnert Park to Sunnyvale, which also combines police and fire, amounts to apples and oranges. Sunnyvale's population, funding, department structure, policies, staffing levels, call volume and integration with outside fire agencies are all vastly different.
My plans in Rohnert Park included a possible split into separate police and fire departments or allowing personnel to remain permanently on one side or the other. The current six-month rotation doesn't allow for anyone to reach an adequate level of training and experience. What's worse is to force police personnel who don't want to be there into firefighting or to force fire-oriented personnel to shift to the police division.
For better fire protection, Rohnert Park should explore new and old ideas of regionalization with its neighbors, perhaps contracting with agencies that are more capable and cost effective.
Rohnert Park's public safety model has outlived its usefulness. I'm hoping the new leadership at City Hall will recognize these shortcomings and move decisively to make a change. I hope they will make the safety of their employees and the public a priority.
(Jack Rosevear is a former fire commander for the Rohnert Park Public Safety Department.)
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