Pro: Five Cities Fire Authority is a needed service

March 5, 2014 

Stephen Lieberman

Pro and Con: Two takes on the Five Cities Fire Authority benefit assessment

Read the opposing viewpoint »

It started for me in the 1990s while serving as a volunteer firefighter for the Grover Beach Fire Department. Times were changing; dedicated volunteers committed to serving their community were doing the best they could, but it was quickly becoming insufficient.

I remember driving to work in San Luis Obispo and hearing a 911 dispatch for an apparent victim of a heart attack: not breathing, no pulse. As the minutes dragged on, and nobody was able to respond, it was obvious that something needed to be done.

In 2004, city officials in Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach began a conversation to share one fire chief. This action was the first step toward creating the Five Cities Fire Authority.

As a Grover Beach council member, I advocated for the transition to full-time personnel, regional sharing of command staff, apparatus and responding the nearest resources to a 911 call, regardless of community borders. This significantly increased level of service came with a price tag, and after Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and Oceano grappled with tough budget decisions, the Five Cities Fire Authority was launched in 2010. I can only speak for the dynamics in Grover Beach, but it was acknowledged during council deliberation that additional funding for vehicle and specialized equipment replacement, as well as for dedicated dispatch services, would need to be identified in the future and that the funding stream should not be dependent on additional contributions from the general fund.

Since the formation of the Fire Authority, the communities of Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and Oceano have enjoyed a better level of response by personnel who have a consistent and equal level of training and respond 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Vehicle fleets have been consolidated to eliminate unnecessary duplication.

All three stations now act as one department, providing a higher level of protection to all three communities. If these three departments had remained as separate entities, there would be three fire chiefs, three administrative or secretary positions, multiple dispatch centers, three separate reserve firefighter pools. Each department would have different training and response standards, and none of the departments would have an equipment and vehicle replacement funding budget.

I am a baby boomer, and begrudgingly acknowledge that I am part of the “Silver Tsunami.” According to The Sacramento Bee, the number of California residents turning 65 was 4.6 million in 2011, and is forecast to more than double to 8.8 million by 2030. As we age, our impact on healthcare, housing and public safety needs will increase. Call volume for the Five Cities Fire Authority has been increasing at a rate of 3.5 percent per year and is forecast to be 79 percent above current levels by 2030.

My wife and I own property in Grover Beach. For $66 a year, we will be investing in a service that we all need and count on; a service that must come when we dial 911. I understand that many are on fixed incomes, and I understand that living in California comes with taxes, but for less than a cup of weekly coffee ($1.27 per week), residential property owners will be making the right investment in our community.

I believe that a benefit assessment is the most reasonable way to fully fund the Five Cities Fire Authority. The funds generated will keep staffing levels where they need to be to ensure public and firefighter safety. They will establish an equipment and vehicle replacementfunding stream, and allow consolidated dispatching to best serve the public. I respectfully encourage all property owners in Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and Oceano to vote “yes” on the Fire Protection and Emergency Response benefit assessment.

Steve Lieberman has lived in Grover Beach with his family since 1990 and served as a volunteer firefighter and police dispatcher followed by two terms on the Grover Beach City Council (2000-2008).

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