A county grand jury report issued Tuesday, Arpil 7, urges Cambria’s various emergency service providers to consider merging or sharing services, personnel and locations to reduce overhead costs and make more money available for new equipment, training and other operations.
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.
Those negotiations currently are in abeyance, according to Michael Thompson, a director on the Cambria Community Services District board. (The fire department is part of the services district.)
Jerry Gruber, the CCSD’s general manager, said he thought the grand jury’s report was “well written.” He said he, board President Gail Robinette, Vice President Muril Clift and Counsel Tim Carmel wil work on a response they plan to present to the district board at its April 23 meeting, along with a response to the March 17 grand jury report on the fire risk exacerbated by the large number of dead and dying Monterey pines in Cambria’s forest.
Both responses must be submitted within 90 days of when the related report was issued.
Robert Sayers, healthcare district administrator, said he wasn’t surprised by the recommendations, 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 recommendation on negotiations) 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The report also notes that some of the town’s emergency equipment, such as ambulances and a fire engine, are outdated by industry standards, and the agencies that own them (the healthcare district and fire department) haven’t set aside funds to replace them.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.
The services and healthcare districts are required to respond to selected findings in the report, which can be found at http://slocourts.net/downloads/grand_jury/reports/2014/Making_the_Case_for_Efficiency.pdf.
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.