Interim Fire Chief condemns deficiencies, recommends contracting out fire service

Why wait till Wednesday?

Posted by on Tue, March 21, 2006

"How long is the organization going to bleed before we say enough?"
Interim HMB Fire Chief Pete Bonano

The Interim Fire Chief of the Half Moon Bay Fire Department is recommending that the department contract out fire services to another agency, while continuing its consolidation with the Point Montara Fire Protection District [PDF of memo]. He cites numerous problems affecting the district’s ability to do its job, and the personnel problems that make the problems so difficult to resolve.

This recommendation will be discussed at tonight’s meeting of the district’s board of directors, at 7:30pm at the Half Moon Bay firehouse, 1191 Main Street.

In a strongly-worded memorandum to the district’s board of directors, Interim Chief Pete Bonano notes that the department lacks sufficient experienced firefighters and staff, the department’s programs are in trouble, and that morale in the firehouse is low.

Bonano writes that three of the district’s firefighters are applying for positions in another district and nine are currently in the Academy, leaving the district with the potential of 40% of its 33 firefighter positions as probationary employees. He further notes that the Fire Inspector has quit, the Fire Chief retired, and one Division Chief has quit.

"I’m very concerned with the Department’s ability to provide a level of service consistent with the Mission of the Fire Service,"  he says, and goes on to cite problems with the Fire Prevention program and say that the San Mateo City Fire Marshal has provided him with a five-page list of deficiencies.

As if this were not enough, "Morale is low, resulting in a culture of lawsuits, grievances and excessive sick leave use. ... While there are many shining stars in the workforce, we have our share of firefighters who are unmotivated, disgruntled and well versed in throwing up roadblocks."

He says that the district can terminate problem employees, but says it would take a lot of money and many years.

The alternative he recommends is contracting out services.

"I really believe that Board should look deep inside and ask yourself, ‘how can we provide a higher level of service? Could another agency do a better job? Is what’s currently going on in the best interest of the Community? How long is the organization going to bleed before we say enough?’"

The Point Montara board may have had advance notice of Chief Bonano’s memo when they went into closed session at the beginning of their Regular Board Meeting on March 14th.  The closed session Item was labeled: Evaluation of employee, Fire Chief (closed session held pursuant to government code Section 54957.1b)  The strange thing is, Point Montara Fire Protection District has no employees!  So, was this a legal closed session?

I got to the meeting at about 7:32PM and they were already discussing other things. Open session was scheduled to start at 7:30 PM.  No report was given while I was there of what the closed session was about.

A problem with the way both fire boards on the coast conduct business is to place Oral Communications on their agenda before they go into closed session.  If a citizen wants to make a comment and attend the open session they have to get there early and then leave during the closed session and return when the open session starts.  This is not conducive to public input.

Ed Carter