Interim Fire Chief condemns deficiencies, recommends contracting out fire service

Why wait till Wednesday?

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?’"