Modesto Regional Fire Authority board will consider new model

kcarlson@modbee.comMay 6, 2014 

Top administrators for Modesto and Stanislaus County are recommending a new model for the regional fire authority.

Under the recommendations, participating agencies in the Modesto Regional Fire Authority – or perhaps some entity that will replace it – essentially would drop their boundaries and have automatic mutual-aid agreements.

Each agency would retain its autonomy, set its own budget and have its own personnel. But the participants would operate as one fire department when responding to emergencies.

Sean Slamon, acting chief for MRFA, said the less formal model is used in San Mateo and Sacramento counties. In Sacramento, it’s common to see the city and county fire departments and another agency at the same fire, he said.

At its meeting today, MRFA’s board of directors will consider the proposals and an item to start the transition to the “broader-based collaborative” model. There are plenty of questions about the future of the joint powers authority that governs MRFA and the regional authority’s structure in the future.

“In order to promote the new collaborative approach, the MRFA JPA would be transitioned back to the current member agencies prior to July 1,” says a report in MRFA’s agenda materials.

The proposed “dropped boundary/shared service model” would have a management oversight committee composed of the fire chiefs from each participating agency, the report says.

Formed in 2011, MRFA combined the fire services of Modesto, the county and Salida. It was credited with eliminating duplicated administrative positions and programs but has failed to meet goals for bringing other agencies into the fold.

Other agencies were reluctant to transfer their assets to the JPA or give up local control, officials said. Modesto City Manager Greg Nyhoff and county Chief Executive Officer Stan Risen worked with a Salida fire district official on the recommendations.

“There are too many constraints in the formal model we have now that are keeping the regional vision from taking off,” Risen said Tuesday. Fire agencies wishing to join the organization will be able to keep their identity, but emergency response will occur under a streamlined operational model not concerned with jurisdictional lines, Risen said.

The Ceres fire service and Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District had expressed an interest in joining MRFA but had serious reservations about the JPA’s requirements. Stanislaus Consolidated is exploring further collaborations with the city and rural Oakdale departments.

The aspects of the proposed new model:

• Member agencies would maintain governance over their personnel, labor contracts, budgets and service levels.

• The closest, most appropriate resources would be dispatched to fires and other emergencies regardless of boundary lines.

• Agencies would work under standardized operational policies, training programs and communication systems, with a goal of moving toward shared equipment and other resources.

Also today, the three-member MRFA board is expected to formalize the appointment of Slamon as interim fire chief. He became the hand-picked successor after Randall Bradley resigned last month to become chief of Stanislaus Consolidated, which has headquarters in Riverbank.

Slamon will be expected to work with partner agencies on implementing the new model.

The MRFA board will meet at 1:30 p.m. today in the basement chambers of Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St., Modesto.

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