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Future hazy for Sonoma County's firefighters

  • Lakeville volunteer firefighters from left, Sam Martinez, Tyler Sturm and Matt Terrill, greet one another prior to a drill at the Lakeville fire station in the rural Lakeville community south of Petaluma, Tuesday Dec. 17, 2013. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat)

RETHINKING FIRE SERVICES

Part 1: Future hazy for Sonoma County's firefighters

Part 2: Rewards, hurdles in northern Sonoma County fire merger

Part 3: Sonoma County's new fire chief arrives at time of change

Part 4: Sonoma County's firefighting network differs from neighbors

Sonoma County's complex rural firefighting network, much the same for decades, appears to be on the cusp of dramatic change, starting with efforts by three northern agencies that are considering merging into one sprawling district.

Fire and government officials are keenly watching the process involving departments in Geyserville, Cloverdale and Healdsburg, plus Knights Valley volunteers. Their consolidation would create a fire district covering about a third of Sonoma County, including the tax-lucrative Geysers geothermal fields.

Supporters of consolidation say it could enhance fire services and foreshadow a new model for rural fire protection in the county. It ultimately could reshape volunteer companies at the heart of many small communities, but government officials pledge it won't leave those areas unprotected.

Sonoma County's existing patchwork of fire services is fraying at the seams. The complex network includes the county's 15 volunteer fire companies, protecting more than 15,000 people in the least populated areas, plus 19 independent fire districts and five city departments. The system faces competition for meager funding, operational inefficiencies and jockeying by some agencies anxious to protect their turf.

For some of those reasons, the north county move is welcomed by a number of local fire service veterans.

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