Last year, Santa Rosa firefighters responded to calls in the Rincon Valley Fire Protection District 1,400 times, while Rincon Valley firefighters helped Santa Rosa crews out inside city limits 889 times.
That means Santa Rosa taxpayers have essentially been subsidizing the fire protection of residents who live outside city limits.
This inequity is one of the reasons Santa Rosa fire officials have for more than a year been studying the department's relationship with the Rincon Valley and Windsor fire protection districts, jointly operated as Central Fire Authority of Sonoma County.
Now the three agencies have agreed to hire a consultant to study how the three departments can improve and expand the way they share services.
Santa Rosa Fire Chief Mark McCormick told the City Council on Tuesday that he hopes the study will help identify areas of efficiency for all the departments involved.
The discussions have dragged on since January 2012 in part because there are so many groups at the table, including four labor unions, two management groups and three different boards, McCormick said.
"It's a lot of different interests to work with, so it's definitely a lot slower process involved," McCormick said.
The idea of sharing fire services is also a "very sensitive issue" for a variety of reasons, he said.
"Everybody is very passionate. They want to do a great job. They've been living in these areas and working in these departments for a long time," McCormick said.
Sharing fire services is common among departments in the state. McCormick said he's identified at least 20 agencies that share some form of services.