Questions resurface about Rohnert Park fire-police agency

When the newly incorporated city of Rohnert Park chose in 1963 to merge its police and fire services, Bob Ryan, chief of the volunteer fire department that then served the fledgling municipality, resigned because he opposed the plan.

The decision to combine public safety functions, so that officers switch between firefighting and police work, has been controversial from the start.

"Experts warned that 'City Hall will burn down while the bank is being robbed,' " Rohnert Park historian John DeClercq wrote in his 1976 history of the city.

And nearly 50 years after Rohnert Park launched its consolidated department, it remains an object of uncertainty to many others in the firefighting field.

"These jobs are both very dangerous and my personal opinion is you can't serve two masters," said Frank Treanor, chief of the Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District, which responds to Rohnert Park fire emergencies under an automatic aid agreement.

"You are either a policeman and very, very good at what you do," Treanor said, "or you're a firefighter and very, very good at what you do."

Despite widespread reservations about the joint model, it is attracting more attention from other jurisdictions struggling with tight budgets.

"There's a lot of interest in public safety consolidation, the potential it can have to save resources and other desirable outcomes," said Jeremy Wilson, a criminal justice professor at Michigan State University who studies the subject.

The city of Sunnyvale, whose public safety department is the largest and oldest consolidated operation in the state, is one model studied by other cities.

"Since the . . . economic downturn a lot of departments have come and studied us, to see if it's possible to incorporate all or some of what we do," said Capt. Dave Verbrugge.

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