It is drilled into every firefighter: Training is at the heart of a fire department's effectiveness.
"We can't afford to practice on the public" goes the firefighting mantra, said Herb Wandel, battalion chief and training officer for the Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District.
He is among fire officials with neighboring agencies who say Rohnert Park's firefighters and ranking officers appear to need more training and experience.
Rohnert Park officials say their public safety officers — those assigned to law enforcement as well as those in the fire division — meet all of the legally required training levels for firefighters.
But Public Safety Lt. John Marty, who heads the fire division, acknowledged that severe budget cuts three years ago reduced the time officers on law enforcement duty worked on firefighting skills.
The city's public safety officers face a particular challenge: working as both police officers and firefighters and maintaining expertise on both fronts.
In the past, officers on the law enforcement side rotated irregularly into the fire division and arrived with rusty skills, Marty said.
"You almost had to retrain them, and we didn't want that happening," Marty said. "We've realized we need to stay on top of that."
Since 2000, more than 50 of the department's 56 current officers have gone through a three-month fire academy as a refresher.
Public Safety Director Brian Masterson, who joined the department four years ago, has instituted changes that include rotating officers into the fire division more often and making it easier for officers to stay longer in the division if they want to hone their skills.