Doubts raised about Rohnert Park firefighting capability

  • Rohnert Park firefighters clean up their equipment after a dryer fire in an apartment on Camino Colegio Julky, 9, 2012.

It took only a few moments for the wood-shingled roof to erupt in flames.

It was July 4, 2011, a searing hot afternoon. Someone was shooting off bottle rockets near Glenn Manor, a Rohnert Park apartment complex. At least one hit the roof of a two-story apartment building, igniting a blaze that left 32 residents homeless and caused $1 million in damage.

Firefighters from seven agencies raced to protect adjacent apartments and put out the flames. Back at their stations, Santa Rosa and Rincon Valley firefighters told their chiefs they had serious concerns about how Rohnert Park's Public Safety Department had managed the potentially deadly event.

They voiced fears — echoed recently by other firefighters — that Rohnert Park public safety officers lack the experience, training and confidence to manage and fight fires as effectively as they should.

Such factors, officials at other departments say, mean their agencies often carry much of the burden at blazes in Rohnert Park, one of the few cities in the state whose officers fight both crime and fires.

To ensure the safety of their personnel, Santa Rosa and Rincon Valley fire chiefs have taken the highly unusual step of sending a battalion chief — a senior firefighter — when crews are called to Rohnert Park.

"There are definite concerns from our personnel on the organization of their fire program and the use of their resources," said Santa Rosa Fire Chief Mark McCormick.

In the tight-knit fraternity of firefighters, whose members are loath to publicly criticize one another, the responses represent a startling mistrust of Rohnert Park's ability to fight fires.

Rohnert Park Public Safety Director Brian Masterson flatly rejected the criticisms,<NO1><NO> saying data commonly used to assess a fire department's performance show no evidence of problems.

"Let's look at the last four years of fires," he said. "How many have we had? Have there been any significant injuries either to citizens or firefighters, both Rohnert Park Public Safety or outlying agencies? Has there been any major damage to buildings, to where the structure burned to the foundation? The answer is no."

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