GUEST OPINION: Rohnert Park mayor says statistics back public safety model

  • Rohnert Park public safety officer and fire investigator Jon Kempf documents the scene of a structure fire at Beverly Drive in Rohnert Park, on Monday, January 21, 2013. The overnight blaze left 15 people homeless. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

As mayor of Rohnert Park and on behalf of our public safety personnel, I am responding to the article appearing in the March 10 Press Democrat raising serious questions about the readiness and ability of our city firefighters ("Department under fire").

Comments reported in the article emanating from outside the department and the city were ill-informed and damaging to the morale of a public safety department that is professional in every regard and whose members put their lives on the line each day.

To judge the true readiness of our public safety efforts, review the history of our public safety model, one that combines police and firefighting services in one department, explore our reliance on mutual aid for fire incidents that exceed our ability to fight alone, and check the statistics, which tell the real story.

The public safety department organization, protecting our residents for more than 50 years, combines police and fire services. Our well-trained personnel alternate between service as a firefighter and a police officer, serving in each role for an extended period of time. In each role the individual receives extensive training to stay abreast of trends, techniques and equipment. While we are the only department in Sonoma County to combine police and fire services, other communities successfully do so across the nation.

Why do communities consolidate services? It works, it is safe for the community, and it saves money. For half a century our combined public safety model has served this community well.

Along with a solid, well-tested combined public safety model, the city relies on the concept of mutual aid. When an emergency situation occurs that may exceed our ability to contain with only our resources, a call for mutual aid is made and other agencies come to assist. Importantly, we provide the same assistance to other agencies and communities in similar need.

During a mutual aid call, a city often receives assistance from a larger agency. In such a situation, our firefighters may defer to the expertise of a commander from a larger agency. Why? Because larger agencies not only fight more fires, they typically have experience with more complex situations. We have been criticized for accepting direction from those with more experience, yet we believe that is the prudent thing to do.

We also believe in partnerships. For example, Rohnert Park entered into an agreement where we pay to have the Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District send a battalion chief to fires in Rohnert Park. This is an efficient and best-practices approach that serves both agencies. It should be noted that Rancho Adobe is now closing its fire station in Cotati on a weekly basis. That is possible because Rohnert Park public safety is automatically responding to calls in Cotati. Mutual aid and command support works for everyone.

Finally, one must explore the statistics related to Rohnert Park fire safety. Since 2008 and through year-end 2012, our firefighters responded to more than 16,000 calls for service, the majority of which were rescue/medical aid calls, not structure fires. In 2012, we had only one structure fire that exceeded $100,000 in damage, with another sustaining $75,000 in damage. Importantly, no lives were lost and no injuries occurred.

We in Rohnert Park are justifiably proud of our public safety officers. They are among the very best in the region. Our residents remain well protected and know our public safety department will continue to perform at the highest level.

Pam Stafford is mayor of Rohnert Park.

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