What are readers to make of concerns raised by some firefighters and expressed in a Press Democrat story a week ago ("Department under fire," March 10) over the quality of fire service being provided by Rohnert Park firefighters?
As the story noted, the concerns have risen to the point that chiefs of the Santa Rosa Fire Department and the Rincon Valley Fire Protection District are now routinely sending a battalion chief with their crews when assisting on Rohnert Park calls. They say they're doing so to ensure the safety of their personnel and the proper use of their resources.
They argue that Rohnert Park's minimum firefighting resources leaves the city ill-prepared and equipped to quickly knock down a fire when it starts.
"There are definite concerns from our fire personnel on the organization of their fire program and the use of their resources," said Santa Rosa Fire Chief Mark McCormick.
As demonstrated by today's Close to Home column by Mayor Pam Stafford ("RP mayor: Statistics back public safety mode") , city officials are quick to defend their fire crews, arguing they are just as trained and qualified as anyone else. They acknowledge that there have been communication issues with mutual-air response to fires, but that is normal among agencies.
In a meeting with The Press Democrat Editorial Board on Thursday, City Manager Gabe Gonzalez went so far as to suggest that the criticisms are more rooted in money than training. He said he believes some agencies are hoping to access funds that Rohnert Park will be receiving through its memorandum of understanding with the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, which is in the process of building a casino near the city's western border.
He said he believe the comments were made as an attempt "to try to discredit our agency."
Granted, the concerns that have been raised are anecdotal in nature. Neighboring fire officials, for example, point to the response to an apartment-complex fire on July 4, 2011 — more than 20 months ago — in which they claim Rohnert Park's response was inadequate. They also note cases where they say they arrived on the scene to find city fire crews still trying to get water hooked up.
Public Safety Director Brian Masterson argues that studies show that the city's response times and results from firefighting efforts are as good as if not better than those of similar-sized communities.
But that alone is not evidence that there's no reason for concern. Rohnert Park officials should not be too defensive about this. Nor can they afford to dismiss these complaints as groundless. We doubt firefighting professionals would speak up like this without cause.