San Carlos Looks For Cheaper Ways To Fight Fires

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(AP)

(AP)

SAN CARLOS (CBS SF) – Six months after outsourcing its police services to the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department, San Carlos has now set its sights on its fire services. At a City Council meeting Monday, officials began mulling over proposals – including one from a company that specializes not in firefighting, but in general security.

Come October, after 32 years of joint operations, San Carlos intends to break ties with neighboring Belmont, and instead is looking for a more economical approach to firefighting.

A Florida-based security firm, Wackenhut, has submitted a proposal to San Carlos for consideration. By some estimates, Wackenhut’s proposal would save San Carlos $2 million in the first year alone – in part, by paying entry-level firefighters an annual salary of $95,000 plus benefits, but offering no government-sponsored retirement plan.

KCBS’ Holly Quan Reports:

“As a profit entity we’re always told private companies put profit before safety,” reasoned Wackenhut president Paul Donahue. “We can disprove that with statistics. We can disprove that by talking to our existing customer base. We wouldn’t have survived 50 years in the private sector if that fact was true.”

Donahue maintained his company had a long and successful track record of providing security, and insisted his fire protection services would be just as good. Donahue added that privatizing city services was the wave of the future.

“This is the beginning of a domino effect and it’s not because of the service level, let me be clear. It’s become of the economics associated with the service level.”

Other options under consideration in San Carlos include partnering with Redwood City – or operating a ‘stand-alone’ fire department.

In addition to outsourcing its police services, San Carlos has already outsourced its payroll and park maintenance services, in an effort to close a $3.5 million deficit.

San Carlos officials suggested they could make a decision about the future of its fire services before the end of April.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Burlingame, the decision was made Monday night to pursue a merger of fire departments amongst other San Mateo County cities.

Burlingame already shares fire service with Hillsborough. Under the proposal, Millbrae and San Bruno would join in.

San Bruno, Millbrae and Hillsborough officials previously approved testing the merger.

Officials say the consolidation would save each of the cities hundreds of thousands of dollars, largely by closing two fire stations in Millbrae and Burlingame and replacing them with a centralized location.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

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