City leaders are exploring the possibility of reestablishing the city's Fire Department, which was disbanded two years ago amid intense dissent and lawsuits from former firefighters.
Three City Council members, Mayor Frank Fry, Joy L. Neugebauer and Margie L. Rice, said this week that they are in favor of reestablishing a city-run department--but only if Westminster can find the money to pay for it.
"I think that if a city can afford it, [residents] should have their own" department, Fry said. "I don't know if we can afford it or not, but I think you're always better off if you have your own."
The council gave preliminary approval Tuesday to hire a consultant, at a cost of $15,000, who would study the economic feasibility of bringing the department back. Councilwoman Margaret Shillington dissented, saying she could not justify the cost of the consultant, and Councilman Tony Lam was absent.
The city now contracts with the Orange County Fire Authority, at a savings of about $1.8 million a year over operating its own department. Most of the city's former firefighters now work for the county authority, but several who were dismissed filed lawsuits that have yet to be resolved.
"I fought to keep it from the beginning," Rice said of the former Fire Department. "We were a full-service city and taxpayers paid for that service. I don't think the council had the right to get rid of it."
Rice added that her motivations do not stem from any problems with the Fire Authority's service, but Fry said he has heard some complaints from residents. He would not elaborate, and said no formal complaints have been filed.
Capt. Scott Brown, a Fire Authority spokesman, said his group is "puzzled as to how this unsolicited bid came about. We have a deep affiliation and compassion for the community, as we do with all our partner cities."
As examples of the authority's community efforts, Brown cited programs such as free smoke alarms for senior citizens, fire-prevention brochures printed in Vietnamese and toy drives.