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COAST, CENTRAL, AND NORTHWEST CITIES : TUSTIN

Council to Review Fire, Paramedic Plan

Giving the city control would save money and offer more aid to the community, councilman says.

March 06, 2000|MARISSA ESPINO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The City Council will review an alternate fire and paramedic service plan tonight at the request of Councilman Mike Doyle, who says the plan would save money and offer more aid to the community. "[The city] would have control," Doyle said. "We would have more firefighters, more fire equipment and twice as many paramedics dedicated to the city of Tustin."

Currently, the city has a contract with the Orange County Fire Authority, made up of 21 cities and the unincorporated areas of the county, which pays for fire and paramedic service through property taxes.

The council unanimously voted in favor of entering into negotiations with the Fire Authority in December to extend fire protection and paramedic services for the next 10 years.

The city has until July 1 to hammer out a new agreement with the Fire Authority and until July 2001 to leave the authority if the council decides to do so.

City Manager Bill Huston said he recommends the council contract with the Fire Authority. Huston said the city now pays $3.7 million a year and under the 10-year contract, it would go up no more than 3.5% for the next five years and no more than 4% during the last five years.

"From a cost standpoint, any time you can get a reasonable cap on public safety cost, that's almost unheard of," Huston said. "From a service standpoint, we think they do a great job."

Doyle, who has been researching an alternate service plan for the last nine months, said his plan involves giving the city control of fire and paramedic service and saving the city about half a million dollars a year by hiring the majority of the staff as part-time employees.

"It's something I think we should take a look at and see if it flies," he said.

Tustin would be the first city to pull out of the Fire Authority since its formation in 1995 if the council chose to do so, said Capt. Paul Hunter of the Fire Authority.

Hunter said functioning as a large organization keeps overhead costs down and offers several kinds of services, including an air operations helicopter and an urban search and rescue unit.

"The Fire Authority is good to be a part of because it's regionalized," Hunter said. "We are a large organization and we are able to provide diverse fire emergency and paramedic service through a wide spectrum."

Hunter said a good example of the Fire Authority's service was that of a house fire that occurred Feb. 26 in Tustin.

"We were able to engage nine fire engines and three ladder trucks to one structure fire within their city and also maintain routine emergency services in the city at the same time," Hunter said. "That is the benefit of regional fire service."

Marissa Espino can be reached at (714) 966-5879.

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