Last week, the Hemet City Council narrowly agreed to enter into negotiations with the Riverside County Fire Department to provide city fire services (prevention and protection).

A final decision is still in the future and depends upon the outcome of these negotiations as well as further negotiations with the Hemet firefighters about several issues.

The recent recession and slowly recovering economy have negatively affected the city’s finances, but the decision was not a simple “least-cost” action. City officials have been investigating and discussing the possibility for several years.

In October, the city’s consultant, Citygate Associates of Folsom, provided a report that compared the proposals from the Hemet’s fire department and the county. Interim City Manager Ronald Bradley and City Attorney Eric Vail recommended the council initiate negotiations.

Citygate did recommend the city implement a fire paramedic program immediately. This would enable firefighters with active paramedic licenses to more easily transfer to Cal Fire. It also discouraged establishing an emergency medical dispatch program just for Hemet.

The council would need to determine the level and quality of fire services to provide and its ability to pay for this.

“In the very near term, if the council and community can afford firefighter paramedics, EMD, a ladder truck with dedicated staffing, and a restored, permanent chief officer headquarters team, then it is less costly to select the county fire department contract,” the consultant wrote in its report. “The county contract provides cost savings at that higher level of service and the county provides greater depth in staffing, training and management. The major issue for the city is ‘loss of cost control’ over future fire personnel costs if another economic downturn occurs.”

While many Hemet firefighters have paramedic licenses, the city fire department does not provide paramedic service. State personnel rules would prevent county fire from transferring firefighters who are not already being used and compensated as paramedics. Consequently, Citygate did recommend that Hemet implement this program before the end of the year. This would cost more than $275,000 for more pay, training and cardiac monitors.

Filling management and staff positions, such as a battalion chief, a fire marshal and training, with permanent full-time people would be costly, Citygate opined. Several fire captains are now in acting positions. To hire full-time administrative staff would be a major cost, which would be avoided if Hemet chose to contract with the county.