City Council delays decision on County Fire
by Mark McDermott
A preliminary study by the County of Los Angeles Fire Department examining the possible contracting of Manhattan Beach’s fire services indicated the city could save as much as $9.93 million a year over a ten year period. But the report also said the switch could end up costing the city $2.3 million more over the course of a ten-year contract, depending on LA County’s own increased costs to provide the service.
The study, commissioned by the City Council as a means of exploring possible savings of contracting fire services to the County’s Consolidated Fire Protection District, was made public last week. The Council was scheduled Tuesday night to discuss whether to authorize a more in-depth study at a cost of $18,000 but instead pulled the item from the agenda and announced that the matter would be explored in an upcoming public study session.
Mayor Nancy Hersman said that the report lacked several data points that the council had specifically requested, so she and the council had asked for a revision before discussing the matter further.
“We had a lot more questions,” Hersman said. “There was a lot more information that we were hoping to get on this before we made a decision. And I’m asking that we do a meeting separate from our regular council meeting…a study meeting. That way we can have the public come out and focus on this. Because I know it’s a very important issue that people are concerned about.”
Several residents spoke on the issue anyway. None favored the consolidation.
Resident Kristy Jones expressed disappointment that the fate of MBFD would remain in limbo. She noted that the study showed that fire service in Manhattan Beach would go from having eight paramedics on duty every day to three and an estimated 30 to 60-second delay in response times due to a change in dispatch services.
“Manhattan Beach has skilled paramedics with engines and communications,” she said. “I appreciate our City Council being fiscally responsible. However, 911 calls for emergency medical help increased over 50 percent. We need to increase our funding, not cut costs and replace [paramedics] with EMTs who have less medical training. If your child’s heart stopped beating, what would be your first thought? I would hope they arrive quickly with the skills needed for survival.”
Resident Charles Thompson asked the council to focus on the impact on response times that the switch in services would cause.
“Because two years and five months ago I died,” Thompson said. “[MBFD] was there in six minutes, then spent 20 minutes getting my heart going again. One in ten people survives that. Response time is the issue I feel needs to have extremely high attention…I don’t know if six minutes is
good or bad, but I doubt if it’s much more remote, county-wide, that it would hold up.”
Alisa Peterson said her father worked for LA County Fire and she had great respect for the service, but that MBFD was better suited to Manhattan Beach.
“The city should not allows residents to be vulnerable to Los Angeles County budget shortfalls and be gouged when the County falls on difficult financial times,” she said. “By signing away our fire department, we would be at the whim of Los Angeles County for emergency services.”
Wayne Powell, a former Manhattan Beach councilperson and mayor, said that disbanding MBFD would have disastrous long term implications as well as reducing the expertise on the ground by replacing locally experienced fire crews.
“What happens after the contract period, when we would no longer have a fire department?” Powell asked. “We wouldn’t be able to reestablish a fire department. And then the County would come in and totally increase the percentages…All of our firefighters are paramedics up to the rank of captain and I think a couple of our battalion chiefs are paramedics. They know how to get to our residents, they can drive the apparatus in and around tight areas, particularly in the north end. They even know our residents, particularly ones they have responded to. That type of service can never be obtained by going to County.”
George Barks, a former mayor, and councilperson from Hermosa Beach, suggested that Manhattan Beach join with other area fire departments to form a regional department.
“We need a beach cities’ fire department,” Barks said. “We’d have more control. We can keep the costs down and have representation from each city. But it’s difficult. It takes political courage …Hopefully, we can save the taxpayers some money and actually increase services. And do it locally.”