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Belmont finds fire partners
November 13, 2012, 05:00 AM By Bill Silverfarb Daily Journal staff

The Belmont Fire Protection District will contract with the San Mateo and Foster City fire departments for management oversight that could save the district nearly $500,000 annually, depending on pending council votes.

If approved, the three cities will share a fire chief and other administrative positions.

Belmont split with San Carlos in October 2011 for shared fire services when the two cities voted to dissolve the Belmont-San Carlos Fire Department after a disagreement over how the department was funded. The two cities participated in a joint-powers agreement for nearly 32 years before it fell apart.

Belmont Fire Chief Doug Fry actually retired before the city re-established its own stand-alone fire department but was rehired as an interim chief and has been exploring contracting out management oversight since.

Belmont residents assess themselves nearly $7 million annually to provide fire service in the city but it is not enough to maintain a stand-alone department for the long term, according to a staff report.

Foster City and San Mateo currently share Fire Chief Michael Keefe, as well as a deputy chief and battalion chiefs under a shared-services agreement reached two years ago that will save the cities about $1.5 million over a 36-month period.

If the Belmont City Council approves the concept, San Mateo and Foster City will provide the city with a fire chief, battalion chiefs and an administrative battalion chief.

Belmont will provide a deputy fire chief and the term of the contract will be for 18 months, starting Jan. 1, according to the staff report.

Currently, Belmont pays about $1.3 million in management costs for the department but that figure will shrink to about $780,000 under the shared-services agreement.

The Belmont Fire Department currently has 25 employees but that number will reduce to 22 through attrition, according to the staff report.

The deputy fire chief will report to the Belmont city manager and the fire personnel in the district will still be Belmont employees.

"I think it is a great compromise between sharing services and saving money, over $500,000 a year, and still retaining the autonomy and oversight of our own fire department,” Mayor Dave Warden wrote the Daily Journal in an email.

Councilwoman Coralin Feierbach also backs the arrangement 100 percent.

"I feel that this new arrangement is a win-win for the neighboring cities of Belmont, San Mateo and Foster City.

Belmont Fire Protection District will remain intact but with this arrangement, shared services will save us a lot of money so we can buy future fire equipment and maintain our fire stations. It will also be a wonderful cooperative arrangement with the two fine cities of San Mateo and Foster City,” Feierbach wrote the Daily Journal in an email.

Sharing services with other cities has been on Foster City’s radar a while and Vice Mayor Pam Frisella said a more regional approach to providing services such as fire will save cities big money.

"We have to do anything we can to save money,” Frisella told the Daily Journal. "I don’t see a downside to this. All three communities will be kept safe.”

Escalating pension costs are eating into all three cities’ budgets.

"With continued budgetary issues and long-term obligations coupled with funding sources that are relatively flat, staff has been looking for opportunities to create a more sustainable fire department,” according to a letter sent to the Belmont Fire Protection District board from Fire Chief Doug Fry.

The Belmont City Council, acting as the Belmont Fire Protection District board, meets 7:30 p.m., tonight, City Hall, 1 Twin Pines Lane, Belmont.

Bill Silverfarb can be reached by email: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.

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