Is the Five Cities Fire Authority’s future in jeopardy?

February 28, 2023


The Five Cities Fire Authority is struggling to pay its bills and maintain it equipment while responding to multiple non-emergency calls, according to a comprehensive review of the authority.

After Oceano announced plans to leave the Five Cities Fire Authority (FCFA), Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach city councils hired a consultant to review the agency and provide possible alternatives. Consultant Baker Tilly has finalized its report, which it will present to both councils this week.

Oceano, Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach formed the FCFA in 2010. By combining their fire departments, officials planned to improve service levels and cut costs. In 2010, the FCFA was to operate under an approximately $3.3 million yearly budget.

As costs skyrocketed and services dwindled, the Oceano Community Services District put fire tax measures on the 2020 and 2022 ballots. Both failed.

Oceano is considering leaving the FCFA, with plans to divest emergency services to San Luis Obispo County. Without Oceano, FCFA revenues will drop by $1.1 million.

Issues at the FCFA include a failure to properly maintain equipment, minimal policies and procedures, inconsistent staffing levels and financial issues, according to the study. Continuing with the FCFA will cost approximately $8 million to $9 million a year, or $3 million to $5 million for both Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach, according to the consultant.

While many fire departments do not respond to non-emergency issues, those calls amount to 40% of the FCFA’s responses, according to the consultant. These include callers reporting plumbing leaks and other homeowner issues. As a result, the cost per call in 2022 was approximately $1,718.

Pismo Beach contracts with Cal Fire for approximately $4 million a year, at a cost of approximately $1,280 a call in 2022, which was 28% less per call than those covered by the FCFA.

The consultant provided Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach several options for moving forward, including contacting with Cal Fire, raising taxes, pulling money from their general funds or contracting with another fire department.

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Cal fire should just take over, they will have better funding and they will provide just as good service if not better.

Why does the FA Union Lead always ask for more funding at city meetings?? Sounds like a money rush.

It’s important to understand that so-called “non-emergency” calls include things like safety inspections and responding to notifications of safety violations. Responding to non-emergency calls is a proper part of every well functioning fire department. And in a small town like Oceano those costs are minimal and just part of what firefighters do when they are at work but not responding to emergencies.

FCFA, a failed experiment that is time to end, but since it was a favorite of former Mayor Ferraro, and current Mayor Russom is Ferraro 2.0, she will never vote to end it.

Let me explain: Cal Fire acknowledges that if they take over, they will not be able to consistently respond in a timely manner to fire and other emergencies within the district that has been served by the Oceano fire station. In other words, response, times will be subpar, putting Oceano residents at a greater danger than residents of adjacent communities.

Please do the proper research and get the facts before putting our neighbors in danger unnecessarily. Thank you.

Why not cut out the nonemergency calls that’s what plumbers, electricians and handymen are for. We know fire crews aren’t making repairs so why send them out.

Non-emergency calls include stuff like fixing fire hydrants and safety inspections. Fire fighters don’t do residential plumbing or residential electrical repairs.

Charles Varni and others who opposed the fire tax measures will have blood/fire on their hands when emergency responders fail to respond in time to save property and save lives.

Why fund a poorly run fire department, Five Cities, when you can work with Cal Fire? A firefighter told me several years ago the department started responding to non-emergency issues in order to make the workload look larger why trying to get more money. It is time to shut down and bring in professionals.

Well, if that’s truly the case, which you give no evidence of, then it didn’t work anyway. They remain under funded to an extent that is putting lives and properties in danger. We need to look at the future instead of ruminating on the past. The fact is we have a problem and we shouldn’t be skinflints when it comes to protecting lives.

I suppose your right – it’s the irresponsible taxpayers – certainly not those that promised it would save money and cost 1/3 of the actual cost.