San Bruno, Millbrae agree to merge fire departments


Both the San Bruno and Millbrae city councils decided to move ahead with a plan that would merge their fire departments.

The San Bruno pipeline explosion had many of the city's council members questioning how a merger with Millbrae's fire department would affect response time.

Millbrae firefighter Joe Perry said a merger's impact on a situation like San Bruno's pipeline explosion would be very minimal. He said, "San Mateo County is basically consolidated as far as service. There's no boarders, we train together all the way from Foster City to San Bruno."

The consolidation would save an estimated $230,000 for San Bruno and $375,000 for Millbrae tax payers. Each city would close down one fire station and a new one would be built somewhere in the middle.

"If there is a way to save a little money, but first of all take care of our citizens the way we've been taking care of them the same way or better, then it's a no brainer for me," said San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane.

The merger would make San Bruno and Millbrae part of the Central County Fire Department which already includes Hillsborough and Burlingame.

"We're eliminating some positions through attrition and nobody will be losing their jobs," said Millbrae/San Bruno Training Chief Kevin McWhirter.

But San Bruno fire fighters have the best retirement plan. They can retire at 50 with 90 percent of their pay after 30 years of service and they don't want to lose it. Millbrae firefighters have to work until 55 to get the same benefits.

The consolidation is estimated to save Burlingame $546,000 a year and $364,000 annually for Hillsborough.

"It makes a whole lot of sense. It makes sense for the four cities and possibly more cities down the road," said Ruane.

However, the firefighters have different bargaining agreements so it could take some time to get all those firefighters on the same page. Monday night, Hillsborough agreed to move forward with the plan. Next week, Burlingame will decide.

That vote follows a decision by the Redwood City City Council to merge its fire department with neighboring San Carlos. The merger would save both cities more than $2.5 million per year. Redwood City and San Carlos will meet to discuss the plan on Wednesday. San Carlos recently backed out of a joint fire department with Belmont after a dispute over funding. The San Mateo County sheriff took over for the San Carlos police after the city disbanded its force last year.

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