San Bernardino Seal

By Ryan Hagen, The Sun
Posted: 05/20/15 – 7:53 PM PDT |

SAN BERNARDINO >> The city might become the first in the state to rely on a for-profit firm for firefighting and emergency medical services, but to do so it will have to overcome opposition that’s already mounting up and down the state.

The City Council committed Monday night in a 6-1 vote to a plan that includes contracting out for those services — and depends on $7 million to $10 million in projected savings from that move to help the city’s bankruptcy exit plan survive — and proposals from interested groups were due at 4 p.m. Wednesday.

The bids themselves won’t be made public until the week before the June 15 meeting at which the council will be asked to vote on the proposal, according to city spokeswoman Monica Lagos, but a private firm called Centerra was one of three participants at a May 5 meeting designed to give information to potential bidders.

The others were the San Bernardino County Fire Department and the Colton Fire Department, which shares resources with the Loma Linda Fire Department.

Even before Monday’s vote, the head of the union representing San Bernardino County firefighters, Jim Grigoli, spent Monday in Sacramento rallying opposition to the move.

“I’d be doing the same if this was Orange County … and I think you will have the California Professional Firefighters standing against this 100 percent, and (union) locals from all of the state,” Grigoli said by phone. “You’re talking about public safety. You’re crossing a fine line when you do that with a private company.”

City officials have made a long, often-contested effort to outsource fire services, and City Manager Allen Parker received in August permission to begin discussions with other entities that could take over in the city.

Only more recently, after Cal Fire refused to bid to provide those services, did privatization become a prominent option, but privatizing as much as possible helps the city escape the burden of high payments to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, Parker said Monday.

Fire and trash services are the two highest-priority targets for outsourcing because of the money it will bring into the general fund, according to the city’s analysis, but close to 20 other services are also on the outsourcing list. One function that won’t be outsourced is policing, according to Parker, because the only possible entity to take that over would be the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and he believes calculations that it wouldn’t save any money.

Councilman Jim Mulvihill drew particular attention when he predicted Monday that San Bernardino would be the first of many cities to privatize its Fire Department.

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