San Rafael and the Marinwood Community Services District are looking into a new partnership that could see the San Rafael Fire Department absorb the Marinwood Fire Department’s firefighters.

As envisioned, the new agreement, the result of a Matrix Consulting Group report on how to improve the two fire departments’ partnership, would involve Marinwood contracting with San Rafael to staff its fire station. A plan to pursue that new arrangement was approved June 21 by the San Rafael City Council, along with a continuation of the departments’ existing partnership until the new agreement can go into affect. The Marinwood board of directors was scheduled to consider approving the plan June 29.

“Essentially, we’re agreeing to a work plan with some definitive dates and milestones,” said San Rafael Fire Chief Chris Gray. “We’re hopeful we’ll continue to make progress.”

The San Rafael and Marinwood fire departments have shared resources in one way or another since 1973. Due to the Marinwood station’s proximity to the northern Terra Linda area, Marinwood fire crews often respond to emergencies in that area. In return, San Rafael fire crews also respond to emergencies in Marinwood, and provide resources to the Marinwood Fire Department, including training. Marinwood also receives paramedic response from San Rafael through a separate contract.

“They have their own staff, equipment and fire chief, and they’ve provided services to the north end of San Rafael,” Gray said. “In exchange, we have provided services to Marinwood, including several engine companies, a ladder truckcompany, and we provide them with training assistance, manage their communications, their dispatch, and we also provide an on-duty battalion chief.”

However, the coordination of emergency response and resources between the two departments might be improved if San Rafael were to absorb Marinwood’s firefighters into its own ranks as San Rafael firemen, and then establish a contract with Marinwood whereby the Community Services District would pay San Rafael to operate Marinwood’s fire station.

“It’s a plan to formalize a services agreement for San Rafael to provide fire protection services to Marinwood that we would hope to formulate over the next several months,” Gray said. “If it’s ultimately decided that we essentially absorb all of their personnel, we would then provide services to them. There are some advantages to it, because we could enhance services, including providing them with paramedics at their station.”

Marinwood Fire Chief Tom Roach said he was hopeful the new approach could enhance fire services and reduce the overall cost of services to both Marinwood and San Rafael.

“We’re looking to see if there’s a different way to structure the relationship to serve both sides better,” he said. “We’re hoping long-term for a cost savings. There could be an enhancement of services, also. Most of San Rafael’s fire engines have paramedics; Marinwood doesn’t. That could change.”

Roach said more study was needed to confirm the new plan would work out as envisioned. One thing that would change for Marinwood firefighters is that their pension plan would be switched from the state’s troubled California Public Employees’ Retirement System to the Marin County Employees’ Retirement Association.

The new contract between San Rafael and Marinwood would mimic a contract San Rafael already has with the county, Gray said.

“Contracting for fire protection services isn’t new in the county,” Gray said. “San Rafael does it for an area called [ County Service Area #19], which is made up of about six neighborhoods in unincorporated areas in the county.”

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