In a move to increase collaboration between two key local fire agencies, Petaluma leaders Monday signed off a three-year contract to continue to share administrative services between the Petaluma Fire Department and the Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District.
Since last March, Petaluma’s Fire Chief Leonard Thompson has acted as the part-time leader of Rancho Adobe, which serves an estimated 25,000 residents in Penngrove, Cotati and unincorporated parts of Petaluma. The arrangement, prompted by the 2016 retirement of the district’s chief Frank Treanor, paved the way for efficiencies in both departments, Thompson said.
“It has made the city of Petaluma and its neighbors more efficient and effective in the delivery of emergency services,” Thompson told the City Council Monday prior to its unanimous approval of the contract.
The agreement has allowed for combined training opportunities, sharing of equipment, staff and facilities, and has led to the dropping of jurisdictional boundaries between agencies. Previously, engines first responded to calls that corresponded to their district boundaries, but now, the closest firefighters will ship out to the incident, regardless of those borders. Officials are also exploring the possibility of a shared recruit academy with Rancho Adobe, Petaluma and potentially Rohnert Park’s Public Safety Department to standardize training, Thompson said.
Mayor David Glass praised the cost-saving agreement, which comes as both the city and the district face mounting financial challenges. Thompson said exact figures for money saved by the city or projections for future savings were not available because of the complexities of the arrangement.
“The action you took personally to take on extra (work) and you succeeded so that we could move forward and achieve more savings — it’s that kind of innovation that I think is really good in the overall budget,” Glass said.
The district will compensate the city an amount not to exceed $57,419.32 annually for a share of Thompson’s salary, benefits and other costs. Thompson spends about eight hours at the district weekly, depending on the need.
The contact allows for an annual review and changes and includes provisions for termination. Staff from the city’s finance department didn’t respond to multiple requests for Thompson’s salary and benefits schedule, but Thompson said his current salary is about $183,000. In 2016, his benefits cost $64,473, according to city records.
City Councilman Chris Albertson, Petaluma’s former fire chief, previously expressed concerns about the city receiving a fair rate for Thompson’s time. When the trial contract was approved, he said he’d like to see the district pay more for the cost of Thompson’s benefits, which are covered in this iteration.
“The fire chief is a very qualified and capable administrator and doing the work isn’t that difficult for him,” he said. “The compensation is now adequate to offset the loss of him not being here.”
Greg Karakker, a member of the Ranch Adobe district’s board of directors, touted Thompson’s leadership. The panel unanimously approved the three-year extension in January, Board Clerk Jennifer Ober said.
“We’re delighted that he’s going to be with us for the next three years and to extend a really positive arrangement that’s working very well for us,” Karraker said.
Still, a larger merger of the departments isn’t likely in the near future, according to city and board officials. It’s too soon to tell if the shared services agreement will be extended again, Thompson said.