Merging Modesto and Salida Fire May Work If Politics Gone

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OPINION AND COMMENT

Editorials and other opinion content provide insights into issues important to our community and are independent of the work of our newsroom reporters.

On July 21, 2022, the American Legion Memorial Hall in Tuolumne River Regional Park in Modesto burned down.

On July 21, 2022, the American Legion Memorial Hall in Tuolumne River Regional Park in Modesto burned down.

Some who remember the ill-fated former merger of the Salida and Modesto firefighters would not be wrong to ask: If it didn’t work before, what makes you think it will work now?

It’s a good question.

When the Modesto Regional Fire Authority was created in 2011, the new agency received all sorts of adulation from Modesto and Salida officials, as well as my predecessors on the Opinions page. Consolidations that save taxpayers’ money deserve and generally receive rave reviews.

But MRFA only lasted 3 and a half years, and some concluded that it was just impossible to force macho hero types from different community-centric firehouse cultures to join hands and not do one.

This assumption is wrong, as the Modesto Fire Department has recently proven by uniting with Oakdale, Rural Oakdale and Ceres departments, and taking over fire management duties to Turlock and the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire District, which covers Riverbank, Waterford, Empire, Hickman and LaGrange. Modesto now provides fire services for three quarters of Stanislaus County’s population.

Modesto proves, in a grand way, that people can learn from their mistakes – that is, the failed experiment with Salida. And the secret really isn’t that complicated: get rid of the politics.

The MRFA was doomed because its leadership was poorly structured as a joint powers authority, allowing for power struggles at the top.

Modesto Fire eliminated the policy by simply offering to provide fire protection in a contract. No more turf wars, just services paid and rendered.

A new deal to reunite Salida and Modesto, which is being worked on, follows that pattern, Modesto Fire Chief Alan Ernst told Bee reporter Ken Carlson.

There is every reason to believe that the past is over and that the new agreement will work.

Don’t be shocked if Modesto Fire continues its Manifest Destiny expansion. I wouldn’t be surprised to see even more fire agencies recognize the benefits of hitching their water cart to a larger partner, including access to advanced life support trained paramedics and expertise in hazardous materials and technical rescue.

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Garth Stapley is the Opinion Editor of The Modesto Bee. Prior to this assignment, he worked 25 years as a Bee reporter, covering local government agencies and the high-profile murder case of Scott and Laci Peterson.

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