Supervisors OK new CalFire contract for three-year term

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RIVERSIDE (CNS) – The Board of Supervisors signed off Tuesday on a $670 million contract with Cal Fire to continue emergency services as the Riverside
County Fire Department for the next three years.
In a 5-0 vote without comment, the board extended the state compact to June 30, 2023, during which more than 1,500 firefighters will serve in unincorporated communities and 19 cities which contract with the county for services.
“The agreement, as we know it today, began in 1946,” according to a Cal Fire statement posted to the board’s policy agenda. “Today, the county fire department is a well-integrated system that provides fire protection, advanced life support service, technical rescue and hazardous materials response — all from 92 regional fire stations.”
A total of 15 fire battalions operate countywide.
The new contact is $25.5 million more expensive than the previous three-year agreement, an increase mostly attributed to expanded salaries and benefits for personnel, according to county documents.
Roughly one-fifth of the cost is covered by the county general fund, while municipalities under contract for fire services pay about half of the total, and the remaining funding streams originate from structural fire taxes and other charges paid by residents.
In the previous decade, there were rumblings by supervisors about potentially branching away from Cal Fire and forming an independent fire authority, similar to what Orange County has. Cost was the driving factor behind the idea, but it never gained traction.
Several cities could not contend with rising contract costs and resorted to personnel cuts — even outright suspension of direct emergency services — to control expenses.
Calimesa reduced its on-call personnel, while Canyon Lake shuttered its lone firehouse for over a year, relying on extended aid from other cities under contract with the county, or the city of Murrieta, for help when fires erupted.
Canyon Lake returned to staffing its fire station on a limited basis in 2017.