For some time, there has been a Hatfield/McCoy strain between our county Fire Department and Sheriff’s Department. It first became manifest when the two departments went back and forth on sharing aircraft that could be used for both fire and law enforcement purposes.
The current rift has to do with our emergency dispatch operations, as County Fire no longer wants to share dispatch services with the Sheriff’s Department. I believe an underlying reason for this proposal has to do with the historical under-staffing of the Sheriff’s Department. That is, not having enough people on hand to handle the duties has led to too much overtime and stress on the operators, which in turn created even more vacancies.
This subject is not altogether easy to report on, because most of the people involved don’t always tell you what they really think or believe due to professional courtesies. Ostensibly, the purpose of splitting the two services has to do with the goal of border-less dispatch. What that means is that the Fire Department wants all calls for fire service to be sent to the nearest unit, meaning a city fire unit could respond to a call in the unincorporated area of the county, and vice versa.
The county supervisors intend to build an operations center to house this new dispatch service despite the fact that the current dispatch center has room to accommodate both departments. They would like the center to be in the North County to create a geographically separate back-up option to the South County center, in case workers can’t get to that center due to fires or floods.
Besides the financial considerations having to do with duplicitous dispatch centers, the sheriff believes bifurcating dispatch in this manner could actually put people at risk by slowing emergency response times.
Nevertheless, the Board of Supervisors seems all too happy to precede with a divorce of the dispatch services in spite of the fact that the separation could cost millions of dollars the county doesn’t have to spend. In that regard, the proposition to split the services has always been predicated on the willingness of city fire departments to help foot the bill since they will all be on one system.
As it turns out, the city of Santa Maria just built a very expensive and well-equipped state-of-the-art emergency operations center that would have fit the bill perfectly, except that Santa Maria is using a different computer-aided dispatch system than what all the other fire agencies in the county use. Hence, the largest city in the county, that has room to spare in its center, has no incentive to pony up to participate in this project.
Where does that leave the county for financial partners? Well, Lompoc and Guadalupe are flat broke. Solvang and Buellton, on the other hand, are already under contract with County Fire for services, meaning they don’t have their own fire department that needs to be dispatched.
Nevertheless, man the torpedoes to county finances. Our county supervisors seem intent to proceed full steam ahead on building this dispatch center.