San Bernardino disbands fire department, county takes over

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (KABC) -- After an historic 138-year run, the San Bernardino City Fire Department is disbanding, with the county fire department taking over at the end of the week.

"This tugs at me to have had to make this decision," said San Bernardino Mayor Carey Davis.

The transition will save the city of San Bernardino close to $8 million per year.

It was a bittersweet day, as city firefighters gathered at Indian Springs High School on Monday. Not only did they receive their new county fire helmets, but they listened to what their pay and benefits will be like now that they're no longer city employees.

"Pay and benefits are somewhat comparable, there's give and take. The benefits are somewhat better, pay is a little bit less," said San Bernardino City Fire Chief Tom Hannemann.

But it's not just new helmets, shirts and replacement decals on all the fire engines. Many of the firefighters will soon be working much farther away from the city. County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig says about two-thirds of the city firefighters will be transferred away from the city to places like the mountains and the high desert.

He knows it's a life-changer, saying "They literally build their lives and their schedules around what shift they're going to be on."

San Bernardino residents won't see much of a change, according to county fire officials. Fire stations that were closed down during the downturn in the economy are expected to remain closed. But there could be slightly faster response times for calls that, before the switch, would have required county apparatus. Now, dispatchers will be able to call those units directly.

Also, there will be more firefighters responding to calls. The city of San Bernardino had eliminated the extra paramedic staffed on each fire engine to save money.

But Hannemann says that will change when the changeover happens, saying "Starting day one, there will be another paramedic squad put back into services, so they will see a little bit of increased level of service."

The official transition happens on July 3.
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