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Will Galt Fire, Sacramento Metro merge? Depends on who you ask

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Posted: Tuesday, October 12, 2004 10:00 pm

Rumors are flying in Galt that its fire district may merge with a regional fire district serving most of Sacramento County.

Galt Fire Protection District officials offer contradictory statements on whether fire district may soon lose its autonomy. Depending upon who you ask, you'll get one of the following responses:

• Galt may soon merge with the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire Protection District which covers most of the county, except for the city of Sacramento. A majority of the current board of directors at Galt Fire may already support the merger.

• The merger will take place if two fire Sacramento Metro fire captains who live in Galt -- Barry Flores and David Riggs -- are elected to the Galt board on Nov. 2.

• No merger discussions have taken place at all.

The Galt Fire Protection District is not a part of the city government. It is an independent fire district that covers 56 square miles of the Galt city limits and rural areas north, west and east of the city. The district is governed by a five-member board of directors.

The fire district also has three ambulances serving not only the Galt district, but the Herald and Walnut Grove fire districts.

Galt Fire board member Dale Templeton says he has been told by a "very reliable source" with Sacramento Metro that Metro Fire Chief Rick Martinez has asked two members of his firefighters to run for the Galt board in the Nov. 2 election and provide two of the three-vote majority needed to pursue the merger.

Martinez said that although he knows Flores and Riggs, he doesn't know what their platforms would be in Galt.

Templeton named Flores, Riggs and current Galt board member Guy Rutter who could make a merger a reality after the November election.

Flores and Riggs didn't return calls Monday and Tuesday.

Rutter, who has two years remaining on his term, and Martinez denied any merger talks.

"I haven't talked to anyone about it, and no one has talked to me," Rutter said. "Right now, Galt seems to be doing pretty good. Everything's been going pretty smoothly."

But the November election could make a difference, said Templeton and former Galt director Ramona Krewson. And Rutter is one of the main cogs in the wheel, they maintain.

Martinez said he sent a letter a several years to all fire districts in Sacramento County to find out if any of them would be interested in consolidating, but there have been no recent discussions.

"I haven't had any discussions (with Galt), and no one here has had a conversation with Guy Rutter in years."

Martinez and Sacramento Metro Assistant Chief Jim Hartley said they strongly support a regional form of fire service in a general sense because of economy of scale and the greater flexibility to use personnel and equipment throughout the district. However, they maintain there haven't been any recent talks in Galt.

Matt Ninke, a unit representative for Galt Fire, also said there haven't been any talks with the larger district to the north.

"As I understand it, (a merger would be) a last resort," Ninke said.

Galt Fire board President Bill Dufur, who is not seeking re-election, said that two or three Galt firefighters support a merger, but he hasn't heard of any talks between the two districts.

However, Dufur said, "You never know the minds of people in politics -- one minute this way, one minute the other way."

Sacramento Metro covers 417 square miles in Sacramento and Placer counties and serves a population of 600,000, according to the California State Firefighters Association.

Formed on Dec. 1, 2000, Sacramento Metro includes 17 predecessor fire agencies, dating back to as early as the 1920s, that have re-organized over the years to become California's sixth-largest fire agency.

Templeton said the merger could create a "serious threat to life safety" for Galt fire district residents.

"We could lose a great deal of fire protection (if the districts merge)," Templeton said. "Our emergency medical service would be way down."

As for Herald and Walnut Grove, a Sacramento Metro ambulance could be 30 to 40 minutes away from an emergency rather than the 10 minutes an ambulance headquartered in Galt is, Templeton said.

"The fire service has standards, no matter whose name it is," Rutter said. "It will be a high level of service either way.

"The attack is on," Templeton said. "Wait until Election Day."

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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