RANDI ROSSMANN

The question lingered for more than two decades: Could the Rincon Valley Fire Protection District pay Santa Rosa’s fire department enough to make it worth the city’s effort to take over fire services for a 125-square-mile area?

The answer — according to an 18-month-long, city-funded $80,000 study released last week — is not now.

The coverage area would need to stretch around most of the city, northeast to Napa County, south to Rohnert Park, west to Sebastopol and east to Oakmont.

But Rincon Valley was short by about $700,000 of what it could provide to cover the cost. And Santa Rosa already provides more fire response to Rincon Valley than the smaller agency contributes back to the city.

“We don’t have any money in our budget to extend our coverage to them,” said City Councilman Gary Wysocky.

Fire officials always knew the money question was key.

“To make it worthwhile to the city of Santa Rosa, we need to shore up the budget, bring something more to the table,” said Jack Piccinini, interim fire chief for Central Fire Authority, overseeing Rincon Valley and Windsor fire departments.

The 280-page study recommended firefighters from the two agencies continue working together — as they do every day on car crashes, fires and other emergencies — while Rincon Valley officials figure out how to increase the department’s income. Meanwhile, it said agency bosses should improve cooperation to ease the way for a possible future effort.

The Santa Rosa City Council will consider the study — compiled by Wilsonville, Ore.-based Emergency Services Consulting International — at a July 19 meeting.

“It’s not immediately actionable, like we’d hoped it would be,” said Tim Aboudara, president of the union representing firefighters in both agencies. “It shows how much Rincon Valley, the agency and the citizens rely on the city of Santa Rosa to receive the level of service they do.”

Piccinini said Rincon Valley’s board of directors will now look to fortify its organization and consider working toward an eventual Santa Rosa agreement or evaluate other solutions, including partnering with other agencies.

Santa Rosa’s much larger agency has 10 fire stations and about 135 paid firefighters to Rincon Valley’s two staffed stations and 18 paid firefighters.

As Rincon Valley’s sprawling district spread from the east side of the city to encircle it, except for Oakmont and Bennett Valley, the two agencies began training and working together practically as one agency and officials began talking about an eventual contract or consolidation.

Even though the study’s conclusions weren’t what many firefighters hoped, Aboudara said its detailed review of both agencies still offers useful information.

“It clearly outlines a road map for the future,” he said.