Ball: Is Sun Cities fire department merger really necessary?

Posted 9/16/22

I have a few questions for Arizona Fire & Medical Authority officials about possible growth.

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Ball: Is Sun Cities fire department merger really necessary?


I have a few questions for Arizona Fire & Medical Authority officials about possible growth.

Full disclosure — I spent two years as a reporter covering the Arizona Fire & Medical Authority for Independent Newspapers. During this time I attended many board and committee meetings and saw first hand how the organization operated. At one point, I received an award from them for my reporting on their activities.

Generally, I like the way the AFMA operates. Now, I’m a recent new resident in Sun City, and the fire department here is involved in a study to see if becoming part of the AFMA would be beneficial. At first, my reaction was why bother with a study. It’s a good thing so just join.

But I do have some questions about how the AFMA might or might not change if Sun City and Buckeye Valley and other districts join them. Buckeye Valley Fire District covers approximately 200 square miles, generally south of I-10 and adjoining Buckeye, Avondale, Goodyear and rural areas. They, too, are considering joining AFMA. Their most recent chief, Matt Burdick, is now chief of the AFMA.

“Shared Services” or huge fire department.

First, we all need to deal with reality rather than some perceptions and realize that the AFMA is not supposed to be one huge fire department dispatching fire trucks all over a huge area. It is meant to be a cooperative of multiple fire districts to coordinate and share services and lower costs. Certainly, residents of some smaller districts have benefited greatly from AFMA training activity, which provides higher quality service and staff, as well as better equipment services.

Currently, it has two main fire-medical districts — North County, which includes Sun City West, Morristown and nearby areas, and South County, which includes Sun Lakes and Tonopah. Each of these districts has a 5-member elected board of directors, and the AFMA has a separate 5-member board chosen from those 10 people.

How would the addition Sun City and Buckeye Valley fit in to the current organization? Much of the Buckeye Valley Fire District is adjacent to much of the current Tonopah District, covering a very large area. Would they become part of the South County district or would there need to be some new realignment? The two additional districts would more than double the number of fire stations in the AFMA. How much more would the AFMA need to increase staff to meet the expanse?

Lose local connection?

AFMA, on its website, bills itself as a “shared service” where the member organizations “share in revenue, cost and responsibility resulting in lower costs.” By this definition it would appear AFMA helps out, for example, the North County district. But all the equipment in all the served communities is clearly labeled “Arizona Fire & Medical Authority.” Yet property owners pay a tax bill to either the North County or South County districts with no mention of AFMA. In Sun City the tax payments go to the Sun City Fire District. If the Sun City merges with AFMA will the community name be removed from the fire trucks? How will residents know where their tax money is going?

Would joining this organization take away community pride and involvement in their local departments?

To some critics it would appear the leadership of AFMA is building itself as a super agency of its own rather than one that helps other organizations.

I don’t know that I agree with that assessment, but I would suggest that AFMA reconsider some of its wording on its website to better reflect its true role. Currently, it says, “AFMA provides all hazard emergency services, including 9-1-1 ambulance service from eight fire stations strategically located in…” Should it not say, “Fire and medical districts in the AFMA provide all hazard emergency services, including 9-1-1 ambulance service from 15 stations strategically…”

Some will not see much difference. But to me it answers the question of who is the tail and who is the dog. I don’t have any right or wrong answers to my questions, but look forward to learning the answers.

Sun Cities, department, merger, necessary