A proposal by newly elected Salt Lake County Commissioner Randy Horiuchi to consolidate the Salt Lake City and county fire departments is a logical step that ought to be encouraged by all parties.
Any geographical division or boundary between the city and county is essentially invisible in one continuous metropolitan area. There's nothing to really tell where one leaves off and the other begins.The proposed merger would involve only the Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County fire departments and would not include firefighting services from other communities in the valley.
Given the heterogeneous mingling of the city and county, it makes little sense to have separate entities and a duplication of departments with a combined budget of $35 million. For the sake of efficiency, finances and equipment, one fire department is more reasonable than two.
Exactly how much might be saved is unclear, particularly since Horiuchi says no firefighters would lose their jobs in a consolidation. But there clearly would be some administrative gains, both financially and operationally.
In addition, consolidation would provide more flexibility in responding to some fires and would be more efficient in a valleywide emergency such as an earthquake.
This is not the first stab at combining fire departments. The city and county studied such a merger in 1987 without result. Studies on possibly combining other services and even city-county government have been pursued for many years and some mergers have been made.
After all, the arguments that make good sense for combining certain functions ought to hold for the fire departments - and other city-county services as well.
Over the years, some functions have been combined with great success. The City-County Health Department, for example. The jail, landfill operations, some law enforcement radio dispatch, and some 911 services also have been consolidated.
Most of the roadblocks to consolidation attempts over the years have arisen from turf battles, jealousies, concerns over loss of political control, possible union domination and other issues that were more about power and prerogative than what was best and most effective for the citizens of Salt Lake Valley.
All elected officials in both the city and county officials should make every good-faith effort to support fire department consolidation without foot-dragging or power struggles.