"Initial setup is where Rohnert Park has its issues," Wandel said. "That initial hose deployment, the amount of equipment they're able to get on the scene."
Also, Wandel and others said they see a department of public safety officers who are police officers at heart.
"They have a few individuals who are trying real hard and they have other individuals who are not committed to firefighting," he said.
Lt. John Marty, who heads Rohnert Park's fire division, said the problem is largely one of perception. Though Rohnert Park's consolidated department has been in place for 49 years, misunderstandings persist, he said.
"I've heard it for my whole 25 years," he said. "A lot of people don't understand how Public Safety works. I tell my guys, 'You have to be 110 percent better because they look at you differently.'"
Masterson, for one, believes the public criticisms are inappropriate.
"I think that goes against our code of ethics," he said. "These conversations, those disagreements, should be done among the departments. They should not be vetted in the press."
Sending battalion chiefs
But the city has heard the concerns for years.
Rancho Adobe, which covers Cotati, Penngrove and Petaluma's Liberty Valley, several years ago began sending a battalion chief to Rohnert Park calls "purely for safety" concerns, Wandel said.
After the July 4 fire, Rincon Valley and Santa Rosa met with Rohnert Park to voice their concerns, said McCormick, Santa Rosa's chief.
"We basically said we needed to train more together so we're all on the same page when it came to an incident like that, so we're all doing the same tactics and strategies," said John Lantz, a now-retired Rincon Valley assistant chief who was at the meeting.
He said Marty acknowledged the concerns and agreed to increase training.
In a recent interview, Marty described that meeting as a casual exchange about six months after the fire, a length of time he said indicates how minor the concerns were.
The conflicts arose from the fact that his department's shift schedules had changed so they didn't correspond with other departments, Marty said. That reduced the interactions his firefighters had with those from other departments.
"It wasn't so much, 'We had an issue with what you were doing,' " Marty said. "It was, 'We don't know you anymore.'"
Santa Rosa Fire Deputy Chief Tony Gossner, who also was at the meeting, said the message was serious.
"Our message to him was, 'You guys need to get back into our training program or look for help with training or figure out how to help yourselves,'" Gossner said.
After the meeting, Santa Rosa and Rincon Valley fire chiefs began taking an unusual step that they don't take when assisting in other jurisdictions: They started sending a battalion chief to Rohnert Park calls to be sure their own firefighters were deployed properly and were safe.
"They said, 'You might see us down here, don't be offended,' " Marty said. "It was put to us as, 'It's a familiarity issue.'"
Eighteen months later, both departments continue to send senior firefighters to Rohnert Park fires, and Doug Williams, chief of the Rincon Valley and Windsor departments, puts the reason somewhat differently. His ranking officers brings additional experience and can help manage a fire, he said.
"(They go) to add some more depth to (Rohnert Park's) ability to manage scene safety," Williams said.
It's a necessity, McCormick said, but a poor use of resources.
"Multiple different departments assign a chief officer to respond to Rohnert Park for fire safety of their personnel," the Santa Rosa chief said. "That's an inefficiency."
Rohnert Park officials satisfied
Rohnert Park's Public Safety Department has struggled to prove itself in the past -- coming under fierce scrutiny a decade ago -- and some earlier criticisms were justified, officials acknowledge.
"We were losing buildings," Marty said.
But he and other city officials stoutly defend the current performance of the firefighting division.
"Certainly there were some stories about which nobody could be very proud. But that's back in the '90s," said Councilman Jake Mackenzie, the longest-serving of the city's elected officials.