CAL FIRE CHIEF DISPUTES CANDIDATE STATEMENTS IN SAN MIGUEL FIRE RACE

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By Miriam Raftery

October 22, 2014 (San Diego’s East County)—CAL FIRE Tony Mecham, head of the County Fire Authority,  has contacted East County Magazine to dispute statements and factual claims made by two candidates running for the San Miguel Fire District Board in their responses to our candidate questionnaire.  

Chief Mecham states that he is not endorsing any candidate but adds, “There are numerous statements that are factually false.”

Candidate Theresa McKenna stated that CAL FIRE dispatch has a one-minute delay programmed into its response.  Mecham says that while dispatch agencies previously did have a delay, “these delays have been removed by all agencies” based on reliability of the Reigonal Computer-Aided Dispatch Interoperability Project, or RCIP.

In her response, McKenna claimed she met with Chief Mecham and that he told her he shared some concerns that he “could not admit publicly.” Mecham  says she misquoted him and that this statement is “simply not true,” though he did meet with McKenna.

Chief Mecham further takes issue with McKenna’s stated intent to “change the agreement to give the District back the ability to evaluate, observe and identify the level of qualifications of firefighters that the State plans to have work in the San Miguel District.”  The Chief responds, “The San Miguel Fire Protection Board of Directors sets the level of fire service delivery. In this case they are receiving the same level of service today as in previous years at a fraction of the cost.” He adds that a fire board’s role is oversight, not day to day operations, whether with CAL FIRE or not.

He also disputed McKenna’s contention that state personnel can be transferred out of San Miguel to another unit in California.  “No employee has been moved out of the San Miguel Fire Protection District unless they have requested a transfer,”Chief Mecham says, adding those requests are often based on career development and opportunities to work closer to home.

McKenna also cited problems with fatigued firefighters, but Meacham says this issue was never brought to the attention of any member of the CAL FIRE organization of labor union. “Employees have an obligation to communicate if they have an inability to perform based upon fatigue or any other contributing factor,” Chief Mecham states.

In addition he takes issue with McKenna faulting the district under CAL FIRE for not being adequately involved with students, despite the district spearheading efforts to start up a Steele Canyon High School CERT (Community Emergency Response Training) program.

Chief Mecham also says that candidate Jim Ek, a fire captain, misstated several items on his candidate questionnaire.  The Chief’s letter takes issue specifically with Ek’s statement claiming CAL FIRE “lacks the personnel to effectively staff engine and truck companies and adequately respond to a wide variety of emergencies with the San Miguel District.”  The Chief replies that CAL FIRE staffs 575 municipal engines, 38 ladder trucks, and more than one hundred paramedic units. “CAL FIRE responds to more than 250,000 emergencies each year of which only 6,500 are vegetation fires,” he adds. “It is unfortunate to have yet another mis-informed candidate providing information to the public,” the Chief concludes.

The Chief also objected to ECM's use of the term “takeover” to describe the cooperative agreement entered into for Cal Fire to handle San Miguel’s fire protection services under a five-year contract.  Although it’s true that Cal Fire is now in charge of firefighting services for the district, the arrangement was the result of a unanimous vote by the board after issuing a request for proposals.

 

 

Comments

WOW!

Must be nice to have actual firefighters to fight over. Move to Boulevard or Campo. Drive by the local, EMPTY, volunteer fire stations the County is suppose to be staffing.

CalFire Email re "one-minute" Delay

Hi Miriam: Turns out it was a cyberspace issue. Here is the copy/paste of the September 1, 2014 email referenced in my comment. From: Christie, Brian@CALFIRE To: Chaney, Ray@CALFIRE Cc: Zombro, Kelly@CALFIRE; Mecham, Tony@CALFIRE Subject: RE: Public Records Act Request Date: Monday, September 01, 2014 4:42:03 PM Regarding Item #5: There is a one minute penalty on Engines from Lakeside, El Cajon and Santee which affects responses coming into San Miguel to compensate for the delay in the RCIP and the Heartland dispatch reflex time when we send a call to HTL via RCIP for response into SMG. We have no way to make E19 appear faster to CAD going into other jurisdictions. If there are penalties to make E19 appear faster into CSA-115, penalties slowing the other resources would have to be placed on the Santee, Lakeside, and El Cajon resources in the CAD that is dispatching them. Item #5 Please provide a copy of MVU/CalFire Dispatch Standard Operating Procedures, whether verbal or in writing, for manually programing a 1-3 minute increase in response times to non-CalFire/San Miguel Apparatus versus the actual response times of said Engines. For Example: It is my understanding a Dispatch Delay of 1 minute has been added to Auto Aid Engines responding into the CSA115 area, thereby leading the CAD to believe E19 would be the closest engine to respond into the CSA115 when it is not. Brian Christie Battalion Chief Monte Vista Interagency Command Center CAL FIRE San Diego Unit & San Diego County Fire Authority (619) 590-3109 office (619) 672-7594 cell brian.christie@fire.ca.gov From: Chaney, Ray@CALFIRE Sent: Thursday, August 28, 2014 9:29 AM To: Christie, Brian@CALFIRE Cc: Zombro, Kelly@CALFIRE; Mecham, Tony@CALFIRE Subject: FW: Public Records Act Request Importance: High Theresa Mc Kenna is a former SMG FD employee and is running for this years Board of Directors. She has a PRA request into us for information on response times policy. See item number five. Could you please provide a response that I can attached to the overall request. Item number four I am running through my legal counsel to assure she can have access to this information. Thank you Ray C Ray Chaney Division Chief San Miguel Fire District CAL FIRE Western Division Cell 619-851-0262 HQ Phone 619 670-0500 From: Renae Rasmussen [rrasmussen@sanmiguelfire.org] Sent: Thursday, August 28, 2014 9:07 AM To: Chaney, Ray@CALFIRE Subject: FW: Public Records Act Request From: TMcKennaNCo@aol.com [mailto:TMcKennaNCo@aol.com] Sent: Wednesday, August 27, 2014 9:32 PM To: rrasmussen@sanmiguelfire.org Subject: Public Records Act Request Dear Mr. Rasmussen, Please see attached Public Records Act Request. Please "Reply" to acknowledge receipt of this request and attachment. Thank you for your assistance in this regard. Sincerely, Theresa McKenna 2514 Jamacha Rd #502-184 El Cajon, CA 92019 (619)889-3510

Reply to Chief Meacham’s

Reply to Chief Meacham’s Allegations Thank you for the opportunity to provide comment to Chief Meacham’s allegations which I will address in more detail now. 1. One-Minute Delay: When I submitted a request to CalFire under the California Public Records Act (“PRA”) for MVU/CalFire’s dispatch procedures specific to dispatching delays, the reply I received from the State was “CAL FIRE…could not locate documents referencing the processes referred to in your request.” Interestingly enough, a separate PRA produced the September 1, 2014 email from Chief Christie to Chief Chaney wherein he wrote: “There is a one-minute penalty on Engines from Lakeside, El Cajon and Santee which affects responses coming into San Miguel…” I was able to confirm this as recently as October 13, 2014. 2. Chief Meacham’s Alleged Misquote: Without question, Chief Meacham told me he shared some of my concerns that he “could not admit publicly.” The only possible way I could have misquoted him is if he said, “Publicly, I cannot admit” the issues. There is even a witness to his statement. 3. I take issue with Chief Meacham’s comment that the Citizens of this District “are receiving the same level of service today as in previous years at a fraction of the cost.” That simply is not true. Let’s consider the issues with CalFire’s Dispatching Center. Time and time again, I have brought dispatching issues to the Board’s attention. In my efforts to obtain copies of Incident Reports to provide the Board evidence of these dispatching issues, I had to pay the District $120.00 for twelve (12) 8-1/2 x 11 single-sheets of pieces of paper. One incident in particular was call in Spring Valley wherein San Diego Fire Department’s Engine 32 beat CalFire’s San Miguel Engine 16 to a fire call on Dictionary Hill. Engine 16 should have been on scene long before Engine 32. It wasn’t. Instead of admitting the mistake, CalFire’s Chief Chaney provided a questionable Detailed Report on the incident in which the on-scene times listed for Engine 16 conspicuously conflict with one another. One area of the Report shows Engine 16 on scene before Engine 23, even though San Diego Fire Departments Report and eye witnesses say otherwise. It appears to me the on-scene time for Engine 16 was intentionally altered to make it appear as though Engine 16 was on-scene ahead of Engine 32 when it was not. I find the Report produced quite suspicious and it raises more questions than answers. 4. Chief Meacham Disputes my reply about State Personnel being Transferred: The question posed by the ECM reporter was: “Since suppression personnel are state employees, can personnel be transferred from the district to any other unit in the state?” My answer: “Yes; State personnel can be transferred from the District to any other Unit in the State….” That is a true statement. The question did not ask why or how transfers of employees take place. While it is true that a few firefighters left the District to work closer to home or for career opportunities, some left because they felt targeted by their supervisor(s) and forced to leave the District rather than endure repeated harassment. Some have filed complaints against one Supervisor in particular who they feel has been targeting the former San Miguel firefighters, trying to force them out of the District; however, the behavior continues and more and more firefighters who had served this Community long term are leaving. Certainly Chief Meacham is aware of Section 9.2.1 of CalFire’s MOU with its firefighters wherein it is pretty clear that [w]hen the State deems it necessary to fill a vacant position, the needs of the State must be given first priority. Needs of the State include the right to fill vacant positions using such methods as involuntary transfer, reassignment, reinstatement, etc. Some feel the CalFire Union’s local leadership, (which, interestingly enough, is endorsing and providing funding to Incumbents Winter and Augustine, as well as a CalFire Chief’s wife also running for this District’s Board, Cindy Croucher), cares more about keeping the $68 million contract with the District in place than they do about the working conditions of their members. 5. Chief Meacham alleges Firefighter Fatigue problems were Never Brought to the Attention of Labor: I believe Labor leaders are well aware of the fatigue issue. Are they that disconnected with its members, and Chief Meacham that disconnected to his personnel as to not know the extent of the Force Back/firefighter fatigue issues? A well-respected CalFire firefighter relayed to me today, the bottom line is, firefighters do not want to take the engine out of service to allow them to catch up on sleep because it causes a decrease in service to the community by closing a station. This firefighter said, “I can’t, in my right mind, take an engine out of service and not be available to go [to a 911 call] and at least do something.” They expressed that they couldn’t live with themselves knowing they had slept and were unavailable to respond while a child two doors down drowned. Firefighters are trying to do everything they can to maintain the level of service because that is what they get paid to do, and they pride themselves on being there to help when that 911 call comes in. Personally, the problem as I see it is there are not being enough firefighters working in District to allow firefighters to go home after their 72-hour work shift. If, as Incumbent Winter alleges, the District has “saved” over $2 million since the Contract with CalFire, how about spending some of that money to solve the problem of there not being enough firefighters working in the District to prevent firefighter fatigue? 6. Chief Meacham takes issue with my concerns that CalFire is not adequately being involved with students: When an elementary school teacher invites the fire department to visit their classroom, they are (and as are the children), expecting to see a fire engine and meet the firefighters. Sending a Community Outreach person to give a lecture to a group of 1st Graders with a very short attention span, in my opinion, is not adequate. I have praised the Steele Canyon High School CERT Program; a fabulous opportunity for the students and the Community. I have no doubt that ECM readers can easily read between the lines on this one. CalFire Chief Meacham, his Battalion Chief, Randy Scales (the local CalFire Union Vice President), and Incumbent Chris Winter are all attacking me especially, because I am bringing some every serious issues to the public’s attention. These are the same issues I have brought to the Board’s attention since the Contract went into place December 2012. To date, many of these issues still exist and, while I do know CalFire has made forward progress in their Dispatching Center, more needs to be done. When my 13-year-old son makes a mistake or does something wrong, or, dare I say, speaks a mistruth, I tell him he needs to admit the mistake, fix what was broken, and own it; not make excuses, blame someone else, or try to deflect a problem by attacking someone else. My message to Chief Meacham, CalFire Union Vice President Scales, and Mr. Winter is simple: Own it. Thank you, again, ECM, for the opportunity to comment. Theresa McKenna Candidate San Miguel Fire Board

Dear Ms. Raftery,

I really do look forward to replying to Chief Meacham's allegations in more detail; however, I must take my son to school. In the meantime, could you please attach for your audience, the email I sent to ECM Reporter Nadin Abbott that supports my statement as to the one-minute delay programmed into CalFire's response? It was an email dated September 1, 2014, from CalFire Battalion Chief Brian Christie to CalFire Division Chief Ray Chaney wherein the first line on Chief Christie's emails states, "There is a one minute penalty on Engines from Lakeside, El Cajon, and Santee which affects responses coming into San Miguel..." I invite any of your readers to contact me at any time for evidence supporting any of my statements at TheresaMcKenna2014@gmail.com Thank you so much for your assistance. Theresa McKenna Candidate San Miguel Fire Board

Theresa -

I checked with Nadin; she said when you sent her your candidate responses to our questions you mentioned an attached email string, but forgot to attach it. Please resend, or you can post it yourself in the comments section.