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.