"The City and County never asked the fire departments. We are very disappointed," -- August Ghio, President, San Diego Fire Chiefs Association
By Miriam Raftery
March 5, 2009 (San Diego)--Why didn't a city and county that have suffered through the worst wildfires in California history request funds through the federal stimulus program for any fire protection projects?
The website www.stimuluswatch.org lists "shovel-ready" projects submitted by cities in the 2008 U.S. Conference of Mayors Report. There are dozens of fire-related projects such as building new fire stations, remodeling older stations, and creating training facilities for firefights in cities across the country and elsewhere in California. But none in San Diego. San Diego has nearly $351 million in projects listed, ranging from the Rose Creek Bike Path to repairing streets and upgrading street lights. But not a single fire-related project is on the list.
"The City and County never asked the fire departments," August Ghio, president of the San Diego County Fire Chiefs Association, told East County Magazine in an exclusive interview. "We are very disappointed that there was no outreach to fire districts." The County Fire Chiefs Association and Fire Districts Association will be meeting with SANDAG (San Diego Association of Governments) this week in hopes of identifying some crucial fire projects, he added. "We hope it's not too late."
After the devastating 2007 wildfires, Senator Diane Feinstein chaired a Congressional hearing in San Diego to investigate wildfire prevention, including local officials actions. The Senator blasted San Diego officials for failing to provide adequate fire resources for the region. "People have to understand there will eventually be loss of life on a massive scale if nothing happens." San Diego Fire Chief Tracy Jarman testified that her department lacked resources needed for rapid response time to save more homes. In Rancho Bernardo, where over 350 homes burned, the city had just one fire station protecting 24 miles.
The national standard for accreditation is one station for every nine miles. San Diego needed at least 22 more fire stations to meet that standard. Jarman's predecessor, Chief Jeff Bowman, told the panel he resigned in "abject frustration" because repeated recommendations were ignored, including pleas for more fire stations and engines. City and County leaders have faulted voters for failing to pass bond initiatives for more fire funding. But now, federal stimulus dollars are available--if only City and County leaders would ask.
Ghio has this message for local officials. "If you're really looking to do something good for the public, let's take advantage now to improve fire service delivery, or at least improve dramatically our regional district training." Fire districts have shovel-ready projects, Ghio said, including proposed new fire stations, replacing dilapidated stations, and building regional training centers. "There's a perfect example," he said, citing a regional training facility proposed in partnership with the Otay Water District on land that is already available. "We will open it up to Cal Fire, the U.S. Forest Service, and all of the East County and South County Fire departments--full paid and volunteer," said Ghio. The facility would also include a mobile training program to bring live fire search-and-rescue trailers to train personnel in backcountry areas. "We have tons of these things going on," Chief Ghio concluded. "But nobody asked us."