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January 27, 2014 (Boulevard)--Drive 60 miles east of San Diego out Interstate 8 and you’ll reach Boulevard, a sparsely populated rural community of about 1,750 people. Your view will encompass manzanita trees and granite boulders, but no shopping malls or gleaming high rises. In fact, you won’t see a lot of newer buildings at all, and you won’t be surprised to learn the town’s fire station is a converted court office.

That last part won’t be true for long though. On Thursday, County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Dianne Jacob joined County officials and community members to break ground on a new $3.5 million fire station, which will serve a 78-square-mile area.

“This is not only a big step for our community, it’s an important step for the broader region,” said Chairwoman Jacob. “This project is the latest demonstration of the County’s commitment to beefing up fire protection and emergency medical response in our rural areas.”

The new 7,866 square-foot station on Ribbonwood Road will feature modern sleeping quarters, a training room, space for up to six emergency vehicles and environment-friendly elements such as solar power.

It will be the 16th rural fire station building project the County has completed since the Board of Supervisors formed the County Fire Authority in 2008.

Before the Fire Authority, many rural communities were served by part-time volunteers who responded from work or home. One of the improvements under the Fire Authority is to make sure communities are covered by firefighters around the clock, all year round.

But many of the old volunteer fire company stations weren’t designed for people to live or sleep there. So the County’s been busy renovating and building to make the fire stations appropriate for 24-hour shifts.

The new Boulevard station will be constructed to modern standards, with resource-saving features that include low water usage, cool roof technology, and a 20-kilovolt solar array to power the station.

When finished, it will be spacious enough to accommodate two fire companies.

An East County Magazine last year revealed that the current Boulevard Fire Station had been closed nearly every day for over two months during peak fire season.   Overtime pay was later authorized to assure staffing 24/7, assured Supervisor Jacob, who convened a meeting with fire officials and concerned citizens to discuss staffing shortfalls. 

In addition to serving community residents, the new Boulevard Fire station could also be calledo on to respond to fires at the growing number of major energy projects in the Boulevard area, including industrial scale wind and solar projects, powerlines and substations.

The community of Boulevard is also served by the CAL FIRE station White Star, one of nine CAL FIRE stations the County funds to remain open in the winter to help make sure rural communities have adequate year-round emergency response.

But the state station is coming to the end of its life. After the new Boulevard Station opens, County volunteer firefighters and CAL FIRE firefighters may share the new facility.

The plan would save public funds by saving the cost of constructing and operating two stations to cover the same area.

Under the Fire Authority, the County has a close relationship with CAL FIRE, so locating County volunteers and state firefighters together is a natural fit.

The CAL FIRE San Diego Unit Chief is also the County Fire Authority’s chief.  County volunteers receive the same basic training as CAL FIRE career firefighters, and under the Fire Authority, backcountry firefighters are dispatched and overseen by CAL FIRE.

That means CAL FIRE dispatches the closest resource to an emergency, and whether it’s a volunteer or CAL FIRE crew, the public gets a professional, timely response.

Some in the community have raised concerns however over what happens if the CAL FIRE crew is dispatched out of the area to fight a wildfire. Area residents want to be sure that the station will be adequately staffed not only with CAL FIRE firefighters, but also crews with adequate equipment that can respond quickly to structure fires or fires at major energy projects in the Boulevard area


"Volunteer" Status

Really, volunteer fighters?

Jacumba volunteers = 0

Boulevard volunteers = 0

Pine Valley volunteers = 5

Campo volunteers = 9 - 11

And for Campo that's because the County is paying for Cal Fire fighters in Jacumba, Boulevard, and Pine Valley leaving us all the volunteers. All 9 to 11 of them. Supervisor Jacob also mentioned how we are better off now than we were 10 years ago. Ken from Boulevard and I looked at each other and remembered how we had 40 to 50 volunteer firefighters between Boulevard and Campo.

The community needs to keep up the pressure. The Cal Fire firefighters in Jacumba and Boulevard are off budget. There is no money budgeted for them in the upcoming fiscal year. If you do not keep up the pressure they will go away!

We are the San Diego County fire Authority. We blow smoke up your ____! ( nose maybe?)