County News Service
May 14, 2015 (San Diego’s East County) – Shortly after the release of a grand jury report that commends the County for making significant improvements to rural firefighting by unifying a patchwork of independent agencies, the Board of Supervisors approved a series of administrative steps toward bringing two more rural fire districts under the umbrella of the County Fire Authority.
Tuesday’s board action allows the Fire Authority to assume the assets and liabilities of the Rural and Pine Valley Fire Protection Districts. The districts have filed applications with the Local Agency Formation Commission to dissolve and transfer responsibility for fire services to the County. The transfer is expected to be complete by the end of 2015.
When complete, the Fire Authority will be directly responsible for services in 1.59 million acres, marking the completion of the consolidation and fire service improvement plan adopted by the Board of Supervisors about seven years ago.
The Fire Authority already supports fire services in the Rural and Pine Valley districts by funding CAL FIRE, the operational lead in the County Fire Authority, to augment fire coverage for both districts. Residents will notice no change in services once the administrative transfer is complete.
On Tuesday, Fire Authority staff and a CAL FIRE deputy chief highlighted the many improvements to rural fire protection since the formation of the Fire Authority in 2008. Some of these were noted by the 2014/2015 San Diego County Grand Jury in its report released Monday. The body also made recommendations for further County coordination, and staff said they are reviewing those.
Recent improvements in rural response include adding paramedics to County funded CAL FIRE stations. The Fire Authority placed four of these paramedic-firefighters into service since last spring, and by summer, seven stations will have advanced lifesaving capabilities. That will bring the service closer to more residents, meaning care can begin quickly, often with the first unit on scene.
Last year, the Fire Authority also achieved an average response time of 10 minutes and 7 seconds, an improvement of 26 seconds since 2013 in the rural East County.
Before the creation of the Fire Authority, residents relied on five full-time professional CAL FIRE stations and a patchwork of volunteer fire agencies, some of which were underfunded and part-time, leaving communities underserved. In 2008, the Board of Supervisors created a three-phase plan to unify and improve fire agencies to better serve the backcountry.
In Phase 1, the Fire Authority consolidated volunteer stations to cover 900,000 acres into County Service Area 135. This move allowed formerly part-time fire stations to provide 24/7 professional-level fire and medical response coverage. In the second phase, another five County service areas were folded into County Service Area 135. The third phase will be complete when Pine Valley and Rural Fire Protection districts come into the County Service Area 135.
The Fire Authority consolidation and County actions also improved services to these areas by contracting with CAL FIRE to unify services and staff additional stations. The County funds eight CAL FIRE stations year round and nine additional CAL FIRE stations that would otherwise shut most winters. CAL FIRE also manages the County’s reserve volunteer firefighters, who train and respond to calls along with the career firefighters.