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Palomar fire postpones showdown with County for a year


June 12, 2013
The tiny Palomar Mountain Volunteer Fire Dept. last weekend postponed for a year the showdown with the County Fire Authority (CFA) that most residents say they are willing to have eventually in order to preserve their independence.

The department, which is a non-profit that owns the property on which its fire station sits, hired an attorney that specializes in fire departments. Instead of adopting a multi-year contract with the Authority, the board adopted a one-year contract that it can withdraw from with 90-day notice. Although Palomartians fully expect the Authority to immediately start asserting its authority over their department, not much is likely to happen within twelve months.

The board voted to authorize spending $2,000 as a retainer for Los Angeles-based attorney Bill Ross. The board is looking at several options, including becoming an independent fire district, or merging with the Valley Center Fire Protection District.

According to Assistant Chief Cliff Kellogg, "We are concerned that we want to have our own firefighters assigned to the department, and for our chief, George Lucia, to be able to go out and hire his own people. We are concerned with staffing, because the County Fire Authority is having problems keeping people in the system. CFA has had as many as six or seven unstaffed fire stations a day throughout the county."

Lucia's big concern is that the CFA may fail in adequately covering the mountain the event of an emergency. The volunteer fire department has so far managed to maintain a staffing level of two firefighters at the station, although the goal is four.

Kellogg told The Roadrunner, "As far as the CFA is concerned it is not an option for our station to hire auxiliaries or regular firefighters. They won't allow them at all. They say, 'You have to use who we approve,' but then we say 'where are they?' "

The showdown with the County has been pushed down the road a year, but seems unlikely to disappear.

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