Thursday, November 26, 2015 • 03:16

VCFPD rethinking battalion chief agreement

Vice President Bill Palmer and President Weaver Simonsen debate the merits of the battalion chief agreement at the Jan. 16 board meeting. Photo by Michael Crane / Valley Roadrunner
January 23, 2014
After months of waiting for the Rincon Tribal Council to act on the proposal to provide 24/7 battalion chief coverage in Valley Center, the San Pasqual Reservation and the Rincon Reservation, Valley Center Fire Protection District is re-evaluating their options on how to best serve the community.

"There is woefully inadequate chief coverage in Valley Center and in San Pasqual," said District Administrator John Byrne at the board meeting on Jan. 16. "There is effectively no coverage nights and weekends unless Chief Rodriguez wants to work nights and weekends, which he has been doing a lot here over the last number of months, and you can only sustain so much of that."

Prior to last week's board meeting, the proposed solution for the staffing shortage came in the form of an Agreement for Cooperative Management Services between the Rincon Reservation, the San Pasqual Reservation, and Valley Center. Under the agreement, the three agencies would split the cost of employing three battalion chiefs to provide 24/7 coverage in the entire area.

However, the Rincon Tribal Council has repeatedly postponed acting on the matter for various reasons, and VCFPD decided to move forward without them.

Valley Center has been lacking adequate chief coverage since February of last year. Although the financial burden on the district would be approximately $64,000 more per year without Rincon's participation, Byrne still supports the original proposal.

"With three chiefs, which is what's contemplated here, there would be coverage 24/7, 365, and the area covered would be San Pasqual and Valley Center," said Byrne. "In the event that Rincon later on wants to join in for their own benefit, we would extend them an opportunity to do that on the same terms that we're on."

Although the board was in agreement on the need for more chief coverage in the area, the increased cost without Rincon was enough to give some members pause.

"In the past when we have been talking in reference to three agencies, the price at $127,000 as out share I think was tenable," said Phil Bell, treasurer. "Unfortunately, I think at $191,000 the price becomes untenable.

"There are other ways to cut up this pie, and I think if we go down this path of agreeing to this tonight, we're basically hamstringing ourselves into maybe looking at a better delivery method down the line," said Bell.

Director Jim Wold shared Bell's hesitation over the agreement, adding that he found the proposed cost of $127,000 for each battalion chief to be "pretty excessive."

Byrne remained adamant that the proposal before the board was the best way to go, but the board opted to table the matter for the time being and look into alternatives, such as a single chief dedicated strictly to Valley Center.

"I hate to kick the can down the road, but at the same time at least we can say we looked at it and came back," said president Weaver Simonsen who also recommended that Vice President Bill Palmer, Bell, and Byrne work together immediately to explore other options.

Due to the burden on Chief Rodriguez and the pressure from the San Pasqual Reservation, finding a resolution to the issue is of the utmost importance. The board agreed to reconvene for a special meeting in two weeks or sooner after all alternatives have been explored.

"We have the opportunity to basically set the future of this community right, so in 20 years when people look back and say the Valley Center Fire Department was started or the foundation was laid because of what they did after Cal Fire departed, they can either say we did it right or we did it wrong," said Bell.

On a separate matter, the board approved an Agreement for Emergency Dispatch Services with North County Dispatch JPA. By transitioning away from Cal Fire's Monte Vista Dispatch center, the VCFPD hopes to arrive at a more affordable dispatch service.

According to Bell, contracting with North County would cut the cost-per-call "virtually in half." However, there would be a significant, one-time fee to implement the necessary upgrades, ranging anywhere from $60,000 to $180,000, depending on the sophistication of the features.

Chief Josef Napier, a Valley Center resident and Battalion Chief for the Vista Fire Department, spoke in highly favorable terms of North County Dispatch based on his own experience with the system in Vista.

"When you make the decision to contract with North Com, you're going to be getting one of the most sophisticated computer-aided dispatch systems in the country, being serviced by some of the most specialized people that known that system," said Napier.

Byrne expects to have a more comprehensive "shopping list" of potential features for the board to consider in the coming weeks and arrive at an exact cost.

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