Monday, December 22, 2014 • 06:14
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VCFPD looks down the path to independence



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February 26, 2014
Less than six months after departing from CalFire and merging with the San Pasqual Reservation Fire Department (SPRFD), the Valley Center Fire Protection District (VCFPD) is well on its way to becoming an independent fire department in the near future.

At their regular meeting on Feb. 20, the VCFPD board considered a proposal to create an all-Valley Center department headed by its own fire chief, battalion chief, and six fire captains. The board ultimately decided to postpone acting on the matter for six months, but the possibility of an independent VCFPD looms on the horizon much sooner than previously expected.

The discussion arose out of the need for greater chief coverage in both Valley Center and the San Pasqual Reservation. Since September, Chief Harold Rodriguez has been stretched-thin as the sole chief in the area.

"Chief Rodriguez was covering the duties 24/7, 365, and there wasn't the ability for him to have any down time," said Phil Bell, treasurer. Bell explained that an additional battalion chief was "sorely needed," before proceeding into a presentation of the various options moving forward.

Several proposals have been floated in the last few months to hire more battalion chiefs in tandem with neighboring departments, at various times including the Rincon and Pauma fire departments. The final Agreement for Cooperative Management Services adopted by the board last Thursday came down to a resolution between VCFPD and the SPRFD to hire two new battalion chiefs, one for each fire district.

However, Bell also presented an alternative proposal for an independent VCFPD that he estimates could save the district between $42,000 and $165,000 over the current resolution with SPRFD.

"A large chunk of the savings are derived from San Pasqual infrastructure costs," Bell explained of his alternative proposal. "If we absorb the captains and make our own fire chief and our own battalion chief, we don't have to pay San Pasqual infrastructure costs, for obvious reasons."

Even greater savings would be achieved if the generous SPRFD salaries were lowered slightly to be more comparable with other departments in the county, which is how Bell estimates the district could save $165,000 over the current resolution. Bell also explained that this possibility is only available now that outstanding bills from CalFire have been paid off.

"This is a great opportunity and I vote for Mr. Bell's proposal one-thousand percent," said Director Jim Wold. However, as eager as Bell and Wold were to make the move, other members of the board felt the need to flesh-out the proposal further before moving forward.

"We've only been talking about this for three days, and that's a little bit short to just up and vote for something," said Vice President Bill Palmer. Although he agreed it might be a viable option down the line, Palmer felt that Bell's alternative proposal didn't adequately provide money for the firefighters themselves.

President Weaver Simonsen shared Palmer's hesitations, also raising concerns that the district doesn't have the necessary human relations structure to support an independent department.

"We have not developed those policies, we have not developed those procedures," said Simonsen.

Though initially in support of Bell's proposal, Secretary Oliver Smith ultimately voted to postpone an independent VCFPD as well.

"You don't have to do everything right now," said Smith. "We can do it in a measured and predictable manner. Yeah, I'd like to see things change. I want to do it right. I don't want to see us stumble."

The board will continue to explore the feasibility of an independent VCFPD in the coming months, including procedures relating to training, hiring, and salaries. In the meantime, the merger with SPRFD will continue, with a new battalion chief to provide coverage in Valley Center.

Allen Lawson, Chairman of the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians, also briefly addressed the board.

"I'm very proud of my fire department. I'm also very proud of the job that we've done in assisting Valley Center to this point," said Lawson. "We have a contract with Valley Center that could be terminated within 90 days, and if the board wishes that, we're willing to do so today and start that process. We don't have any desire to hold back Valley Center from creating their own fire department."

Several board members and speakers from the audience praised the efforts of the SPRFD.

"You held out a hand to us when it was needed as a good neighbor, and we look at our relationship with you more as a partnership than a contract," Simonsen told Lawson. "We truly appreciate your partnership and what you've done for us."

To learn more about the various costs of the different proposals, visit www.vcfpd.org.

The board also approved a new patch that will soon be visible on the uniforms of all the Valley Center firefighters.

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Rincon Indians Band