Wednesday, November 25, 2015 • 04:21

Cal Fire removes equipment from VC fire station

September 05, 2013
Representatives from Cal Fire pulled a high-speed internet access system out of Valley Center's fire Station 73 on Friday, Aug. 30. The system, called ASAPnet, was intended as way to provide high-speed internet to remote areas of the county and as a backup communications network in the event of an emergency.

After removing the equipment from Station 73, the two representatives tried to do the same at Station 72, but District Administrator John Byrne heard about it and put his foot down.

"I came over here and said it's not going without a court order," said Byrne. The Cal Fire representatives had no choice but to leave the equipment there.

Cal Fire's effort to remove the ASAPnet system came just before Cal Fire handed over the running of the Valley Center Fire Protection District to the San Pasqual Tribal Fire Department on Sunday morning.

"The transition went fine," said Byrne. "This is not transition-related necessarily." Byrne is not convinced that the equipment is Cal Fire's to take. He believes that removing the equipment from Stations 72 and 73 is "counterintuitive and counterproductive."

Cal Fire Deputy Chief Greg Griswold feels otherwise.

"Cal Fire's paying for the system," said Griswold. "Because Valley Center elected to go on their own, this happened." Griswold claims that the equipment was purchased through grants from SDG&E, but that Cal Fire still pays $77,000 a year to maintain the system for 70 fire stations.

However, Byrne rejects Cal Fire's claim to the equipment.

"That is not certain," said Byrne. In a recent letter to Cal Fire Unit Chief Thomas Porter, Byrne asserted that "the improvement in public safety within the District from the ASAPnet should not be dependent upon the continuation of any contractual relationships with either the County Fire Authority or Cal Fire."

ASAPnet was designed by UCSD Research Scientist Hans-Werner Braun. It is a high-speed internet service that links remote fire stations together, especially those that would not otherwise have internet access.

Cal Fire believes they can take the equipment back without hurting the Valley Center Fire Protection District because Stations 72 and 73 have their own independent internet providers.

"Valley Center already has that access," said Captain Mike Mohler, spokesperson for Cal Fire. He claims that fire protection services should not be affected whatsoever. "Their rip-and-run printers were already running off a private internet service," said Mohler.

That may be true in normal conditions, but VCFPD Administrator Byrne believes the ASAPnet system is crucial in the event of a large-scale disaster.

"The issue is communicating during times when the internet system and the phone system are down," said Byrne. He sees ASAPnet as an invaluable service that Stations 72 and 73 may need in the event of an emergency, and no contractual agreement with Cal Fire should get in the way of that. "ASAPnet is a backup for the internet," said Byrne.

Although Byrne managed to hold on to the equipment at Station 72, Cal Fire will likely disconnect it from the system soon anyway. No legal action has been taken yet, but there is still the possibility Cal Fire will try to reclaim the equipment in court, according to Mohler.

Aside from the dispute over the communications equipment, the hand-off of the Valley Center Fire Protection District from Cal Fire to the San Pasqual Tribal Fire Department went smoothly. Byrne is still investigating who owns the ASAPnet equipment, but in the meantime Stations 72 and 73 will continue to serve the community as always.

"If anyone has concerns, they can call me," said Byrne. The VCFPD can be reached at 760-751-7600.

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