Source: Valley Roadrunner

Fire district drops ball in keeping community informed

by Dave Ross

May 22, 2013

Former fire board member and multiple board president Mel Schuler was right to give a scorching dressing down to the current board and administration for dropping the ball in informing the public that it was going to vote Thursday night whether to drop its current contract with Cal Fire and sign a new contract with the San Pasqual Tribal Fire Department.

I was pretty fumed about it myself. I heard about the press briefing that scheduled for Thursday on Tuesday when we were about to put that week’s paper to bed. The press briefing was too late in the week to make that paper, and just in time to make the next paper. Which gave our readers several hours to read about it before the meeting happened. Now that’s what I call transparency!

Back in the days when Schuler was board president and former director Dan Thornton was treasurer they would often get together with me a couple of weeks before an important meeting so that we could prepare the ground by informing our readers. The theory was that the better informed the public was, the better decision the board would make. Those days are gone, I guess.

The water district boardroom, which VCFPD rents from VCMWD once a month, was pretty nearly filled to capacity with about 100 people, who were remarkably well behaved. Put that down to the presence of three Sheriff’s deputies from the VC station. However, several members of the audience did shout out “Listen to the community!” Nobody threw any chairs, however.

This was an audience representative of the community if more than 50% of community happens to be members of the firefighting industry or people who have a vested interest in keeping Cal Fire in charge in Valley Center. That doesn’t make their opinions any the less valuable, however, I think most taxpayers in the Valley would be more comfortable if the fire board listens to a group of residents who are more demographically diverse. It would behoove those residents who are NOT firefighters to show up for the June meeting, just to even things out.

Let’s not kid ourselves; the Cal Fire union packed Thursday’s meeting because the issue of who runs Valley Center’s fire department is an issue of JOBS and MONEY and POWER.

First, the jobs. Cal Fire is the largest fire department in the world. It is being impacted by the ongoing California budget crisis, just like other agencies. But unlike other state agencies, Cal Fire has a herd of milch cows that it can tap. These cows are the various independent fire agencies up and down the state. In San Diego the County Fire Authority and Cal Fire are different sides of the same coin. It is obvious from the pressure that the Fire Authority is putting on independent agencies such as the Palomar Mountain Volunteers and now VCFPD that it wants those jobs for its members.

Now the money. The aforementioned districts also have their own independent sources of money that the Fire Authority/Cal Fire would like to redirect into its own coffers. This will spend the end to all local control.

Now the power. Everybody wants it. Some people want to keep the power over their own fates. Others, like the Fire Authority and the County, want to accumulate as much power as they can over others. It’s human nature.

So, if you look at the issue of the VCFPD contract in terms of money, power and jobs, the picture becomes quite clear.