Source: Valley Roadrunner

VC Fire Board discusses fiscal year budget

by SUSAN MISH
Staff Writer


July 03, 2014

The Valley Center Fire Protection District at its June 19 meeting began with President Weaver Simonsen addressing comments. Jon Landen, member of the Risk Assessment Subcommittee, requested the Board take immediate action to hire a fire chief officer.

“Many of these issues that have come up and will continue to come up can be resolved by a chief officer who is in charge of operations,” said Landen. “I ask to make this an agenda item, vote on it and get it in place.” He advised taking this action would cause many of the problems to dissipate.

Mercy Medical Transportation asked those in attendance if a new red ambulance was noticed parked in front of the building. The new ambulance will be going into service soon replacing unit 7594 in the Santa Ysabel, Lake Henshaw area. Another new item Mercy Medical brought to the meeting was a new Phillips monitor model in service in the field being tested on patients. The new monitor has the capacity of sending 12 lead EKGs by email or fax to cardiologists in advance to prepare for the patient being transported to the hospital. In addition, the monitor provides the number and quality of compressions per minute which allows more time for saving a life. A new feature is a dual system battery display indicating battery-charging capacity allowing uninterrupted power. The monitors are military grade designed for durability in rural areas. The cost per monitor is $24,000 and will be installed on all VC service area ambulances. It was reported that 91 percent of all Valley Center ambulance transports are from the area. In contrast, 62 percent of Mesa Grande and 51 percent of Deer Springs ambulance transports are not from these areas.

Chief Harold Rodriguez reported a few spot fires on Memorial Day. He stated five new reserves had passed testing and would be given orientation. He reported a meeting would be held with ISO representatives to discuss rates for fire insurance.

Fire Marshal George Lucia stated the department was moving forward with several projects including CERT reorganization and the Fire Safe Council. He reported coordinating with Cal Fire for inspections of areas determined to be hazards such as the Lilac Corridor, considered an interest problem.

District Administrator John Byrne announced two 800-radio systems with charging units and attached to consoles as dispatch systems were being installed in fire stations 72 and 73.

Simonsen announced that search for property for a fire station accessing the Cole Grade area is a continued effort involving a two-year negotiation process due to multiple property owners’ inability to reach an agreement.

Resolution 2014-08 was adopted, approving a fee increase proposed by Mercy Medical Transportation, Inc.

It was decided that the next meeting’s agenda would include discussion of the Firefighters Association’s Community Service Program, Adopt A Family, and criteria used to determine eligibility requirements.

The reading of the 2015 FY budget resulted in Simonsen’s proposal to increase revenue interest to $15,000. He recommended not providing a cost of living increase to the Fire Marshal and District Administrator thereby creating a savings of $4,526. Also recommended was continuing 4.0 staffing through January. At that time if a means had not been found to increase revenue or decrease costs, action would be taken to consider 3.0 staffing. This suggestion received considerable opposing responses from several in attendance. Landen objected adamantly, recommending a vote down of doing away with 4.0 staffing, citing it would put Valley Center residents at risk. He emphasized 4.0 staffing was not negotiable.

Opponent Michael O’Connor issued an emotionally-charged response stating, “A four-man engine company is the standard. It’s not to be cut, especially in this town.” He stated anything less than 4.0 staffing was not feasible and not safe due to high response times. He added the budget is $2.3 million. If $367,500 received by firefighters were cut in half, then the result would reflect only 5 percent of the budget going to firefighters.

Steve Hutchison, Valley Center resident for 32 years, made the observation that residents don’t think much about 4.0 staffing until confronted with an emergency situation. He explained if a fire engine arrives with three men and there is no paramedic, the person having the heart attack is made comfortable and forced to wait for an ambulance with a paramedic to arrive because the three-staff team is not authorized to provide paramedic services.

Hutchison cited the Charter of the District is responsible for providing the best possible care at the best possible cost.

“Valley Center folks aren’t expecting second-class service,” Hutchison said. “They may have to pay more to maintain 4.0 services. This should be taken to the people of Valley Center in a much broader way than this kind of meeting with a half dozen people so they understand the situation we’re facing.”

Treasurer Phil Bell reassured the committee and those attending the meeting saying, “I will go over line item by line item by entry through every single piece of paper to find out where the savings are or potentially could be so there are savings to be had in this budget.”

Furthermore, Bell agreed wholeheartedly with the necessity of maintaining 4.0 staffing.

“I am an absolute disciple of 4.0 staffing,” Bell said. “To go to anything less at any time could be a catastrophic failure of this Board to the community. So I will not ever agree to 3.0 staffing.”

Committee Chair Oliver Smith concurred with Weaver that there should be no cost of living increases for two staff members on the basis that there was no cost of living increase for firefighters. He was also in support of 4.0 staffing.

“Failure is not an option,” said Smith. “I consider failure as having to go to the county to support a 4.0 staffing agreement.” Smith stated he would not deter from 4.0 staffing until facing dire straits, which meant operating in the red or folding.

“If the community won’t support 4.0, then the community will get what it will support or the county takes over,” said Smith. “I don’t think either one of those is a viable option. But unfortunately, and you can see it almost every day in the paper, people are saying why should I pay more for fire when they just charged me $117 a year. Why aren’t you using that to improve our fire service? And they’re not really interested in hearing we don’t see a penny of it. That all goes to Sacramento. It gets lost in the money pile. And then we want to come along with whatever we determine is appropriate for a bond issue or a fee increase. People can make their decision from the ballot box. They make their decision and this Board implements that decision. But if the money isn’t there, they’ve spoken.”