Letter on the takeover from someone who has been through the takeover by County here in our county.
To Whom It May Concern:
I am writing you to share my previous experience with SDCFA/ CAL Fire as it pertains to serving the communities in the backcountry of San Diego.
First let me explain a little about myself. I am a Firefighter and Paramedic who has been in the field of Emergency Services for the last 14 years. At one point I worked for SDCFA/ Cal fire at the Company Officer level and have intimate knowledge of their inner workings. I have worked for other volunteer agencies in the county that have faced the same difficult decision that faces you now. I hope my experience can shed some light from a different angle on the subject and aid you in making your decision.
I was working as a Fire Captain for the Intermountain Fire and Rescue Department when we went through the “transition” to County Fire authority. We were an independent fire department using the county’s subsidy for turnouts and fuel assistance, we had our own well kept engine and other apparatus, and our own well maintained station on private property. The department had constant staffing of 3 a day or more and a duty chief in district at all times. From 2011 -‐2013 we had a number of calls that had negative out comes due to a BLS level medical care engine being the first on scene with a delayed response from paramedics. We felt getting a paramedic in the district to be on the first due arriving apparatus would have made the difference on these calls. It is because of this, our fireboard and Chief set out to negotiate with anyone we could in order to get a paramedic on the engine. We contacted ambulance companies, neighboring agencies, and third party industrial fire protection venders in an attempt to find a way to staff the paramedic position.
Due to the finical situations of all involved at the time we were unable to find a way, so in came SDCFA and CAL Fire with a proposal of how we could have paramedics out of our station and continue providing the high level of coverage our community was used to. They came and talked, threw out a bunch of facts and numbers, and made promises to how it would be done. Most of this would turn out to be smoke, mirrors and empty promises.
The fireboard and Cal fire agreed to a sit down proposal meeting at the Intermountain fire station. Cal fire sent a team of chiefs and admin similar to our proposal meeting in Julian. They proposed their plan and threw out some skewed statistics on paramedic call outcome vs Bls level call outcome. They attempted to point out staffing inconstancies but were quickly proven wrong by their own staffing reports. Cal fire promised a team approach with both of us working together in harmony under one roof as the first county highbred volunteer paid station.
Mechum promised that it would be a 2 unit house with a SDCFA/CAL Fire engine and a volunteer engine or rescue or water tender running all the calls together and allowing the volunteers to serve and gain experience. He promised there would always be a paramedic engine in district dedicated to that community. We were promised no change in service to the community or change in coverage of the district, all that was needed was to update parts of the station to meet state facility standards.
The process of updating the station took about a month. To assist with the transition we had a CAL Fire captain assigned to the station to over see the updates. The majority of the remodel was done on the back of the volunteers: carpet, paint, kitchen and bathroom updates all done by us to our station to improve it for all to use. While all of the work was going on we were being promised that there would be no change in routine or staffing, just extra Cal Fire personal to assist in providing the community more coverage.
July 1 was the big move in day, the first day paramedics would be in the house with us responding to calls, hoping to make a difference in the community. July 1 I was told to remove my red helmet, Captain badge, and bugles because I could not be a Captain at a CAL fire station over CAL fire personnel. We were all demoted that day back to probationary fire fighter and sent to “career” stations until our training and experience were verified. It did not take long for most of us to make it back to our home station as good records had been kept. We returned to find they had removed all of our engines and put them out back in a dirt field. Chief Renali had ordered all signage indicating it was Intermountain and all of our history, photos, pictures, and gifts from the community to be thrown away or put in storage. I was able to staff a few shifts at Intermountain, now meeting the county rank equivalent of Engineer. However, I was not allowed to staff the engine I was on the patrol or the tender. Oddly enough, most of the Cal Fire crews were less qualified than the previous volunteer staff because they were not required to take the classes in order to hold an Engineer, Captain, or Fire Fighter 2 spots. This was a major change in level provided to the community because now there were only 2 people on duty that were not qualified for the positions they held. This change in staffing lead to the majority of the rescue equipment, like the Jaws of Life and the High and Low angle rope rescue systems, to be removed from the apparatus. The community and it’s citizen’s paid for these tools for their protection. It wasn’t much more than a month before we (the volunteers) would show up for duty and be sent elsewhere because there was a need for staffing at a different station, this would leave only 2 at Intermountain. Only having 2 personnel staffed meant there was no water tender staffed for fires in the area or staffing for the need to go interior to rescue victims in a fire. Even though the fireboard knew about the staffing issues they could not do anything because they had already signed over the station. The board had control of the old equipment and volunteers but no leverage against Cal fire and had their hands tied. But at least the district had medics 24/7 right? Not the case unfortunately. I was staffing the San Pasqual station and we would receive move ups to Station 85 Intermountain because that engine needed to go to headquarters in El Cajon or into Ramona for training, not only leaving the district without a medic but also often uncovered completely. In addition to the gaps in coverage we would regularly hear the engine out of 85 not be able to find or access common areas and regular customers we used to be able to serve every time they would call for service. Any time old volunteers would question these issues we would magically be found
having to staff Shelter Valley or other far out stations usually without enough notice to make our shifts on time or be “accidently” pulled from shifts. Overall, because of Cal Fire’s mismanagement and poor quality of coverage, Intermountain’s district lost the level and care that it had before the “transition”
Intermountain was not the only station to have this happen to them and I am not the only former volunteer to have experienced something like this. I hope this sheds some light onto the seemingly attractive offers that Cal Fire is making. While not everything they offer is terrible please proceed with great caution. If what they promise you is not put into writing and done with the upmost legal care they will not deliver on their promises.
A person concerned with the future of JCFPD