San Jacinto Council Mayor Pro Tem Scott Miller and Councilwoman Crystal Ruiz prepare to vote on extending the City's fire contract with the County
San Jacinto Council Mayor Pro Tem Scott Miller and Councilwoman Crystal Ruiz prepare to vote on extending the City's fire contract with the County

Last week, the San Jacinto City Council decided to extend its fire services contract with Riverside County Fire Department for another year.

At a special council meeting Wednesday, June 15, San Jacinto decided that an adequate dispatch service would not be available by July 1, when its current contract with Cal Fire expires. Therefore, activating fire service through the Joint Powers Authority with the Idyllwild Fire Protection District would not be possible without an appropriate and adequate dispatch service.

The meeting began with City Manager Tim Hults acknowledging the efforts — such as recruiting and interviewing prospective staff — of Idyllwild Fire and city staff to get the JPA ready to provide the city with fire and emergency service by July 1.

“One big item where we’ve had no success is achieving dispatch service,” he said. The JPA staff had contacted several dispatch agencies, including Banning, Riverside, Corona, Murrieta, San Bernardino County and North Comm in San Diego County.

“Unfortunately, we were not successful to get them to provide dispatch service,” he added. Hults also indicated that the Riverside County counsel had expressed objections to the JPA concept, too.

The council expressed dismay about the situation and frustration that their only option was to return to Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire Department. It also praised the staff for how much was accomplished in the past few months to get this far. “It’s amazing that government can get things done in this time,” said Mayor Pro Tem Scott Miller.

But midway through the meeting, San Jacinto Mayor Andrew Kotyuk, who participated in the meeting via teleconference from Las Vegas, said he had just received an email confirmation that dispatch service would be provided.

“These pieces are in place. We went after a lot of resources that could not handle the capability, but one entity does want to partner with us,” he announced. “My feeling is we’ve accomplished what we wanted to accomplish.”

However, Assistant City Attorney Mike Maurer reviewed the message and had a different reaction. He said the dispatcher was a private company without state approval, no costs were identified and no proposed contract had been presented for review.

Consequently, the council unanimously (5-0) accepted Hults recommendation to extend the contract and RCFD agreed to implement a pilot project, called Quick Attack, to serve the city’s western communities. The proposed contract was approved 4-1 by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors at its Tuesday, June 21, meeting. The estimated cost for staffing Station 25 (downtown) is about $2.2 million. The Quick Attack pilot will cost another $1.2 million.

The lack of emergency service, particularly medical service, was a principal reason the council sought an alternative to replace the RCFD contract and developed the idea of a JPA with Idyllwild.

The Quick Attack program will be composed of a Type 6 engine capable of carrying 250 gallons of water and staffed with two medics at all times.

All the JPA key officials, including Miller, Hults and Idyllwild Fire Chief Patrick Reitz, indicated that the next 12 months would be devoted to preparing the JPA to be ready to deliver fire service to San Jacinto on July 1, 2017.

After the meeting, Reitz stated, “The JPA remains in discussions with several [dispatch] providers.”

“My expectation would be to continue to go forward to close the gaps and be ready for July 1, 2017,” Miller said after the meeting.

When asked if the JPA might contact any other communities during the next year, Reitz added, “We will be following up with those communities that have asked questions, requested more information and have expressed an interest in the concept of the JPA.” Earlier, Miller had indicated that cities such as Canyon Lake, Moreno Valley and others might be interested in joining in the Idyllwild San Jacinto Regional Fire Authority.