The Riverside County Board of Supervisors approved the fire services contract between the county’s fire department and the city of San Jacinto. For one year, the contract cost is $3.4 million, which includes a “quick attack” squad at the city’s western side.
Although the proposal passed 4-1, besides 5th District Supervisor Marion Ashley’s negative vote, several other supervisors were unhappy with the compromise but reluctantly supported county Fire Chief John Hawkins’ efforts.
“We’re in a very tough spot here,” lamented 3rd District Supervisor Chuck Washington. “We’re struggling to find some sort of resolution that does not compromise safety of our firefighters nor the residents of one of four cities within my district.”
The controversial piece of the contract was the “Quick Response Vehicle” pilot project. This is a Type 6 engine with a pump and 250-gallon water tank, manned by two paramedics. While the supervisors had little difficulty with a two-person medic squad, the idea that a fire engine could be less than the three-person minimal staffing, which the board adopted nearly four years ago, posed a political problem.
Several contract cities have been objecting to rising costs of their contracts with the county. One way to reduce costs is to reduce engine staffing from “3-0 to 2-0.”
“You’ve got to understand the position it puts me in and your department with the city of Canyon Lake and the city of Calimesa,” 1st District Supervisor Kevin Jeffries said. “We’ve held a very firm line about three-person fire engines — period. End of discussion.”
He preferred to refer to the unit as a medic squad “… and don’t try to fool anyone that it’s a fire engine. It’s my golf cart with a pump on it and tank of water.”
Hawkins firmly stressed to the board that the “quick attack” squad was a pilot test and not a policy change. “I unequivocally say this is a pilot study and will not be extended to any other community.”
Washington stressed that he would support the proposal only if it were a trial pilot “and does not imply it will be utilized anywhere else in county.”
Nevertheless, Ashley could not support it. “It still gives me heart burn. I’ll be a lone vote against this. I just don’t like the direction this is taking.”
Chair John Benoit encouraged the proposal saying, “If we don’t have some flexibility of this nature, we’ll see more and more defects [from county contracts for public safety].”
So the compromise pilot test was preferred to the alternative that San Jacinto was developing with the Idyllwild Fire Protection District. The Joint Powers Authority posed an even bigger public safety problem in the minds of several of the supervisors.
In describing the efforts to initiate operation of the Idyllwild San Jacinto Regional Fire Authority, Washington said, “… they quite honestly were not prepared to provide all the services that come with a professional fire protection entity.”
Later in the meeting during the public comment period, Nancy Layton, an IFPD commissioner, spoke to the board. Grateful for the opportunity, Layton was direct in her comments about Cal Fire: “The JPA is not going away, but what has been done here by the unions and Cal Fire, I have two words — appalled and disgusted.”