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Supervisors Approve Recommendations To Improve Fire Preparedness

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted today to direct staff to develop a plan to implement recommendations in a comprehensive report on area fire preparedness.

The study, by Citygate Associates of Folsom, calls for further integration of fire agencies within the county, the construction of 14 fire stations and limits to building in outlying areas that are hard to reach.

The report is a "blueprint for the future," Supervisor Dianne Jacob said.

She called for county staff to include plans to form a Joint Powers Authority that includes all fire agencies within San Diego County.

The supervisors started a county fire authority in 2008, but only about half the rural fire protection agencies belong.

All fire agencies need to come under the authority's umbrella "sooner rather than later," Jacob said.

Citygate's Stewart Gary said the mutual aid system, in which fire agencies share resources, works pretty well locally, but a JPA would provide for advance planning that could cut response time.

Precious minutes can be lost while agencies try to coordinate using the mutual aid system, Gary said.

Decisions made by a JPA would be binding on member fire agencies, which Gary said is not the case now.

Of the 14 proposed new fire stations, 11 would be within the city of San Diego, two in northeastern Oceanside and one in Santee -- if the East County city's current growth pattern continues, according to Gary.

He said the goal was to bring response times within five minutes in the affected areas, but he acknowledged that fewer emergency calls emanate from those locations.

Augie Ghio, head of the San Diego County Fire Chiefs Association, told the supervisors the report omitted public fire safety education.

"For a small amount of money, far less than new fire stations and more boots on the ground, we can have a better prepared community, especially in those hard-to-reach areas," Ghio said.

The county should prioritize the recommendations and implement them as finances allow, the chief said.

The motion passed by the supervisors calls on the staff to return with implementation plans in four months.

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