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San Diego Supervisors Increase Building Fees To Fund Fire Protection

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to up the amount that can be added to a building permit to help fund fire protection in unincorporated areas, purchase an additional fire engine and fund specialized volunteer firefighter training.

The closest available fire crew is dispatched to a call in an unincorporated area, whether or not it is a volunteer squad. Fire officials said retaining volunteer firefighters is a challenge because they eventually become career firefighters, many with local agencies.

"Volunteers know that after a few years with the fire authority, they'll have the experience and training to land full-time jobs with a career fire department," County Fire Authority Chief Greg Griswold said.

Griswold said volunteers view the fire authority program, in which Cal Fire captains train volunteers, as a "high quality internship." So the fire authority began to offer fire academy training incentives to those who commit to volunteering, he said.

The supervisors' vote also includes funding for radio equipment and a second Type IV fire engine for the Fire Authority, which plans to purchase more of the smaller and more maneuverable engines next year. Fire officials said the new engine will be housed in Pine Valley and can be used in much of the East County.

"Residents and visitors to the 1.5 million acres of San Diego's back country can expect professionally trained and equipped firefighters to respond in an average of 10 1/2 minutes," Fire Warden Ron Lane said.

In a separate vote, the board approved an increase to the nearly 30-year-old Fire Mitigation Fee Ordinance, which allows the county to collect and dole out funds for the 21 fire agencies in unincorporated areas to use for equipment and facility work. The fees brought in nearly $865,000 in fiscal year 2012-13, county officials said.

The fee ceiling for general construction projects in the next fiscal year will increase by 5 cents per square foot, or from 47 to 52 cents per square foot. Fees for agricultural buildings without fire sprinklers will rise from 12 to 14 cents per square foot.

Fess for agricultural buildings with fire sprinklers, poultry houses and greenhouses will not change, according to county documents.