Fire station closure proposal won’t be considered

Fire station closure proposal won’t be considered
Encinitas Fire Chief Mike Daigle says that a proposed fire services cost-cutting plan would lead to a reduction of service level. File photo

ENCINITAS — The Encinitas City Council will not consider a fire services cost-saving plan proposed by Bob Bonde that would have called for increased ambulance services and the closure of two fire stations.

The council’s decision to receive and file the fire department’s report without taking action on Bonde’s proposal came after a three-hour hearing and staff presentation in which fire officials said that a key piece of Bonde’s plan — withdrawing the city from the county’s ambulance service district — would be arduous and costly.

The plan was opposed by Encinitas Fire Chief Mike Daigle, who said it would also lead to a reduction of service level.

“Let me be as strongly as I can when I say in no way would I ever support the closure of one station, let alone two, as a chief,” Daigle said. “And in no way do I support withdrawal from CSA 17.”

CSA 17 refers to County Service Area 17, the county’s ambulance service district that provides service to Encinitas, Solana Beach, Rancho Santa Fe, Del Mar, Del Mar Heights and portions of Elfin Forest.

The fire department report highlighted the reduction in response times, improvements to service, including gains made in Olivenhain since the opening of Fire Station No. 6 in 2012 and expansion of service to 24 hours in 2013.

“We are always looking for ways to provide better service for the people of Encinitas,” Capt. Jim Gibson said. “While change may not appear to be rapid, we have evolved, and we will evolve.”

Bonde, a longtime resident who spearheaded the city’s incorporation efforts, has attempted to get the city to study his proposal for the past 19 years.

The plan is based on the premise that the city’s fire department spends a disproportionate amount of resources on fire suppression as opposed to medical aid, which comprises more than 95 percent of the calls for service the department receives.

As a result, firefighters respond to most medical aid calls in fire engines that are not equipped to transport injured patients to hospitals, which results in slower transport times and endangers residents, Bonde said.

Bonde ripped the fire department’s report, calling it a “self-serving sales tool rather than a planning tool.”

“It is a transparent attempt to prop up a wasteful, obsolete and broken emergency service,” Bonde said. “It is an attempt to scare the City Council into not investigating proposed improvements to public safety programs that could save lives and lower costs.”

Fire staff said that the crux of Bonde’s plan — withdrawing from County Service Area 17 — would be a complex process that would require approval from the county’s boundary agency and an expensive process of creating and maintaining its own independent ambulance service.

Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer said she appreciated Bonde asking the hard questions that he did, but felt that staff answered a number of those questions in a manner that made it difficult to support the plan moving forward.

“I think staff presented  enough evidence to convince me that it is not as easy or viable as Mr. Bonde suggested to withdraw from CSA 17,” Shaffer said. “And if your starting point, getting out, is gone, the rest of the plan doesn’t make sense either.”

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