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Encinitas hires three firefighters for Olivenhain

ENCINITAS — City Council voted unanimously to approve three new firefighters for the recently opened mini-fire station on Rancho Santa Fe Road. 

It’s a reversal from a month ago, when four out of the five councilmembers declined the request for additional firefighters.

At that time, they argued the city was previously told the new station wouldn’t require fulltime firefighters.

Councilwoman Kristin Gaspar said that she changed her mind after getting a clearer picture of how the station operates. Namely, it was explained that the station will be transitioning from providing 12-hour coverage to 24-hour coverage in the next two weeks.

“We don’t have any personnel allocated to (just) that station,” Gaspar said. “So I think that’s really important to understand.”

The City Council voted about a year ago to approve a lease to establish a fire station at an office building in Olivenhain. The shifts at the station were covered by overtime hours from firefighters who are assigned to other stations. But Deputy Fire Chief Mike Daigle said that’s led to “employee burnout.”

“Fire season is coming up,” Daigle said. “We have to anticipate that. We have to look at the condition of our fire personnel.”

Before the vote, nine Olivenhain residents said the geography of the area — known for windy roads, dead ends and a lack of streetlights — necessitates dedicated coverage.

Resident Tom Swanson maintained GPS navigation systems are practically useless in the area. But he said that full-time firefighters would be given the chance to learn Olivenhain’s road system.

Another resident, Tom Ford, said that a fire station serving Olivenhain has been a longtime coming.

“We now want you to finish the job,” Swanson said. “The last part is manning the station with at least three fulltime firefighters.”

Ford said that three firefighters would go a long way toward bringing down high emergency response times in the area.

City Manager Gus Vina said some overtime hours would still be necessary to fill the shifts at the station. He noted that City Council might want to consider more firefighters down the line.

“I would even submit to you that as we move forward we continue to evaluate this,” Vina said.

The hiring of three fulltime firefighters will add $24,000 to their operating budget; the remainder of costs will be offset by the reduction of overtime hours. Most of the $24,000 will go toward purchasing new safety equipment.

The operating budget for the Olivenhain station is $883,000 for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins in July. Compared to the current fiscal year, that’s an increase of $163,00 due to personnel expenses going up with the move to 24-hour staffing.

City Council also adopted a citywide budget for the approaching fiscal year. Revenues are expected to total $55.2 million, with expenses at $50.6 million. The projected revenues are $2.7 million higher than the current fiscal year. Expenses are expected to rise about $700,000.

Revenue for the 2011-12 fiscal year amounted to $52.3 million, while expenses came in at $48.5 million.

Councilmembers also agreed to dedicate $100,000 to develop a plan for enhancing beach access and stabilizing the bluffs at Beacon Beach.

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