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Study details ways NC Fire can improve service

After having its customer service levels examined and compared to national standards, North County Fire Protection District (NCFPD) is taking steps to improve the level of service it provides to the community.

At a special meeting held January 13, the NCFPD board discussed the results of a customer service study done and recommendations made by Citygate Associates, LLC, a consulting group that provides these services for industries such as fire protection and emergency medical.

Citygate has recommended replacement of the Bonsall, Headquarters (Ivy Street) and Pala Mesa fire stations; the removal of cross-staffing in the district; the building and staffing of an additional station near Interstate 15 and Old Highway 395; and the increase of staffing throughout.

The board discussed the district’s response times and weight of response and how to shorten the amount of time it takes for firefighters to reach their destination.

After researching the area, Citygate found that station location and design, staffing levels and organizational practices were three obstacles that could be rectified by the district’s means.

Since these obstacles may have financial impact to the district, they were separated into three areas: ones that require minimal to no cost; those that involve one-time funds; and those that would require ongoing funds.

Minimal/no-cost changes

The changes recommended that carried minimal to no cost include: adopting the national response time standard of eight minutes for a response; improving the time between initial notification of an emergency and when the unit is on the road; and making sure an emergency vehicle is always available for response.

NCFPD board president Ken Munson said the national response time is eight minutes, but NCFPD can take up to 15 minutes trying to respond to an emergency call because of the rural roads and the distance that must be traveled.

“This is the first time the district has had a standard area to cover,” Munson explained. “We are doing the best to our ability with the given parameters to achieve the adopted response time criteria.”

While all of the minimal to no-cost changes are already being implemented, the one-time cost changes had to be evaluated and placed into priority order.

One-time cost items

Replacing and relocating North County Fire’s Bonsall station on Old River Road was deemed the most urgent change needed in the district. The current station is an old trailer/modular unit in need of serious repair. It was never designed to be a fire station.

NCFPD Chief Bill Metcalf said the district already owns property at SR76 and Olive Hill Road where the new fire station would go.

Because the district has no debt currently on its properties or fire apparatus, Metcalf said the district will determine whether or not the station’s construction can be paid with funds from the district’s facilities and fleet reserve accounts.

Citygate also recommended adding an additional fire station at Interstate 15 and Old Highway 395 to help in the northern portion of the district. While Cal Fire has a station in the area, the station is not equipped to protect buildings from fire.

This station would require the purchase of land, the building of the station, firefighting apparatus, as well as complete staffing.

“The most significant advantage is putting in place a plan for the future,” said Metcalf. “It’s easy to not think of it, but the district is thinking of changes that will be made in the future and adding faster response times.”

The Pala Mesa station, also on the priority list, is a trailer/modular used by the district to house personnel. The district has already communicated to developers in the area that they will be required to replace the station as part of their development package.

“The firefighters are excited about having a decent place to work,” said Metcalf. “We have been using these trailers for 20 to 30 years.”

Another benefit to having new, strategically placed stations built is it would lead to shorter response times on emergency calls, as time is saved when the firefighters do not have to leave and lock the trailer, then go to a separate garage to access their emergency apparatus.

Items with ongoing cost

The Headquarters station, built in the early 1960s, has seen a lot of wear and tear over the past 45 years and may need to be relocated as well. Besides a possible relocation, an additional company may be added to shorten response time.

Additional staffing would include one firefighter per shift on each apparatus and two firefighters or paramedics per shift on each ambulance, as well as the elimination of cross-staffing used to run the ambulance from the downtown station.

The additional staffing for each fleet and the new stations would be the largest expense the district would have, and the district has not discussed how the improvements would be paid for.

“We have a good head start for implementing these changes and are preparing a step-by-step plan,” said Metcalf. “The board wanted to take the opportunity to discuss the potential outcome and be detailed about the implementation.”

Munson said the board will determine how to pay for the improvements as the plans and priorities for the district become more evident.

“Our board is very focused on the needs of our community,” he said. “Nobody has an agenda, and we are in lockstep to make sure people get good fire service.”

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