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By Joe Naiman
Village News reporter 

NCFPD to study regional dispatch


Last updated 2/12/2020 at 2:02am

The North County Fire Protection District will be participating in a study on a potential shared dispatch facility.

A 4-0 NCFPD board vote Jan. 28, with Ruth Harris absent, authorized the NCFPD board representative to the North County Dispatch Joint Powers Authority (NCDJPA) to continue the exploration of a regional dispatch facility.

"At this point it's really still just a study. We know that we need to do something with facilities long-term either way," NCFPD fire chief Steve Abbott said.

An independent study commissioned by the NCDJPA board identified future space and personnel needs which are currently cost-prohibitive. The NCDJPA board negotiated for additional space at its current Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District location, and that additional space should meet the NCDJPA member agency needs for the near future.

Other regional dispatch agencies also have expected long-term facility needs. The NCDJPA, the City of San Diego, the San Diego County Regional Fire Authority (SDCRFA), and the Heartland Dispatch JPA in East County commissioned Citygate Associates to conduct a separate facility space needs assessment.

"The city and the county are trying to do something," Abbott said.

The city dispatch center in the Kearny Mesa area is currently 9,900 square feet. The CalFire center in Rancho San Diego, which also handles U.S. Forest Service dispatch, is 3,900 square feet. The NCDJPA dispatch center is 3,800 square feet. The Heartland dispatch operations have 3,400 square feet in El Cajon. The four dispatch centers handled a combined 353,423 incidents in 2018.

The report identified numerous opportunities to improve coordination of efforts and the sharing of resources. No specific site was identified, although the City of San Diego and the SDCRFA would like to locate the facility near State Route 52 (which is also close to the county's Emergency Operations Center and to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar). Because the SDCRFA contracts with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection additional approvals at the state level will be necessary for CalFire to continue, and in order to determine the project's total scope the city and county requested commitment levels from Heartland and the NCDJPA.

The fire chiefs from the NCDJPA agencies expressed a preference for co-location rather than consolidation, and since continuing to explore options does not equate to a commitment the fire chiefs deemed additional study to be in the best interest of the member agencies.

"It definitely does not mean that yes, we're going to go ahead and do a shared dispatch facility," Abbott said.

The city fire department, Heartland, and the NCDJPA all have limited capacity to add staff due to office space constraints, and the city and the North County agency are near building capacity. None of the current facilities have a parking area which could easily accommodate surge staffing in a worst-case scenario. None of the buildings are considered energy-efficient and all lack proper security including secured parking.

"Either way we're looking to put aside funds to take care of the long-term facility needs," Abbott said.

The NCDJPA has eight members not including contract agencies. The cities of Solana Beach, Encinitas, Carlsbad and Oceanside are members. The Vista Fire Department covers both the City of Vista and the Vista Fire Protection District for unincorporated Vista. The San Marcos Fire Department provides service for the city and for the unincorporated area within the San Marcos Fire Protection District. The North County and Rancho Santa Fe agencies are the two actual fire protection districts in the joint powers authority. The City of Del Mar and the Valley Center Fire Protection District are contract agencies as are the Pala, Pauma, Rincon, and San Pasqual reservation fire departments.

The estimated cost to build a suitable facility, based on current site development expenses, is expected to be between $725 and $800 per square foot which equates to between $64 million and $70 million. That amount excludes the cost of land which will be necessary if one of the agencies does not already have a suitable site. The cost to each agency would proportionally increase to finance the facility. The North County Fire Protection District share for the building only is expected to be approximately $1 million, which over a 20-year amortization period would equate to approximately $11 per call and an approximately 15% increase in annual dispatch service fees.


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