RANCHO SANTA FE — What does it take to keep a community fire-safe? Firefighters going on emergency calls, training at the burn tower, or conducting inspections in the community? Those are just a few of the duties regularly assigned to its suppression personnel. However, there is another side of the fire service that plays a vital role in keeping the area safe but is often overlooked.
Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District’s prevention staff is tasked with preventing fires and enforcing life safety codes. This takes on various forms, including plan checks, weed abatement affords, and community education. Cliff Hunter has been the fire marshal at Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District for six years. In that position, he oversees the other member of the bureau and is responsible for fire code interpretation, development, and adoption as well as plan checks and site plan reviews.
“We emphasize education of fire prevention requirements rather than enforcement,” Hunter said. “This allows the public to make informed decisions relating to fire prevention and public safety. What you don’t know can cost you, but what you do know can save you time and money and benefit everyone. “
Urban Forester Mike Scott graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in forest management. His first 10 years with the fire district were focused was on maintaining defensible space around homes. Over the years, his position has evolved to include how the way in which the structure is built may also contribute to its vulnerability to fires. Scott continues to work with the public on wildland urban interface issues,
including open space and ornamental landscaping, as well as landscape plan reviews and fire protection plans.
“I enjoy working with homeowners and homeowner association’s planning for community wildfire risk reduction,” Scott said. “My goal is to beautify their property or neighborhoods while reducing the risk of a wildfire burning their homes down.”
The fire district employs two fire prevention specialists who are tasked with conducting fire inspections, plan reviews and code enforcement. John Jerome served as a volunteer firefighter for five years prior to being hired as a fire prevention specialist nine years ago.
“When I started with the district, we were a small residential community
with very little commercial occupancy,” Jerome said. “Today we have 20 communities of tract homes, an entire industrial park, shopping center, and five schools, and that is just in the 4S Ranch area.”
Jerome focuses on projects pertaining to residential and commercial structures, temporary structures or tents, fire sprinkler systems, and hazardous material incidents. His duties include plan reviews, site inspections, and Knox key installations.
Renee Hill focuses more on weed abatement projects in her fire prevention specialist role, along with conducting homeowner meetings to inspect properties for fire hazards, inspecting Knox key and strobe sensor issues, and conducting residential fire inspection. Hill, who has been with the district for four years, believes that “fire prevention is crucial for homeowners to understand because it can help save their property in the event of a wildfire. People need to take action and responsibility for preparing their homes for a disaster.”
The public relations coordinator for the fire district is Julie Taber. Her role encompasses all public and media relations as well as community education and events. “My goal is to provide accurate information that is appropriate for the situation in a timely manner,” Taber said, who has been with the district four years.
Such information may be shared in the form of press releases, articles, educational programs in the schools, home owners’ association meetings, or the fire district’s Web site. She also assists the media when they arrive at an incident scene to make sure they are able to thoroughly cover the story while not interfering with any rescue or fire
suppression efforts. In addition, Taber, along with Hill and two firefighters, is a nationally certified child safety seat technician. The four technicians inspect and install car seats to ensure children are safely riding in the vehicle. Installations are conducted on an appointment-only basis.
Jennifer Stoffey, office support coordinator, staffs the front desk, but that is just part of her position. In addition to answering phones and greeting the public, she is responsible for checking in plans, assisting anyone in the landscape or building stages get through the plan review, making all appointments for the fire marshal, setting
up fire inspections, and scanning important documentation to keep paperless.
This position has opened up other opportunities for Stoffey as well. “Three months into this job we had the October 2007 Witch Creek Fire and the entire Rancho Santa Fe district had to be evacuated,” she said. “During that period of time, I decided to look at a future career in the fire service.”
She is currently taking classes to become a fire inspector.
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