Area cities already find fire agreement paying off

COAST CITIES — It’s been about one month since Del Mar, Solana Beach, Encinitas and Rancho Santa Fe entered into a joint fire management agreement and opportunities to reduce costs, offer enhanced services and provide better management practices have already been identified, Chief Mark Muir told Del Mar and Solana Beach City Council members at their meetings the week of Nov. 9.
“We pretty much all have the same missions,” Muir said. “Our policies are a little bit different, but we’re trying to blend them and share them as it relates to the different agencies.”
Muir said he has already found ways to reduce costs by about $500,000. “One of our objectives … is saving more than lives,” he said.
Muir said goals include creating “a more dynamic” training process for the Emergency Operations Center, updating response records and reviewing fire prevention methods. Department personnel already spent three hours discussing weed abatement with Del Mar residents. Muir said part of his job also includes managing expectations. “We’re trying to put everybody on the same page,” he said. “We’re optimistic.
“We talked about … coming up against some obstacles, and I really have to tell you that I haven’t heard of any. I know there are going to be some out there but the firefighters are excited. The staff is excited,” he said. “Our goal is to meet or exceed your expectations as it relates to a quality fire department.”
Del Mar Councilman Richard Earnest said some residents were concerned the agreement would negatively impact fire service and response times.
“Our small community really suffers because you can’t divide a person by anything other than one and end up with anything,” he said. “We (had) the minimal number of people that you can have in a 24/7 fire department.
“Now we have the ability and the luxury, really, of having assets far-reaching that we’ve never had before,” Earnest said. “It is a change and people have problems with change and they’re fearful. We thought through this a lot. We worked on this a lot. … This is a perfect example of how one and one can be three. We’re getting more for less.
“But we’re getting the same conscientious, quick personal service to our citizens that we (had) before, plus all of the overlap. … I think it is a good, good agreement for us all,” he said. “There’ll be some kinks. It’s always difficult when you change an organization around. And there will be a few things that we’ll work through. But I think we’re all committed to working through those – all of us.”
That sentiment was echoed two nights later by Mayor Mike Nichols during the Solana Beach City Council meeting.
“We’re very excited as well about this new partnership,” Nichols said. “This was a cost-saving mechanism for the city of Solana Beach, but it also increased our level of services by providing some battalion chiefs and other support staff that we didn’t typically have before this agreement.”
“This is really a win-win for everybody,” Muir said.
Under the two-year agreement, all cities will keep their firefighters. Muir will serve as chief for the four cities, which will share battalion chiefs and various management positions. The cities expect to see a combined annual savings of approximately $1.4 million.

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