The Coast News Group

Changes in store for Fire District

RANCHO SANTA FE — Since it was first formed in October 1946, the Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District has grown along with the community it serves. What started as a 15-member volunteer department that served 3,800 residents out of one fire station
has grown to employ 54 full-time personnel who serve nearly 30,000 residents out of four fire stations within the 42-square mile district boundary.
As the area has grown, the needs of the community have changed, and the Fire District has a responsibility to grow and change along with it. Rebuilding Station 3 and increasing the District’s emphasis on fire prevention are examples of how the District has adjusted to better serve the area now and for years to come.
Station 3, on El Apajo near Fairbanks Ranch, was built in 1984 on 0.3 acres of land. Since that time, earthquake safety standards have changed and in 2000 it was determined by an outside engineering firm that the station does not meet the minimum seismic requirements for an essential services facility, such as a fire station, police station, or hospital. The district then investigated whether it would be better to upgrade the existing station to meet the requirements or to replace the station altogether. The results of the study, presented to the district’s board of directors in June 2001, demonstrated that it would be less costly and more functional to rebuild the facility rather
than upgrade it. However, the study also found the building’s current site to be too small to rebuild on the same site while achieving the necessary functionality of the station.
Based on those findings, the Fire District set out to determine the best course of action. After searching for six years to find a suitable parcel to build on but to no avail, the district purchased the land adjacent to the current location. The additional land will allow the district to rebuild the station on the current site and achieve its goals to maintain response times and improve the functionality of the station.
When considering the approximately $5 million cost of a new station, the board looked to the county’s Fire Mitigation Fee system. This system provides fire districts with funds to add infrastructure needed to provide services necessitated by growth. There are several constraints placed on the use of these funds, obtained through new construction fees.
First, the money can only be used for new capital facilities needed because of growth. In other words, it can be used to build a new fire station but not to remodel a station, except if you enlarge a station then the new additional area can qualify. Second, the money must be used within five years or it has to be returned to the county.
The Fire District has used Mitigation Fee money in the past to build Station 1 in Rancho Santa Fe, the Training Facility at Station 2 in 4S Ranch, and other similar projects. Accordingly, our current budget reflects our plan to use Fire Mitigation Fee Funds and General Funds to replace the Fairbanks Station.
The rebuilt station will see the current 2,800-square foot, single-story building transform into a 10,000-square foot, two story building. The new station will allow the Fire District to better meet demands for services, which have increased as the community has grown. The larger station will be better able to accommodate necessary firefighting equipment now and in the future. A much-needed, pull-through garage design will enable firefighters to drive the fire engine back into the fire station without having to stop traffic and back in, which is a much safer scenario for all involved. Engine companies will also be better able to assist with fire prevention activities for established communities of the district, specifically those within Station 3’s service area such as the Covenant, Sun Valley, South Pointe Farms, and Fairbanks Ranch.
The communities surrounding Station 3 aren’t the only ones of the district that continue to grow. Station 1, in the village of Rancho Santa Fe, not only houses a full-time engine company and two paramedics, but also serves as the RSFFPD’s headquarters, which is staffed by administrative, management, and prevention personnel. A portion of the facility is shared with the North County Dispatch Joint Powers authority, the agency responsible for receiving and dispatching 911 calls throughout most of North County. Altogether, the buildings hosts approximately 25 personnel during business hours. That number could increase with the addition of a Fire Service Intern this summer and the addition of an administrative staff member, who will be hired to help with the increase in
administrative needs due to district growth.
As the district and staff grow, space is becoming a precious commodity. Already, prevention personnel are sharing office space or have had small work stations carved out for them in what was once a small storage area. Parking is also an issue. Currently, the RSFFPD has only 21 parking spaces available for its staff and customers. Several staff members are parking their personal cars at outlying stations. Some have started carpooling. Others are being required to park at The Inn’s employee parking lot, in Santa Fe Irrigation District’s dirt lot adjacent to the fire station, or along the street in the
village. The district’s goal is to work with the Association, RSF School District, and other concerned agencies to find office space and parking solutions that will benefit all involved.
Fire prevention activities continue throughout the entire district. New construction continues in several areas, most heavily in 4S Ranch, The Lakes and The Crosby. Several rebuilds from the Witch Creek Fire are also under way. All construction activity requires Fire District approval to ensure buildings meet current fire code requirements. Weed abatement is a high priority as well as we move into the summer months. Every resident in the district received a notice to make sure brush on their property is being properly maintained to prevent vegetation fires.
The Fire District will also be setting up Fire Prevention Townhall Meetings throughout the community, providing residents with an opportunity to learn more about how protect their homes and property from wildfire.