The Coast News Group

Fire department reorganizes, City Council has questions

OCEANSIDE — Oceanside Fire Chief Darryl Hebert proposed a department staff reorganization plan that was unanimously approved, and brought up city council questions on Aug. 5.

“It’s a good plan that helps organize the fire department for succession planning, and doing what’s right for the city,” Hebert said.

The plan replaces the job of battalion chief and fire safety specialist with deputy fire chief and administrative fire captain, and reduces extra help hours.

“We’re adding a job description,” Hebert said. “There is no new position.”

The loss of the fire safety specialist title prompted the City Council questions about building plans checks. Other council members said questions sounded like micromanaging.

Hebert said the important outcome is reorganization that ensures better service for residents.

“The No. 1 priority of the fire department is community safety,” Herbert said. “Secondary to that is building safety. We have 3,000 (building) plans per year, and 20,000 calls per year.”

The deputy fire chief and captain positions allow the department to better serve the city in all regards and prepare for future growth.

“The captain helps manage and helps improve service to customers,” Hebert said.

Hebert said the plans check system is a separate issue from department reorganization. It is being looked at and improved.

The captain will help establish the plans check process, but it is not his or her sole job.

“We’re working on improving the plans check system,” Hebert said. “We’ve gotten busier with the economy picking up and more buildings being built.

“Plans checks are important, but they’re a small piece of what we do.”

Interim City Manager Michelle Lawrence said the city building, water and fire departments are working to make the system more efficient.

Councilmen Jerry Kern and Chuck Lowery said there is a need for plans checks to be conducted in a timely manner due to the 20-plus projects ready to begin construction. Both councilmen also gave the fire department kudos for fire safety and suppression.

“My concerns are only about the fire department’s ability to move plans checks through their system,” Lowery said.

He added he has concerns the job description change may reduce fire department hands on plans checks, which Hebert said is not true.

Hebert agreed the plans check system can be streamlined.

“There is a better system for plans checks,” Hebert said. “We’re working on that quickly to stay on top of demand. Reorganization will assist the process.”

Hebert added a more pressing issue facing the growing city is the increased demand for service calls.

“The call volume is up,” Hebert said. “It needs to be dealt with, we need additional resources and stations to meet (and continue forward with) current levels of service.”

Hebert said another fire station is sorely needed in the Morro Hills community, which has one station now, and is a distance from other stations.

Oceanside has eight fire stations, and is the second busiest fire department in San Diego County.