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Rancho Santa Fe Fire Dept. pulling out of services contract

RANCHO SANTE FE — Encinitas, Solana Beach and Del Mar, along with Rancho Santa Fe, contracted to share fire personnel services in 2009. 

Beginning July 1, Rancho Santa Fe will be struck from the contract.

The coast cities and Rancho Santa Fe inked the agreement to unify the departments, get rid of duplications and save money. The coast cities are happy with the arrangement and will continue with the contract, according to officials. But Rancho Santa Fe determined its needs don’t align with those of the coast cities.

Under the current agreement, the coast cities share three deputy chiefs, two from Encinitas and one from Solana Beach, with Rancho Santa Fe. In exchange, Rancho Santa Fe provides access to three shift battalion chiefs and one battalion chief training officer with the coast cities.

The agreement aimed to streamline personnel operations, but that didn’t necessarily happen in the Ranch, said Rancho Santa Fe Fire District Chief Tony Michel.

“We still weren’t on the same page in some ways,” Michel said.

He added that there are no hard feelings between the fire districts; they’ll continue to help each other with emergency services and train together. Additionally, the districts will continue to search for cooperative grants and work together on vehicle maintenance programs.

“Our districts have a long history of working together,” Michel said.

The other sticking point between Rancho Santa Fe and the coast cities: whether one or two chiefs should head the areas.

Presently, the coast cities and Rancho Santa Fe have two fire chiefs, one in Rancho Santa Fe and one in Encinitas. The coast cities advocated moving to one chief to promote further cooperation among the coast cities and Rancho Santa Fe. From the coast cities’ perspective, the change had the added benefit of saving money.

“We had people answering to two different bosses,” Encinitas Fire Chief Scott Henry said.

He added that going to a one-chief model is an “organizational efficiency.”

Henry said that the coast cities have achieved annual cost savings from the agreement. But he recognized Rancho Santa Fe is unique, and said he doesn’t fault the department for going its own way.

Michel said that having one chief in charge of all the areas could isolate the Ranch — a community with sprawling homes and plenty of landscaping liable to catch fire.

Consequently, he added that having the best fire services in the Ranch means “knowing this area and consistently being here.”

Both fire chiefs said nixing the agreement won’t affect fire response times.

Henry said canceling the contract will allow the fire department to reorganize, saving an estimated $29,000 in Encinitas, $17,000 in Solana Beach and $11,000 in Del Mar. That’s because starting in July, the coast cities plan to reassign two deputy chiefs to the role of battalion chief, a similar position that pays a bit less.

Battalion chiefs manage fire captains at the eight stations across the coast cities.

The cost of Encinitas’ fire services management contract this fiscal year is more than $1 million. The positions included in the contract: fire chief, fire marshal, the remaining portion of the deputy chiefs’ salaries, management analyst, support services from Solana Beach, as well as a part of the salaries of the Rancho Santa Fe shift battalion chiefs and training officers.

The Rancho Santa Fe Fire Department will see a $300,000 drop in revenue with the agreement’s termination, according to Michel. Additionally, the department will likely hire another deputy chief, adding to its costs.

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