City says emergency services will continue

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The City of Canyon Lake is at a critical juncture. The contract for fire services with Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire is set to expire on Tuesday, with the litigation between the City and County still going through the court, and no clear indication what the County intends to do for Canyon Lake once the contract expires.

This past Wednesday, the City Council held a special meeting at which members unanimously approved an Urgency Ordinance to create a Municipal Fire Department and to approve job descriptions for Fire Chief (temporary) and Firefighter (temporary). Since the City’s greatest responsibility is public safety, this gives officials an option for providing fire services should the County no longer do so.

Special Legal Counsel for the City, Brad Pierce, was on hand to advise Council on the status of the litigation and what he would be doing in Superior Court Thursday (yesterday) when the Canyon Lake vs CalFire/Riverside County Fire case was scheduled to come before a San Bernardino County judge. He did not expect a ruling from the judge on Thursday but said he would keep City Manager Ariel Hall informed as soon as the case was heard.

Residents can view any updates the City provides at www.cityofcanyonlake.org and on the City’s Facebook page. In the meantime, the City Manager issued the following press release on Wednesday afternoon, June 24, to answer residents’ concerns about fire services after June 30.

To All Residents

“While the City continues to try to work with the County of Riverside/CalFire, we are mindful of the confusion created by the recent letter distributed by the County of Riverside to the citizens of Canyon Lake and want to assure our residents that there will be fire and emergency medical services provided.

“The City has filed a request with the San Bernardino Superior Court to require the County to work with the City and continue services during any transition period of acceptable terms and conditions. One major reason for such filing is that the County has stated it will not make a decision regarding services until June 30. The City also believes that a court order is needed to gain County compliance.

“We realize this is difficult for residents. Clearly there is concern about fire services continuing after June 30, 2015. For example, residents have wondered what will happen when they call 911 in the event of a fire or medical emergency. While we continue to face difficulties in obtaining information from your Fire Chief and the County of Riverside/CalFire, we are able to provide this vital information to our citizens:

911 Calls

“Residents still will call 911 for a fire or medical emergency. When our residents call 911, the calls are routed to a single answering point that receives all 911 calls for police, fire or medical emergencies. That answering point is not controlled by the County or CalFire but by the Sheriff’s office.

“The person answering the 911 call then transfers the caller to the appropriate department, depending on the need. When a resident calls 911 for a medical emergency, the dispatch center currently dispatches both the fire department and American Medical Response (AMR) ambulances to the location.

“If the City does not have a court order or an agreement with the County for ongoing fire services, dispatch and emergency medical services the dispatch center will still dispatch AMR to the location and AMR must respond under a separate agreement with the County Emergency Medical Authority.

“We have confirmed the County Fire cannot cut off such dispatch services. AMR is qualified and able to provide both emergency medical and life support services and stages in the Canyon Lake Towne Center. There is a charge for AMR’s services.

Structure Fires

Historically, the City has experienced very few large structure fires, and a majority of calls that the fire station responds to are medical or public assistance. With the City’s alternative plan in place, if there is a large structure fire, the City will be able to call upon neighboring stations to assist with mutual aid.

“We have been informed that services for structure fires will be provided in the same manner as now: other stations will be called. In fact, even fully staffed, Station 60 itself does not have sufficient personnel to enter a burning building; for example, 12 to 15 fire personnel are needed for a large structure fire. We also have been informed that Lake Elsinore will charge the City $2,000 per call.

For wildland fires, CalFire continues to be responsible.

City Fire Department

Faced with the issues raised by the County, the City is moving forward to form its own fire department. Obviously this fire department will not be fully functional on July 1; one requirement for any ongoing relationship with the County is assistance in working with our fire department.

“The City Manager has the authority to and will appoint an interim chief who will be introduced at the July 1 City Council meeting. That chief then will hire the appropriate personnel and arrange for their training under City-adopted personnel policies. For example, paid reserve firefighters will meet a minimum qualification of Firefighter I and have basic emergency medical certifications to staff a functioning fire station. The biggest benefit to this option is obvious; Canyon Lake will be in control.

4th of July

“Another concern that residents have expressed is that they will miss out on the fireworks show that the Property Owners’ Association (POA) puts on every year for the 4th of July. The City’s dispute with Riverside County Fire will not affect the POA’s ability to put on their annual fireworks display; the POA has a separate permit and agreement with Riverside County Fire for fire inspection and coverage for the show.

Time Frame

“We understand how difficult it is to be patient in waiting for a decision so important to our City and her citizens. The Council is dedicated to keeping the community as informed as possible as information becomes available. However, it is important to note that the County has made it clear it will not consider final action until June 30.”

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Sharon Rice