Interim fire chief tackles fire service challenge

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Since he was appointed at the July 1 meeting of the Canyon Lake City Council, Interim Fire Chief Mike Wilson has looked over the history of Canyon Lake’s contract and dealings with Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire as well as a past proposal for a city fire department introduced by Pat Colleary in 2010.

Chief Wilson says he has for several years followed Canyon Lake’s budget issue, specific to fire service, and notes, “I received a phone call inquiring about potential names that would be available to assist the City with this endeavor. During those discussions I felt that I was available to help and offered my name to be included in the process.”

Chief Wilson currently serves as a city councilman/mayor of the City of Indio, where he has had 18 years of experience in public policy development and is the legislative author of the City of Indio Public Safety Master Plan.

He also is a fire service professional with 22 years of experience, working for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) from 1990 to 2006, where he had the titles of battalion chief, fire captain and fire apparatus engineer. Prior to that, he was a public safety communication officer at the Riverside County Fire Department emergency command center from 1987 to 1990.

His areas of expertise include public safety management, fire suppression and prevention, fire crew management, fire code enforcement, management and supervision, budget analysis, computer based accounting and more.

Asked whether he believes Canyon Lake can function with its own fire department, Chief Wilson says, as a municipal government, public safety is at the forefront of the reason government exists. Canyon Lake must provide these services, either itself or through contract to an outside agency. If a contracting agency cannot meet the City’s budget targets, Canyon Lake is required to provide those services itself by creating its own fire department.

He says, “I have been tasked with creating the plan to form the fire department, working with the city manager. During this process, we are bringing professional fire service resources to the table to assist that effort with little or no additional costs.”

He adds, “During this process, it is pertinent to a successful resolution that confidentiality remain between the management, its resources and the City Council. Once the plan is ready to roll out, it will be publicly released. This protects the planning process to keep those involved on task as this is a six- to 12-month process that we are trying to implement in four to six weeks. As you can see, it is a herculean effort.”

Due to the fact that Canyon Lake no longer has a contract with Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire, the City of Canyon Lake has declared a State of Emergency. According to Chief Wilson, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) has responded accordingly by directing its regional area coordinator, Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire, and advising Riverside County of its duty to protect life, safety and property within Riverside County, regardless of the state of affairs.

“We continue to receive those services, minus non-emergency requests,” says Wilson. “Currently we have no agreements in place to pay for services rendered.”

To move forward on creating a municipal fire department, it’s up to the City Council to create positions, job descriptions, pay scales, etc. before it can advertise for personnel for the new fire department. At some point, the City may ask the 150-plus active and retired firefighters who live in Canyon Lake if they are interested in serving the community on a combination paid and volunteer staff.

“During this process, we are still in discussions for alternative service delivery options,” says Wilson.

Once a plan is in place and everyone understands the costs involved, the City government and its citizens will have to decide whether that is the direction it wants to take or whether it’s time to disincorporate. Disincorporation itself is a complicated one- to two-year project.

With regard to medical emergencies, American Medical Response is continuing to provide service as usual, though it does bill for services rendered.

 

 

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Sharon Rice