City continues efforts on fire department

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Residents with scanners wondered briefly Wednesday morning about a Riverside County Fire dispatch for “the smell of smoke” in the POA building. As it turned out, it wasn’t exactly a false alarm but it wasn’t a real fire either.

City Manager Ariel Hall says she was in communication with interim Fire Chief Mike Wilson when the fire alarm went off. “The fire alarm had been worked on for over a week, and over the weekend alone there had been four false alarm calls,” she says. “I was in the building, communicating with Interim Chief Wilson about the situation, and in turn he was communicating with dispatch.”

“Because of the system’s issues, we all assumed another false alarm; however, when someone in the POA building smelled something that smelled like smoke, out of precaution the building was evacuated and a response was requested. Again, I was in the building communicating with Interim Chief Wilson, letting him know what was going on; there were no visible flames, no visible smoke, there was a slight smell in one part of the building, and everyone was confirmed to be out of the building. Interim Chief Wilson relayed that information and the dispatch center determined the appropriate response for this particular situation.”

The resources that responded included Riverside County Battalion Chief Jorge Rodriguez and Engine 75 from Murrieta. As of Wednesday, the initial investigation was looking into whether a new alarm pull that recently had been installed shorted out and caused the smell of smoke. All the alarm pulls in both the POA and City Hall buildings were checked and it was determined none of them had been pulled.

Asked whether the engines from Station 94 in Canyon Hills and Station 5 in Quail Valley would have responded should there have been a real fire, Ariel says, “We have been told by the County that they are sending the closest resources they have for emergencies. We have not been told anything different. We have received responses from Lake Elsinore stations during this State of Emergency (which we received an invoice and paid for), and have not had any indication from our surrounding cities or from County Fire officials that the situation has changed.”

At the August 12 City Council meeting, the City Council voted to continue the existence of the “State of Local Emergency” first approved on June 30 following the expiration of City’s contract with Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire. City officials are continuing to work on the most vital components of a municipal fire department: job descriptions, budget and cooperative agreements with neighboring cities.

At a meeting of the Administration and Finance Committee on August 11, committee members Tim Brown and John Zaitz were given four budgets: two that included the position of firefighter/paramedic and two that didn’t. Personnel costs for the two budgets that included firefighter/paramedic were $967,182.15.

Initially, the interim fire chief said the City’s budget would not support the position of firefighter/paramedic, but the City Council insisted the job description be written and included in a proposed budget.

The budget is still undergoing review and has not been approved, but the Finance Committee looked at the figures of $38,400 for one fire chief, $65,280 for two battalion chiefs, $245,952 for part time fire captains, $202,032 for part time engineers, $175,241 for part time firefighter/paramedics and $75,000 for administrative support.

The number of captains, engineers and firefighter/paramedics wasn’t listed, but there would be enough personnel to provide 24/7 coverage from Station 60. All the positions would be filled on a part time basis in order to avoid the costs of PERS and Social Security.

The four budgets also considered the purchase of reserve truck, chief vehicles, self-contained breathing apparatus, dispatch radios (contingency), and paramedic advanced life support (ALS) kits.

It was pointed out that the City may want to purchase a newer truck and use Engine 60 as its reserve truck. Those costs are included in the various budgets.

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Sharon Rice