The Encinitas Fire Department will soon have a permanent, full-time response unit in Olivenhain.
Encinitas City Council gave the green light to launch the new operation Wednesday night with a 4-1 vote, with Councilman James Bond opposed.
Wednesday night’s decision came after outrcy from many Olivenhain residents, who have long voiced concerns about emergency response times in their rural community. Nearly 20 of them addressed council, many of them saying they felt like the city was willing to take their money but not provide adequate safety and protection in return.
A city study examined response times for 2007 to 2011 (attached in the PDF document). It found that in other parts of the city, the average response times ranged from four-and-a-half minutes to five minutes and 45 seconds. But in Olivenhain the average response time was six minutes and 52 seconds—and in the far reaches of Olivenhain east of 11th Street, the average response time was 9 minutes and 13 seconds. The study also found that the majority of those calls were for medical emergencies.
During his presentation to council, Fire Marshall Robert Scott said those response times were “inadequate in many ways,” though he recommended an abbreviated solution. Instead of a full-time operation, he recommended that it only be manned 12 hours of the day when emergency calls reach a peak. That part-time option would have cost the city about $320,000 annually—and it won the support of Councilman James Bond, the one opposed vote.
Wednesday night many Olivenhain residents said they were against any part-time operations because they wanted the peace of mind knowing that there was help nearby whenever an emergency happens.
City staff will now weigh out options for how and where to launch the new full-time operation.
The unit will either be housed inside an office building at 770 Rancho Santa Fe Road or in a portable building along Lone Jack Road.
Running a full-time operation with a medical aid unit will cost $603,000 annually, and running a full-time unit with brush fire truck will cost $920,000 annually, according to a city report. Councilman Mark Muir, the city's former city fire chief, said he preferred the latter, but wanted city staff to find a way to lower the cost. He suggested hiring a reserve fireman or creating a fire internship program for the job, which city staff said could knock the overall cost down as much as $200,000.
Based on community feedback, Councilwoman Teresa Barth said she’d also like to explore the idea of a fire or public safety commission, which could provide some oversight and help think of ways to improve response times across the city.