Steering Committee Report
Address Emergency Medical Response & Fire Suppression Needs for Borrego Springs
Last updated 6/16/2022 at 9:58am
The Board and Chief Hardcastle of the Borrego Springs Fire Protection District (BSFPD) have kept our fire department operating despite budget constraints that have made it difficult to retain and recruit firefighters/Paramedics, to replace an aging ambulance and fire engine and to renovate our fire station. Our Steering Committee formed to help with this situation. The Board and Chief Hardcastle cooperated with and supported our approach, including providing key information required to assess the needs of our Fire District.
The Steering Committee has completed its assessment and made its recommendation to the Board of BSPFD. Our recommendation is for the Board to request a proposal from the San Diego County Fire Protection District (SDCFPD) for CAL FIRE to hire our current staff & add three more firefighters, and for the County to replace our aging equipment and update our fire house.
Committee Members: Martha Deichler, Dave Duncan, Captain Jim Higbee, Diane Johnson, Betsy Knaak, Israel Ochoa, Rich Pinel, Harry Turner, Shirley Vialpando, Jim Wilson, Dan Wright; Staff Leader: Bruce Kelley; Advisor: Jim Wermers
Committee’s Approach to the Initiative
- Initially we intended to pursue a ballot proposition to increase the supplemental property tax by an amount sufficient to get our Fire District on firm footing.
- Our top priority was to ensure continuation of our Paramedic & ambulance services, so we formed a Medical Advisory Group to investigate our emergency medical response system, including ground and air transportation.
- The information we collected indicated that a much bigger tax increase (a six-fold increase) would be needed to increase firefighters’ pay and benefits enough to recruit and retain our Paramedics and other firefighters and to replace an ambulance in FY24/25. The tax would have to build a capital fund for additional years to replace the fire engine and to bring our fire station up to code.
- The SDCFPD serves most other rural and small-town fire stations in the County by subcontracting with CAL FIRE. So, we explored what the SDCFPD would offer Borrego Springs and compared that option to what our BSFPD would likely be able to support after a six-fold tax increase.
Committee’s Findings and Recommendation
- SDCFPD’s proposed package for Borrego Springs was very impressive. We conducted phone interviews with all firehouses in the area and visited three fire houses to determine whether CAL FIRE was fulfilling the promises made to those communities. We found there had been some rocky transitions but that CAL FIRE was now providing good service with staffing, equipment and facilities superior to those of our BSFPD. Our Medical Advisory Group concluded that the process of providing emergency medical response would be essentially the same under either option but SDCFPD offered more staff and rapidly updated equipment without more taxation.
- We shared a comparison of alternatives with 9 major organizations* in Borrego Springs and with more than 235 residents via five community meetings**. Four organizations sent follow-up letters supporting a transition to SDCFPD. The Borrego Springs Firefighters’ Association (Local #4160) also endorsed our recommendation to transition fire services to the SDCFPD. We conducted a straw poll of residents and 98% supported a transition to SDCFPD.
- Our Steering Committee concluded that even with a significant tax increase, BSFPD will not be able to compete with the proposal of SDCFPD. Residents are unlikely to support a major tax increase. Given this situation, the Steering Committee will not sponsor a ballot initiative for a tax increase.
- We recommend that the Board of BSFPD request from SDCFPD terms & conditions for transitioning fire services. Subsequently, if the Board believes the agreement it negotiates will be in the community’s greater interest, it will likely request decertification of the BSFPD.
- A delegation from our Steering Committee presented our comparison and recommendation to the Board of BSFPD during its meeting in May. The Board listened to our presentation, asked questions and thanked us for our work.
Steering Committee members are pursuing discussions with members of our Board & Chief Hardcastle and with the County to promote the best outcome attainable.
- During its Board meeting June 9th, BSFPD will have a great opportunity to resolve the financial issues and improve service to the community by voting in favor of an agenda item to request a proposal from SDCFPD.
We thank the Board and Chief Hardcastle of BSFPD, our firefighters union (local #4061), our Medical Advisory Group, the SDCFPD (Chief Mecham) and you residents for participating in this assessment of how Borrego Springs can most effectively maintain excellent emergency medical response and fire suppression services.
Members of the Borrego Springs Steering Committee
*Anza Borrego Desert Natural History Association (ABDNHA)
Borrego Springs Youth and Senior Centers
Borrego Springs Village Association
Borrego Springs Rotary Club
Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce
Borrego Springs Civic Association
Borrego Springs Minister’s Association
Borrego Springs Sponsor Group
**Community Forum at the Public Library
Meeting with Rams Hill Residents
Meeting with members of St. Richard’s Church
Latin Community (OLAX) Event