During the Lilac Fire in late 2017, firefighters had to sleep on floors, chairs, and even gurneys at the North County Fire Protection District (NCFPD) fire stations in order to get what little rest they could in between shifts. This is not uncommon when such crises occur; nor is this scenario the only challenge presently facing the local fire protection District.
In addition of having inadequate sleeping quarters for firefighters, for example, the majority of the District’s 11 firefighting facilities, including five fire stations, are in desperate need of being upgraded or replaced, altogether. Fire stations typically have a lifespan of 50 years; at the present time, seven of the NCFPD fire facilities are very near or at the end of “useful life”; in fact, four are over the age of 50 years.
Beyond that, exercise equipment must be stored in the same space as fire trucks and other vehicles; as a result, firefighters are inhaling excess carcinogens and toxins when working out. Medical equipment, personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies are also being housed in the same general space as the fire trucks. And, most of the District’s fire stations are not earthquake compliant.
Of course, not all of the firefighting facilities need to be upgraded or rebuilt; for example, NCF Station 5 was built in 2015 and, as such, is in excellent condition; as is the District’s administrative headquarters, located on Main Street in Fallbrook.
The findings from a recent assessment study show that it would cost nearly the same amount of money to bring the older facilities up to compliance as it would to rebuild them. This study showed upwards of $25.5 million dollars in facility needs; plus $950,000 is needed annually to keep these facilities in good working condition and fund facility replacement.
Fire Chief and CEO, Stephen Abbott, stated, “If these conditions are not addressed soon, the District will not be able to maintain the extremely high level of protection that the NCFPD has become so well known for.” He added, “We simply can’t have our firefighters not being able to get the rest they need between shifts, when they come in from fighting fires; this includes firefighters from other agencies, when they join us in fighting local fires…as they did in the recent Lilac fire. Having these firefighters sleeping on the floor, in chairs, and in gurneys is simply unacceptable.”