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Richard Rider

Ten years after disastrous San Diego County “Cedar” brush fire, major reforms STILL not implemented

On 25 October I posted the following  item on my blog:

Ten years after disastrous San Diego County “Cedar” brush fire, major reforms STILL not implemented

RICHARD RIDER COMMENT:  Shortly after the disastrous 2007 “Witch” brush fire in (primarily) San Diego County, the LOS ANGELES TIMES paid me to debate fire issues with a local UCSD professor in print.  What followed was a civil five day written exchange where good points were raised – mostly by me, of course.  In essence, it’s ten linked, point-counterpoint op-eds — included below.

The issues, shortcomings and solutions discussed are still germane today.  I suppose this exchange/debate won’t  interest many until AFTER the next major Southern California blaze.  Such is life.

Given that the San Diego press is memorializing/celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Cedar Fire which destroyed 2,200 homes and cost 15 lives, now seems to be a good time to bring this up again.  Most of the important fire fighting reforms I suggested here and elsewhere have never been adopted.  While some worthwhile secondary reforms have been implemented, when (not “if”) another major brush fire sweeps the area, many of the same indignant recriminations doubtless will resurface.

Some of the reforms still lacking are:

1.  Establishing a limited-use volunteer firefighting force tailored specifically to deal with brush fire situations.  We have a reserve police force – why not reserve firefighting brigades?

2.  Assist and train those who live in suburban areas that choose to stay and fight fires to save their homes.

3.  Arrange in advance to use Navy and Marine volunteers to augment brush and ember fire fighting forces.

I might add that all such reforms are vehemently opposed by our state’s all-powerful firefighters unions.  At their behest, state laws have been put in place to block such improvements — making the use of volunteers in such instances all but impossible in California. The only “reform” that the firefighter union bosses favor is hiring more full-time union firefighters to sit around on the payroll to fight fires that happen once every 4-10 years.

BTW, one problem I didn’t mention in this debate is that our current urban firefighters too often live HOURS from their place of employment. The long recall time in times of need cost us many, many homes in the last two county brush fires.  The same adverse consequence will result from each new major “unexpected” brush fire.

Another inexcusable problem in the 2007 Witch Fire I didn’t cover in the articles was the total unpreparedness of the San Diego Fire Department to activate their reserve fire trucks.  They had to call in people (including CERT volunteers) in the middle of the night to try to get the trucks ready even after the fires were destroying homes in the county.

In a firefighter version of the Keystone Cops, people were rushing to Pt. Loma to retrieve fire hoses for the Kearny Mesa reserve fire trucks, further delaying their response time.  A shortage of fire hoses for fire trucks?  And we pay the firefighter brass HOW much for such incompetence??

I might at that this scandalous mismanagement was never covered by the press, and no one’s career was adversely affected.  Let’s hope THAT blunder will not happen again.

All I can do for now is repost my reforms for viewing here.  While the links to the original story are below, I also provide a version below that is easier to read than the original LA TIMES version – better formatting and continuity between pieces.

One reason for my posting here is that one never knows when a piece disappears off an uncontrolled website.  So far, it’s still up on the LA TIMES website.  Kudos to the owners!

And yes, I WAS paid for this effort.  But y’all get my wisdom for free!

To read the 10 op-eds (still sadly germane 6 years later), go to the link: