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First, let me say that my heart goes out to the people in the city and the county who suffered losses in the fires. No one wants to see that, and as hard as the firefighters work to protect and save homes, we regret every loss.

To all the citizens who evacuated their homes as the fires approached: I know the inconvenience and the worry you suffered. In fact, I know it first hand. I was evacuated from my home. I understand how frightening it can be to get that “Reverse 9-1-1” call telling you to leave your home behind and seek shelter. As disquieting as it can be, I am glad we have that system in place. It is in no small measure because of the tens of thousands of “reverse 9-1-1” calls that there were no fire-related deaths in the city of San Diego.

The emergency notification system called “Reverse 9-1-1” is just one of the improvements since the 2003 Cedar Fires. Let me briefly mention a few others:

  • Established a permanent city multi-mission helicopter program.
  • Acquired and installed night vision equipment. Crewmembers and pilots are trained so that Copter 1 can perform the same missions at night that it can during the day.
  • With that, we implemented 24-hour operation of the helicopter program.
  • Fire codes were changed calling for 100 feet of defensible space around homes (the previous code required 65 feet).
  • Building codes were changed to prohibit the use of wood roof coverings on new construction and increasing the minimum roofing assembly for all buildings to a Class “A” roofing assembly.
  • We have added 16 new apparatus including engines, trucks, brush engines, hazmat, heavy rescue and light & air.
  • We have wildland hose packs for structure engines.
  • All engines and trucks now have Mobile Data Computers (MDC). MDCs provide responding firefighters and ambulance crews with real-time information about the incident, as well as maps, instantaneous driving directions; information about the area, businesses or structures that are affected by the emergency. The MDCs provide electronic computerized information to speed responses in serving the public.
  • We have enhanced our radio and 911 communications equipment and systems.
  • Secured grant funding and implemented the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program. More than 670 citizens are trained as CERT volunteers in 18 teams throughout the city. The CERT volunteers were a valuable asset during the fires.
  • We have expanded and enhanced our training programs.

You might be interested to know that my staff and I began deploying resources for the October firestorm on the Friday before the fires started. We decided to staff five additional brush engines, and position them strategically in anticipation of possible vegetation fires. We had concerns given the low humidity levels and forecasted easterly winds. The morning the fires began many of my senior staff and I were walking with members of the department in the Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk through Balboa Park. The duty deputy chief monitored the fire activity in Southern California and notified us of the Castaic, Simi Valley and Malibu fires north of us. As we walked, we started to develop plans to staff up additional resources and prepare. By afternoon many of my staff were already in the communications center and — with the start of the Harris Fire — started deploying and tracking resources. With the Witch Creek Fire we positioned teams of forward looking field observers to monitor the progress of the fire and pre-positioned strike teams at San Pasqual Academy, Sabre Springs and Poway.

— TRACY JARMAN

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