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San Diego Gas & Electric continues to campaign for its community fire safety program as the state’s Public Utilities Commission is slated to vote on its most controversial proposal Thursday.

Leaders from the utility and local governments organized a press conference today to announce efforts by the utility to form its own firefighting squad. Certified firefighters will accompany maintenance crews when the utility needs to complete repairs in high fire risk situations. The contract firefighters will be on hand to prevent the occasional spark or hot oil spill from evolving into a larger problem.

The utility has also contracted for the use of a helicopter with firefighting capabilities. It will primarily be used to help replace some wood poles with fire-resistant steel ones.

Most of San Diego’s media outlets attended the utility’s afternoon press conference, a showcase of the contract firefighters, their equipment and congratulatory words from civic leaders. Few people mentioned the controversial shut-off plan, which is scheduled to receive a vote on Thursday.

“Our key objective in the fire service is prevention,” said Augie Ghio, fire chief of the San Miguel Consolidated Fire District. “What really heartens me is private industry … bringing additional resources to help stop fires.”

Steve Castaneda, city council member of Chula Vista, had some of the strongest words to say about how the economic recession has prevented local governments from bolstering public resources since the 2007 wildfires.

“We are unable to do the kind of things that thankfully SDG&E is doing,” Castaneda said. “We are ill-prepared to protect our own city.”

— KEEGAN KYLE

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