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Statement: “We organized the San Diego County Fire Authority, and our fire agencies and volunteer fire departments are now better equipped and better trained. These professional heroes are now responding to emergencies in the backcountry faster than ever before,” County Supervisor Bill Horn said March 9 in his State of the County speech.
Determination: Mostly True
Analysis: The county created a partnership with Cal Fire and several volunteer fire departments in the backcountry two years ago called the Regional Fire Authority. With additional equipment paid for by the county and additional training from Cal Fire, they aimed to improve volunteer firefighters who cover vast swaths of wildfire territory.
But are those volunteer firefighters responding to emergency calls faster than ever before? Well, nobody appears to be actually tracking that.
Officials at the county and Cal Fire said statistics are not available on response times among the volunteer fire departments, but still estimated that they have improved.
Horn spokesman John Culea called it the logical conclusion. Gig Conaughton, spokesman for the Department of Planning and Land Use, which provides administrative support for the Fire Authority, also agreed.
Cal Fire Battalion Chief Nick Schuler gave a couple examples where response times might be improving. New four-wheel drive vehicles can reach rugged terrain faster. Some volunteers are now paid stipends to stay at fire stations and go directly to a fire when called. In the past, they would drive to the station when called and then go to the fire.
“The County has expanded fire and emergency medical response coverage, providing stipends to volunteer firefighters and ensuring that they respond around the clock, rather than if they’re available,” Conaughton said.
So while there are no statistics to back up Horn’s statement, those familiar with the volunteer departments call it accurate. The nuance of nonexistent data makes it mostly true.
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— KEEGAN KYLE