San Jacinto Looks Outside Riverside County for Fire and EMS

In a potentially precedent-setting move, San Jacinto city leaders will look to an agency other than Riverside County for fire protection and emergency medical services.

The City Council earlier this month agreed to join forces with the Idyllwild Fire Protection District in forming a joint powers authority, a government coalition that oversees the financing and operation of a public service.

The council’s action means the city would be forming its own force with the support of the district, rather than continuing to contract with the county fire department, as it has done for years.

Other cities struggling with soaring costs under the county system could follow the example, observers say.

“With this ground-breaking formation of a JPA for fire services with Idyllwild, we can set the tone” for the region, resident Russ Utz said at the council’s hearing June 7.

The goal is to reopen a station on the city’s west side at least with medical response personnel because more than 80 percent of emergency calls in the city are health-related.

Because of budget limitations, the city was forced to reduce staffing in 2014, leading to the closure of the station and leaving that part of town prone to longer response times from the city’s lone remaining fire station downtown.

With the city’s contract with the county ending June 30, both Idyllwild and the county offered proposals that would enable the reopening of the western station with a squad geared toward medical responses.

“It’s not the optimum model,” Mayor Andrew Kotyuk said. “We can’t afford the optimum model.”

Idyllwild representatives say they can provide services for $2.66 million, and the county’s offer was $3.34 million.

“The reason we’re here is cities all over the county can no longer afford escalating costs,” Idyllwild fire battalion Chief Mark LaMont said of the district’s offer.

County fire Deputy Chief Glenn Patterson warned that, by going with Idyllwild, the city would not receive the full range of services offered by the county.

County firefighters union representative Gad Amith urged the council to stick with his agency for the safety of residents.

“Don’t put their lives at risk with a proposal that has enough holes in it to sink a battleship,” he said.

Idyllwild Firefighter Steve Hunkle argued that the district has an excellent force and record as he called on the council to support its proposal.

Though they agreed to form the authority, council members did not make a decision on staffing.

The city will negotiate with the county for a temporary contract extension as it transitions to the authority.



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