2007 San Diego Firestorm AAR

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Mission-Centered Solutions, Inc. facilitated the AAR for this report published and authored  by the City of San Diego.

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Preface

Wildfire knows no boundaries. Every citizen in the City of San Diego was impacted in some way by the firestorms of 2007. Twice in the past five years the San Diego region has experienced Santa Ana winds blowing from the east, for an extended number of days, and the conditions being just right to produce firestorms of amazing proportions. When the firestorms occur in San Diego, there will always be multiple fires burning throughout the southern California region, if not the entire state, stretching the state’s well developed mutual aid system to the limit. The San Diego region needs to begin today to prepare for the next catastrophic wildfire event. Collectively we need to do everything we can to reduce the potential threat, better prepare our homes to be as fire safe as possible and then secure sufficient ground and aerial resources to respond strategically and effectively to combat large wildfires in the absence of mutual aid assistance. We need to be prepared to protect our citizens for the first 48 to 72 hours when once again we find ourselves on our own.

San Diego is in a unique position to benefit from the increased public awareness created by the 2003 and the 2007 firestorms to initiate significant change within this region. The 2007 firestorms demonstrated that the working relationships and coordination in this region have never been better between the city and the county. The Regional Fire Protection Committee should take a comprehensive look at equipment, personnel, procedures, vegetation management and building codes. This Committee’s goal is to build on the many reports and efforts that have already begun.

Following the 2003 firestorms the Cedar Fire After Action Report (AAR) outlined a number of areas that needed to be addressed. Some of those issues were addressed, for example open cab brush engines were replaced, an apparatus replacement program was established to replace frontline engines and increase the number of reserve engines, grant funds were leveraged to purchase mobile data computers for our frontline engines, trucks and ambulances, City/County helicopter programs were established, real time fire progression information was needed to ensure a coordinated and timely response so the 3Cs program was developed, additional radios and batteries were purchased. Lessons learned from the Cedar Fire were applied to pre-planning and engagement efforts and resulted in SDFD being better prepared for this large-scale response than was the case in 2003. Attachment A reflects the recommendation status and impact of the 2007 Firestorm on the Cedar Fire AAR recommendations. Still we did not have enough ground and air resources to successfully combat the firestorm thus reducing the number of structures lost and provide the type of emergency response this community deserves. Although no lives were lost within the City of San Diego the number of structures lost and damaged were very similar to that of the 2003 firestorms. So where do we go from here?

In 2004 the City released a comprehensive Public Safety Needs Assessment and addressed anticipated needs between fiscal years 2005 – 2009. In order to identify funding for this needs assessment, the City Council authorized funding measures for the 2004 primary election and again for the 2004 general election. The first measure, Proposition C on the March primary,proposed a 2.5% increase in the existing transit occupancy tax (TOT) with a designated percentage of the new revenue dedicated to the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department. The measure failed to secure the 2/3 vote requirement. Attempting a slightly different approach, the City Council placed Proposition J on the ballot for the November general election. This measure also proposed a 2.5% increase in the existing TOT, but allocated the new revenue to the City’s general fund, thereby requiring only simple majority vote to pass. This measure also failed to pass.

Following the Cedar Fire, the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department gathered volumes of information and submitted to the Commission on Fire Accreditation International (CFAI) in February 2005 to be accredited. Unfortunately, the City was not accredited due to the coverage challenges the department faces in trying to deliver day-to-day emergency response services citywide. The City has not kept pace with the growth this region has experienced over the past several decades and as a result has fallen behind with infrastructure needs, capital improvement projects, staffing and other critical resources. The CFAI recommended that the Fire-Rescue Department identify measurable fire service objectives and that the Department strive to achieve National Fire Protection Association Standards.

The Fire-Rescue Department is in the process of developing performance measurements in conjunction with the Business Process Re-engineering effort and developing a Fire Station Master Plan to help prioritize the city-wide needs. Day-to-day coverage issues need to be addressed and a long range plan needs to be developed to begin to incrementally meet that need, but to keep things in perspective….had the twenty-two fire stations been built they would have provided only 4-5 additional strike teams, well short of the 20 strike teams we requested through the Unified Command process set up by following the National Incident Management System (NIMS). No doubt those strike teams would have assisted in saving homes, but much more needs to be done to develop an apparatus surge capacity locally to leverage the off duty workforce that is available, and to reduce the fire potential by developing adequate defensible space and working with our citizens to build fire safe communities.

The following review takes an honest, straight forward look at the City of San Diego’s preparedness and response effort, and makes recommendations that we believe is the beginning of our blueprint for the future.