Rancho Santa Fe F. D. Headed by Former British Fire Officer

Rancho Santa Fe F. D. Headed by Former British Fire Officer

Fire department apparatus lined up in front of three-bay main station. Wing at right is for Civil Defense Headquarters and auxiliary fire serviceChief James Fox stands in front of one of the alarm systems. Disposition board at right shows location of every firemanThe fire department sponsors a clean-up program in cooperation with the local garden club and Explorer Scout troop. Scouts, assisted by firemen, help maintain good looks of community roads and streets by picking up and disposing of trashEach year firemen in Rancho Santa Fe attempt to provide fire-safe Christmas holidays by applying fire-retardant coating to all Christmas trees in the community without charge. Men also assist in disposal of the trees after New Year

RANCHO SANTA FE, one of the most exclusive communities in California, covers over 13.75 square miles of rolling hills and valleys. Its total population of 2,500 includes prominent business, industrial and professional figures, and many of its 700 and more homes and estates are in the million-dollar category.

The semirural residential area was incorporated in 1927 and has something of a resort atmosphere. Government is through the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. The community itself is administered by the Rancho Santa Fe Association under a protective covenant which provides for maintenance of roads, planting of trees and shrubs, and approval of architectural plans—even the color schemes —of homes to be erected.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of the community is that its fire department is headed by a professional fire fighter who received his training outside the United States. Fire Chief James A. Fox is a former British fire fighter. Five years ago he was a station officer (captain) living with his family in Manchester, England. His fire fighting career began in 1939 when he enrolled as a part-time auxiliary in the Manchester Fire Brigade. In the intervening years, Fox became a fulltime fireman, then patrol officer in charge of an auxiliary station at Booth Hall Hospital, Manchester. During this period he took in both Blitz and peacetime fires. In 1941 he volunteered for service in the Armed Forces and became a member of the Royal Marines.

Returning from the war, he again entered the fire service with the rank of fireman. In 1948 he became a leading fireman and following this a subofficer assigned to the brigade training center. In 1950 he was appointed commandant of the brigade school, and in 1952 was promoted to the rank of station officer.

Fox also found time to attend educational courses at college, graduating with high marks in advanced firemanship and officer training. He was the originator and co-author of the booklets Focus on Fire which are distributed to British fire fighters. However, in 1956 he became dissatisfied with his future outlook and emigrated to the United States with his wife and two sons.

He worked at a number of jobs, always keeping his eye out for a post as fire fighter. He applied for the position of chief at Vista, Calif., but lost out by a whisker. Nevertheless, his record and high marks on the test led to his being recommended as chief of the Rancho Santa Fe Department, a job which he immediately accepted.

Pumper takes suction from 31,000 gallon pool during blaze in residence. Owner provided access to pool side for just such an eventualityAuxiliary building of fire station has classroom for training firemen. It is also used by the Ranch people for social, business and political gatherings

Like most volunteer fire organizations, the Rancho Santa Fe Fire Department was spawned of necessity, according to Leon Janinet, former fire commissioner. He reports there was only the scantiest fire protection prior to 1943 when five serious fires swept the area, consuming houses, stables and ground cover, despite the efforts of Armed Forces personnel stationed at nearby camps.

That convinced the property owners that they could no longer look to their neighbors for protection. But although there was general agreement that something should be done about it, there was a war on, people were very tax-conscious, and it was not until three years later that any positive results were achieved.

The present department was formed by an order adopted by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors on October 14, 1946 under the Fire District Law of the State of California.

The Rancho Santa Fe Fire Department operates on a call-volunteer, or part-paid-volunteer basis. The permanent staff consists of the chief and three firemen, two of whom rank as captains. The chief is on continuousduty system, while the paid firemen operate on a 24-hour tour of duty, alternately. Attached to the department are .18 active volunteers, most of whom reside in the community within easy’ call. Arrangements have been made through the Rancho Santa Fe Association with employers of the volunteers to insure the latter’s availability at all times in case of emergency. Some nine or ten of the association’s employees, most of whom work at the golf club, are also on call.

The association, through three fire commissioners, conducts the department like a business enterprise. They leave the management and conduct of the department to Chief Fox. Apparently, he has produced the desired results, one of which was the regrading of the fire district in October 1959. The main Ranch area was placed in Class 6, compared with a Class 9B previously obtained.

Headquarters of the department, together with the adjoining office and dwelling of the chief, are on El Fuego Avenue facing the elementary school yard which is available for training operations. Presently’ it operates five emergency vehicles: One 750-gpm pumper, a 500-gpm pumper, one 1,500-gallon tank truck; one 1,000gpm civil defense pumper and one pick-up truck and trailer. The 750gpm unit was purchased by the department in 1958 upon recommendation by the Pacific Rating Bureau and proved a material factor in improving the fire protection classification of the compact mercantile area. The tank truck and pick-up were obtained from Government surplus at costs of $200 and $95 respectively, and completely reconditioned and adapted for fire department use.

In addition to local fire protection, the Ranch has signed mutual aid pacts with all the fire districts in the North San Diego County area, including special arrangements with Solana Beach and Encinitas Fire Districts to the west and the State Division of Forestry.

Communication system

The Ranch has no street fire alarm signal boxes. All emergency calls are received by telephone. Volunteers are alerted by public alarm. All have telephones and can be contacted individually if desired. Portable walkie-talkie radio sets are carried by the department, which is also on the county’s mutual aid frequency.

An unusual feature of fire department communications is the monitoring of burglar as well as fire alarms. Long ago, there being no police force in effect, many residents sought the fire department out to help them police their premises by means of automatic detection systems. The same situation developed in fire protection. The result is that today the fire department receives all automatic alarms for both fire and police protection and responds to both with personnel and/or apparatus. Police calls are immediately relayed to the sheriff.

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Water supply

Water for domestic use and fire protection is obtained from rainfall runoff and the Metropolitan District Water Supply. In general, the area is served by several distribution systems located at various levels consistent with the topography of the land. Pipe supplying hydrants in the distribution system range in size from 6-inch to 20-inch, although some hydrants are substandard 2-inch riser type with a 2 ½-inch gated discharge outlet. Hydrant distribution is generally fair but many homes are at excessive distances from hydrants. Some water is available from reservoirs belonging to the Irrigation District and the fire department has checked on 230 privately owned swimming pools available for drafting, with 5 million gallons of water. A number of additional pools inaccessible for drafting by pumpers may be used by the department which has purchased a supply of Civil Defense Surplus Property portable pumps for the purpose.


Chief Fox has instituted one of the most comprehensive training schedules to be found among volunteer fire organizations. Weekly department meetings may include skull practice; monthly drills are a must and absentees are penalized (miss four events and you’re out!). Indoor and field exercises cover the whole elementary and advanced courses of firemanship. Heavy emphasis is placed on officer training, with Chief Fox and his assistants undergoing continual refresher courses. In addition, firemen are encouraged to enroll in the various fire science courses offered by Palomar Junior and San Diego City Colleges.

Emphasis on fire prevention

The fire department bears heavily on fire prevention. The first step facing Chief Fox upon assuming office was to indoctrinate the volunteer firemen themselves in the wisdom of preventive measures. In 1958, soon after his arrival, a fire prevention bureau was formed, and the department got down to business. A program of building inspection was inaugurated. In inspection work, the onus fell upon the three paid men of the organization— even the chief shouldering part of the load. Last year, 148 burning permits were issued and some 400 inspections, including residences, garages, and grounds, were made.

A dividend of the fire prevention effort has been the departments prefire planning program. Every area and every building has been inspected, analyzed as a potential fire hazard and plans made for the most efficient attack and containment procedure. This phase is incorporated in the department’s training program and has proven to be of great value.

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