San Diego Area Adjusts To Expansion
Photo courtesy Historical Collection, Title Insurance and Trust Company, Union Title Office, San Diego
RECENTLY California passed New York to become the most populous of the nation’s states. According to the U. S. Census Bureau, the Golden State is gaining 1,627 persons daily, adding over 600,000 persons annually as a result of history’s greatest migration. And most of these people come to rest in the southern areas of the state.
While this No. 1 rank doubtless feeds the ego of some Californians, there are many who view the distinction in a more serious context. Prominent among these are the heads of fire forces in the cities, unincorporated areas and wildlands, already overflowing their boundaries, and most of them overburdened with problems of fire protection.
To begin with, if population in southern California is zooming, so too, are the costs of government, including fire suppression. Although unconfirmed, it is said that California leads all other states in costs to provide fire protection for its people. The state has a higher ratio of fully paid fire departments to volunteer than any of the larger states, and California’s fire fighters average higher rates of pay.
The state legislature recently approved a budget of over $3 billion, most of it to meet problems of skyrocketing growth involving such factors as education, water resources and distribution, care of the aged, etc. Ironically, there is only token outlay for fire defense, and the budgets for fire service training and the fire marshal’s office have been further trimmed.
No one city or area has a monopoly on “growing pains.” Municipal management is trying every conceivable money-raising and budget-pruning expedient to make fiscal ends meet in the effort to finance all demands and still remain solvent. Not a few of these experiments impinge upon the protective services, with fire fighting taking a heavy load.
FIRE ENGINEERING has reported many of these experiments, such as the effort to merge fire and police services in the City of San Diego which was defeated. At that time (July 1961), Sqn Diego had a population of 588,400 and covered an area of 240 square miles. The uniformed fire force numbered 489, and there were 31 engine and two ladder companies in five battalions. The department operated on a 63-hour work week.
As of July 1963. population is 630,000 and the area protected over 300 square miles. Notwithstanding this growth, the department has increased by only one new fire station. Only 12 additional fire fighters have been added in the two-year period, together with one new pumper on regular replacement program and two light brush rigs.
According to Fire Chief Ray Shukraft, to provide a measure of protection for new annexations (Los Penasquitos and San Bernardo tracts) necessitates runs of over 20 miles by the nearest engine company. The irony is that in spite of this inability to keep abreast of the city’s expansion, fire fighters have managed to hold fire losses to $1.96 per capita compared to the national average of S4.30.
Photo by General Dynamics
The fantastic surge to the suburbs and hinterlands by people and industry is being paralleled by an urban, and in some places, a suburban boom —upward. This marked change is not particularly indigenous to southern California. But it is causing some concern among fire fighters of booming cities who frankly admit that skyscrapers now pose fire protection problems with which they are not too well experienced.
As late as 1961, San Diego had only one or two structures over 10 stories in height. Today it has a dozen of them ranging up to 26 stories, with more on the drawing boards. The city council is wrestling with petitions from every side to revise zoning laws to pennit multistory occupancies, not only for business but for habitation.
One might argue there is little difference between fighting a fire in a 10-story concrete and steel office building than in one twice or thrice that height. To some extent this may be true, except for details of building design and construction, vertical arteries, elevators, enclosed stairways, power supply, and hydraulics—and the degree and extent of life hazard. The recent fatal fire in a Rio de Janeiro 21-story office building is a case in point. To the best of this writer’s memory, southern California has never experienced such a fire.
An interesting difference between southern California skyscrapers and those of New York City, for example, is the matter of setbacks. Setbacks, as New York City fire fighters have found, provide a measure of operating levels and space for controlling serious fires that can, and do happen in these so-called fireproof buildings. In San Diego and to some extent in Los Angeles, the 20-to-30-story office and commercial structures provide neither setbacks nor exterior fire escapes from which to operate on fires. Attack must be by way of the interior.
A chief officer in one California city department said: “It may surprise you, but believe it or not, we have had little training in handling fires in modern tall buildings. We’ve assumed our plans for operating on fires in buildings of 10 and 12 stories, for the most part utilizing exterior fire escapes as the avenue of attack, and stretching our lines from the standpipe outlets on the escapes, would be O.K. for these newer, taller structures with their interior fire wells. But now we’re up against a new layout. We don’t like the idea of perhaps having to carry doughnut rolls of 2 ⅛-inch hose up, say 20 stories, against a possible flood of frightened tenants pouring down the interior shaft.”
Another veteran chief added: “Yes. and the latest thing is to install skytop restaurants, cocktail lounges and observations areas on some of these towers. We hate to think of some 100 to 300 people up there being trapped by a fire or explosion in the kitchen, or on some floor below them. Certainly this is a possibility to be reckoned with and planned for, a possibility we can’t say we’re fullsprepared for right now.”
Incidentally, the trend toward taller buildings is not confined to the central city areas. In suburban Del Mar, planning commissioners are deadlocked over whether to permit construction of the tallest buildings between San Diego and Los Angeles— twin apartment towers that would rise 165 feet above sea level. Del Mar has a fire department consisting of three paid men, including a chief, and 10 volunteers, and barely enough water to fight a nominal dwelling blaze.
Non-fire tasks up
Growth means not only more demands upon the fire services for protection against fire, but it swells the number and variety of emergency calls, and for that may be termed extracurricular activities. This is attested bv the statistical reports of fire departments throughout southern California areas. Almost without exception, fire fighters of the six southern counties are devoting more of their time to non-fire fighting operations than ever before.
Outright stand-by time at fire stations is being reduced materially by the mounting duties in the realm of inspection, training and miscellaneous engagements as well as unscheduled emergency runs. Some of the latter are strictly odd-ball, i.e., six “snake calls” by the Rancho Santa Fe Fire Department within one week.
Many cities are employing the fire department as mediums of promotion in local affairs—civic, business, social and industrial.
“I never expected to see the day when we would be show people and circus performers,” laments one veteran chief, “but we’re in for it. Seems that whenever they want to stage a promotional stunt it’s ‘call the fire department.’ ” Nevertheless, this officer, like many others interviewed on the subject, is not averse to participation in promotional activities that will directly or indirectly benefit his community and his fire department. Many believe such participation to be the best kind of public relations. Others want no part in them, claiming they can’t take care of their normal duties and work load with their present limited manpower.
In the west there appears to be general agreement on two points: (1) That such extracurricular work, of whatever nature, should not jeopardize the fire fighting efficiency of the fire department, as it might well do where there is shortage of manpower and/or fire fighting and emergency equipment; and (2) that the fire department receive credit, financial and otherwise, for all time and effort expended in such ordered participations.
Training continues growth
Shortages of state and in many cases, local finances, have slowed expansion of California’s firemanship training program to some degree, but to offset this new avenues of training —some of them independent of direct state aid—have been developed. Federal Government and private industry have provided stimuli for both fire research and education. Fire equipment manufacturers, who incidentally are blossoming in the state, also have contributed to the cause.
California’s splendid educational facilities, particularly in the junior college fields, are being utilized for fire instruction as never before. There is increased instruction at the administrative level. Officer training now includes more advanced subjects, including political science, humanities, physics and public relations, as well as management and supervision.
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San Diego F. D. photo
SAN DIEGO AREA
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Although handicapped by limited appropriations, the state’s fire training program, supervised by Tom Ward, has continually been readjusted to meet the increasing needs of the state’s fire services in all branches. The fire training officers workshops and seminars have been well attended and attest the desire for more training at command levels. A somewhat new venture are courses in preemployment training begun in 1963 at San Diego City College, with the support of the San Diego County Fire Chiefs Association and other fire groups.
State forestry included
Of all fire services affected by California’s growth, a major sufferer is the California State Division of Forestry. With an assist by the U. S. Forestry Service it has been the protector of wildlife areas. It not only fights woodland fires but, under contract, serves as the sole fire department for unincorporated areas and districts unable or unwilling to provide their own fire forces. Thus state forestry fire fighters, many of whom serve only on a seasonal basis, must cram a lot of training into a brief period—training that must include structural as well as field and forest fire extinguishment.
To provide protection for 36 million acres of wildland, much of it liberally sprinkled with structures, the division operates at peak 234 fire stations and 84 lookouts with an additional 134 rural fire stations. Fire fighting personnel totals 3,500 with an additional 315 Youth Authority and 1,980 Adult Authority personnel available. Of the 1,685 pieces of automotive equipment in service, 475 are pumpers. San Diego County alone, under District Forester James Fenlon, maintains 19 fire stations and four lookouts. In addition, the county has on hand two tanker planes and one for the U. S. Forestry Service, which also operates a large number of fire stations throughout the state, mainly to protect the vast national forest and park areas.
“Our area of work is fast becoming not one of trees or vegetative cover,” says James K. Mace, deputy state forester, “but of people, lives and property. Fire is a social problem. In southern California nothing could be more obvious than problems brought by the density of people will not go away.” And he concludes, “Southern California (fire) problems are not static. If there is one thing certain, it is change—a change that every day increases the seriousness of our problems. This direction toward disaster must be brought under control.”