RC Fire Department Is Accorded A Vaunted Role

(August 2) In Rancho Cucamonga, the fire department has become a symbol of prestige and pride that distinguishes it from most of its counterparts within San Bernardino County.
Currently, three of Rancho Cucamonga’s city council members – Mayor Dennis Michael and councilmen Sam Spagnola and Bill Alexander – are retired firefighters, partially accounting for the elevated status the fire department has in the community.
There are even more historic factors that explain the reverence accorded the fire department.
Fifty-seven years before the incorporation of Rancho Cucamonga, the community of Alta Loma in 1920 bought its first fire engine. The Cucamonga Fire Department formed in 1948. The Alta Loma and Cucamonga fire departments merged in 1975 to become the Foothill Fire District.
When the communities of Alta Loma, Cucamonga and Etiwanda combined to form the city of Rancho Cucamonga in 1977, the Foothill Fire District remained independent, with its own governing board. Twelve years later, the fire district became a subsidiary component of the city, named the Rancho Cucamonga Fire Protection District, with the city council supplanting the fire board. The fire district now functions as part of the city government, but is a separate legal and fiscal entity.
This year, Rancho Cucamonga boasts a $65,240,470 general fund budget, which covers all order of municipal operations except for its library and fire department. On a ledger separate from its general fund, Rancho Cucamonga has budgeted $28,449,220 for fire department operations in fiscal 2013-14.
Only one other city in San Bernardino County – Ontario, which has responsibility for fire suppression at Los Angeles-owned Ontario International Airport – has a larger annual budget for its fire department, at $39.7 million.
In the county seat of San Bernardino, where the fire department has a proud and storied history of ensuring public safety, morale in the fire department and the city generally has plummeted in the wake of years of municipal fiscal mismanagement that culminated in the city’s bankruptcy filing last year and the subsequent departures of the fire chief and his assistant chief who replaced him for a duration that was marked by unrest within a division that was called upon to severely curtail operations and expenses.
Conversely, in Rancho Cucamonga, with its population of 165,000 fire protection and emergency medical response provided by the Rancho Cucamonga Fire Protection District remains as the sine qua non of municipal services and the amount of money appropriated to the district by the city this year is more than the general funds of 11 of the county’s 24 cities.
The Rancho Cucamonga Fire Protection District employs more than 120 full- and part-time personnel preventing fires, fighting fires, rescuing victims, making emergency medical response and responding to hazardous material situations, including handling and disposing of such substances before a situation involving them becomes critical.
In addition to its standard firefighting corps functioning out of the department’s 7 fire stations covering the city’s 49 square miles, the department employs a team of firefighters specializing in wildland fire protection, given the city’s proximity to Day and Cucamonga canyons and the foothills below Cucamonga Peak, which is part of the Angeles National Forest. The department’s personnel work closely with the Rancho Cucamonga Fire Safe Council and homeowners to improve the defensible space around residences in order to give firefighters a chance to save such properties when in danger of wildfire. In addition, as part of the department’s emergency preparedness and response program, evacuation and travel routes in the event of a wildland fire emergency have been developed. This plan was practiced during a recent countywide preparedness exercise focusing on a wildland fire scenario.
The district has taken great pains to refine its state-of-the-art emergency medical service/paramedic program.
Each frontline Rancho Cucamonga Fire District response unit is staffed and equipped to provide advanced life support services in response to a variety of illnesses and injuries. Firefighters cross-trained as certified paramedics are responsible for patient assessment, contact with local hospitals and advanced treatment that includes the administration of controlled drugs. Department units carry defibrillators.
The Rancho Cucamonga Fire District’s technical rescue team is capable of making immediate response to calls requiring highly specialized rescue skills. The team is certified as a heavy level rescue team and was the first such team certified in San Bernardino County. Additionally, the tech rescue team is part of the California Emergency Management Agency, which allows for the team to be activated throughout the state if needed. The team is trained and equipped for confined space rescues, trench collapse rescue, building collapse and shoring response, swift water rescue, high angle rope rescue and large animal rescue.
The department’s hazardous materials team employs trained specialists supported by certified operational first responders. The Haz Mat Team responds out of Fire Station 173 in the city’s Day Creek area to incidents reported to involve potentially dangerous spills or releases of various hazardous materials.
The Haz-Mat/Fire Team participates in a joint powers authority with four other surrounding agencies including cooperative assistance from the Ontario International Airport Fire Department. This joint powers authority offers additional staffing or equipment as needed in the event of an incident. Rancho Cucamonga has also employed a small quantity conditionally exempt generator (SQCEG) program through San Bernardino County. The SQCEG program allows the fire district to mitigate small spills without delay, in so doing providing fast response so the businesses experience less down time and reduced clean-up costs.

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