CVFD Who You Gonna Call?

Carl Robinette

Wed June 25, 2014 2:52pm

Riding along in Deputy Fire Chief Jim Garcia’s official Chevy SUV, the dispatch chatter from the radio is constant because Chula Vista Fire Department responds to just about any emergency call. Yes, that actually does include cats stuck in trees, Garcia said.
“About 80 percent of what we do is medical response,” Garcia said.  The rest is community service calls, rescues, vehicle collisions and, of course, fires.
The fire engine red Chevy also has an on-board mobile computer that scrolls details on all the various emergency calls at any given time. There is a call for a child locked in a vehicle outside of a car rental agency, then a lawn fire has spread to a home where an unknown number of homeless people are believed to still be inside. 
The updates tick down the screen so the first responders can have their game plan ready before they hit the scene.
“It used to be you would get paged and head to the scene not really knowing what you were going to find.” Garcia punches the computer’s touch screen and pulls up a navigation map.  “See, you can see there’s already one truck at the scene here.”
The GPS map gives fire personnel details about the surrounding environment at any emergency location, housing density, commercial properties or possible surrounding wild lands.
Eastern Chula Vista is at particular risk with high degrees of wild land/urban interface. That’s where housing and commercial properties meet undeveloped areas and create a tricky and often dangerous firefighting situation.
The many canyons around Eastlake and Otay Ranch have years of vegetation in them and once the fire starts they go up in flames fast, Garcia said. That is part of the responsibility of the property owners to make sure the plant life surrounding their properties is maintained.
Keeping up with emergency response is literally a 24-hour gig for fire stations 6, 7 and 8 in eastern Chula Vista. 
From the outside, station house 7 serves as a September 11 memorial, with a statue out front and a walkway listing in concrete the names of firefighters who lost their lives responding to the trade center attacks.
Inside station house 7 it looks like a modern home with stainless steel kitchen appliances, a cozy TV room and a dining room. The family that lives in this modern home, the firefighters, live there for 24 hours at a time, training, sleeping, cooking, cleaning, even mowing the lawns.
It’s the Kelly Shift Schedule, a standardized system that most emergency response departments use, consisting of three shifts on a nine-day cycle of 24 hours on, 24 hours off with a four- day break as the final leg of the schedule.
Back in Garcia’s truck he rolls to a red light at Telegraph Canyon Road and Heritage Road, the scene of an apparent fender bender. A black sedan is at an angle on the sidewalk and Chula Vista Police Department is on the scene. Garcia buzzes down the window.
“Are you guys OK?” Garcia asked the uniformed officer standing outside a police cruiser.
“Yeah, we’re good,” the officer said, waving a hand.
The light turns green and Garcia pulls away. 
The fire department works closely with the police and other fire agencies in the county, Garcia said.  As one of San Diego County’s largest fire departments, Chula Vista helps train the smaller departments like Coronado and Bonita, and supports them with engines, ladder trucks and firefighters.
When major fire events like the recent outbreak of fires in North County go up, South County gets involved.
“We help our neighbors because we’re in fire service and that’s what we do,” Garcia said. “But our first job is protecting the city of Chula Vista.”
Keeping the local stations staffed is always top priority and telling firefighters to stay home in the station house, telling them not go to help neighbors with fires is one of the hard parts of the job. Especially, Garcia said, when some of them live in those North County communities.
“Our guys are like prize fighters. They train every day for that fight, so when something like [the Carlsbad fires] happens, everybody wants to go.”
Back at station house 7, the ride with Chief Garcia is over, but not without a final act of community service. The dome light of my car was left on for two hours and Garcia was obliged to give me a jump start and send me on my way.
“Drive safely,” Garcia said, parting ways.