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Fire Authority: Physicals Protect Firefighters and Public

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June 22, 2009

A Message from the San Diego County Fire Authority

When the County Board of Supervisors approved their historic plan to reorganize the region's backcountry fire agencies a year ago, they did so with one intention: to improve fire protection in the region. A key part of that improvement was to require all County Fire Authority firefighters to undergo routine medical and background checks to ensure they were physically and ethically fit to protect the public.

Unfortunately, a few volunteer fire agencies have stated their intent to opt out of our County Fire Authority because they don't want to take the medical checks.

Please be assured, the County values its volunteer fire agencies and hopes they sign new contracts to provide fire services to parts of the unincorporated County. However, if they do not, your communities will still be fully protected. The County plans to use other volunteers and fire agencies we work with to fill in and protect our backcountry areas.

Having said that, County staff believe all the angst over these medical checks is unnecessary. The purpose of the physical exams is to protect people: to make sure that firefighters and the public they serve are safe. We told volunteers about the physicals more than a year ago. The exams are not excessive. Cal Fire, the City of San Diego and the San Miguel Fire Protection District all use similar exams. The overwhelming majority of volunteer firefighters are passing these physicals. To date, the County has completed roughly 200 medical exams on volunteers. Less than a handful of volunteers have failed. In addition, the County has offered administrative-only positions to some volunteer firefighters who have physical limitations but who also offer special experience and backgrounds.

And the County Fire Authority is working. It has already increased the ranks of volunteer firefighters: there are more working in our backcountry now than there were a year ago. It has also provided stipends to help volunteers support themselves and millions of dollars of equipment and training.

We applaud and value all volunteer firefighters. They are selfless individuals who give up their time and put themselves at risk to help others. That is exactly why we have worked so hard to keep our backcountry volunteers in the Fire Authority.

But, to improve fire protection for our citizens and communities, we must ensure that our personnel are fit to perform the task. To not do this could endanger not only their lives, but also the lives of the people they are committed to protect.

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