Leucadia mini-fire station pilot program to be terminated due to lack of use


Consultant finds unit responded to less than one call a day during first year of operation


A mini fire station placed in north Leucadia on a trial basis with the goal of reducing emergency response times will be terminated due to lack of use, the Encinitas City Council unanimously decided June 10.

“Ultimately, it’s difficult to argue with the numbers,” said Councilman Tony Kranz, who lives in the Leucadia area and strongly backed the program when it was first put forward several years ago.

Mayor Catherine Blakespear and Councilwoman Kellie Shay Hinze agreed.

“I think the cost-benefit analysis makes the conclusion clear,” Blakespear said.

Before their vote, council members heard a presentation from a consultant who’s conducting a review of the operations at all of the city’s fire stations. Steven Knight of Fitch & Associates told the council that the Leucadia mini-station responded to 359 calls in 2019, or less than one call a day. That’s about 2.5 percent of the agency’s total work load citywide, he said, adding that keeping the mini-station is just not justified when two of the city’s six permanent stations are handling a vast amount of the city’s emergency response activity.

The mini-station -- a portable trailer building and a small fire engine housed on a private parking lot at the old Cabo Grill restaurant on Coast Highway 101 -- opened for business in January 2019 and was staffed 12 hours a day with existing city firefighters on overtime pay. Fire Chief Mike Stein arranged the $1-a-year site lease deal and told the council at the time that the pilot project would be a great way to try out a fire station without having a long-term commitment.

Putting a permanent station in the far northwestern region of coastal Leucadia had been promoted as a way to reduce area fire and medical aid emergency response times, which had reached upwards of seven minutes.

On Wednesday, June 10, Stein said that to make absolutely certain that the mini-station wasn’t working out, he asked in December to extend what was to be a one-year pilot project by an extra six months to see if there was any change in activity. That six-month period comes to an end July 2, he said, adding that while he would love to have more fire stations, “the data just shows it is not an effective program.”

While the site lease only cost the city $1 year and the city was able to borrow a county-owned fire truck, staffing the mini-station with firefighters on overtime pay for the 18-month period cost $711,444 and the rental of the trailer cost $21,772, a staff report states.

The department is now awaiting the consultant’s full-scale assessment of all the city’s fire stations, which should be complete in a few months, Stein said. Once he has that report, he’ll consider whether other changes need to be made, he said.

This is second time the city has tried a temporary mini-station in recent years. In 2012, Encinitas rented space in an office building along Rancho Santa Fe Road for a mini-station and ultimately decided to keep that pilot project. Prior to that mini-station’s opening, response times in the far eastern edges of the city’s Olivenhain community reached upwards of 14 minutes.

On Wednesday, June 10, the consultant told the council that the Olivenhain station has a low number of calls compared to the city’s other stations, but said it covers such a large geographic area that it’s worthwhile to keep it.

The Leucadia region has one permanent station in addition to the soon-to-shut-down mini-station. The permanent facility is located at 801 Orpheus Ave., just south of Leucadia Boulevard.

-- Barbara Henry is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune