EAST COUNTY — Under new management.
That’s the theme for fire services in three East County cities that began sharing a single chief and other administrators yesterday.
Under the new partnership approved by each city last year, La Mesa, El Cajon and Lemon Grove will share a management team that will oversee fire and emergency medical services in the three jurisdictions.
The move represents a significant step toward forming a single regional fire department.
“One day it might become that,” said Mike Scott, who has served as El Cajon fire chief and will serve as chief under the new partnership. “This is a building block.”
The cities hope to save about $560,000 a year, but Scott said the numbers of firefighters and stations won’t change. An assistant fire chief will work with Scott, and three deputy fire chiefs — one from each of the three cities — will focus on the three areas: operations, training and administration. The deputy chiefs also will help represent the partnership in dealings with the three individual cities.
The new partnership is also on the way to getting a name of its own. The El Cajon and Lemon Grove city councils have approved the new identity, “Heartland Fire & Rescue,” for the shared management team, and La Mesa city officials said the City Council is expected to consider doing the same at its Jan. 12 meeting.
Scott said that as the partnership’s management staff work more closely together in the three cities, it is important to develop a “neutral identity.”
The new name will eventually be placed on uniforms, letterhead and other materials.
La Mesa Councilman Dave Allan, a retired firefighter, suggested that the agreement might lead the cities to make more cost-effective choices, for example, when it comes to purchasing equipment.
“Do I think the average citizen is going to see any difference?” Allan said. “Hopefully they’ll see improvement.”
The East County effort is the latest to merge local fire agencies. County supervisors in 2008 agreed to consolidate 12 rural fire agencies.