In one of the most densely populated areas in the western United States, it is crucially important that public safety precautions keep pace with demographics. Recently, Santa Barbara County Fire Chief John Scherri warned that such is not the case in our community. Scherri said the county fire station, located on University Road behind Harder Stadium, lacks the equipment and manpower to handle a major fire in the Isla Vista/UCSB vicinity.
The danger is twofold. The campus station lacks a ladder that can reach the upper stories of buildings such as the Humanities and Social Sciences Building and Phelps Hall, as well as Francisco Torres, San Miguel and San Nicholas Residence Halls. Trucks that can respond within five minutes carry 30 and 50-foot ladders, but the closest 100-footer is all the way downtown – a 15 minute delay that could leave students trapped in the event of a fire. Additionally, the trucks that arrive first on the scene carry only three firefighters. Their ability to act is limited because regulations require that two men wait outside if two go in. Given the fact that the tallest dorms are 30 years old and do not have sprinklers, this poses a potentially fatal problem. Scherri has contacted university, state and local officials to request $700,000 for a truck with a 100-foot aerial ladder and $285,000 to hire three additional men to cover a 24-hour shift. This is adequate warning, and the university must now collaborate with state and county governments to raise the money.
Although the amount requested is a small price to pay to ensure the community’s safety, it is not an easy sum to come by. The Santa Barbara County Fire Dept. is supposed to provide adequate fire protection with the tax dollars we give them, but UCSB has particular needs. There are not many 100-foot aerial ladders available because tall buildings such as those located on campus are very rare countywide. In addition, bikepaths, landscaping and closer corners hinder the process of fighting fires at the university or in I.V. More men are needed to overcome these obstacles. These special needs do not absolve government of responsibility for our community, but $1 million is a heap of cash and it behooves the university to contribute what it can.
According to Chancellor Henry Yang, the university has spent $75 million over the past decade to improve fire safety. It is not that students do not appreciate this, but fireproof mattresses and extinguishers will not deliver people safely from a four-alarm blaze on the eighth floor of the Davidson Library. UCSB Fire Marshal John Kennedy argues that current provisions are sufficient on the grounds that the campus station has successfully contained all fires to date. But do we want to learn our lesson the hard way? Fire Dept. manpower and equipment must be brought up to date. If this is to be accomplished, the state and local government must pool their resources with the university.
The SB Fire Dept. is a public service funded by taxpayer dollars. As such, the brunt of the financial burden should fall on the government. A fair solution is to have the state and county purchase the new truck, while the university picks up the bill for the extra manpower. This compromise assigns 75 percent of the cost to the government and 25 percent to the university. UCSB will soon begin drafting next year’s budget and $285,000 should be earmarked as an allocation to the campus fire station. This action is in students’ and professors’ best interests, but the administration needs pressure to move.
A.S. has a golden opportunity to put one of its position papers to good use. The student government would be of great service to its constituents if it would take the lead in this campaign. UCSB continues to grow. Close quarters and tall buildings full of microwaves, toasters, space heaters and a myriad of other apparatuses that can furnish a fatal spark pose a significant threat. We desperately need the new equipment and additional firefighters to thwart this potential disaster.