The Santa Barbara County fire chief said understaffing at UCSB’s on-campus station endangers students and faculty. However, the university and county are at odds over how and who should pay for that person.
Under a 1973 agreement, the university must provide a station and equipment while the county provides personnel. Fire Chief John Scherrei said that the department does not have the funds because it recently purchased a needed truck with a ladder capable of reaching the tallest buildings on campus; he says he’s asked the university to renegotiate the contract.
“I’m asking for a partnership with the university,” he said. “The firefighter is for students and faculty.”
UCSB Vice Chancellor of Administrative Services Everett Kirkelie said he supports hiring a fourth firefighter, but the university lacks the funding.
“We keep having discussions with [the Fire Dept.] to see how we can do that, so we haven’t given up on the idea of finding a way to make it happen. But right now we just do not have $300,000 to give them. We would hope that they would get that through the normal funding cycle,” he said. “We just don’t have those resources.”
Without a fourth firefighter, the three firefighters who work at UCSB Fire Station 17 on Mesa Road cannot enter a burning building to rescue students or staff. An extra firefighter is necessary to comply with the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal-OSHA) code, which states that two fire fighters must remain outside a building for two to enter when it is unknown whether or not a victim is inside.
Station 17 must rely on Station 11, located on Storke Road, to assist and rescue students and faculty in the event of an incident on campus, and cannot enter a building until backup arrives. Scherrei said he has been asking UCSB to provide the funds for two years.
“They would have the resources when a student dies and I don’t want to wait till then,” Scherrei said. “[UCSB] needs to mitigate this situation. They are attracting more students and not paying for extra firefighters. … All I’m asking for is one firefighter and I’m getting the cold shoulder.”
UCSB Fire Marshall John Kennedy maintained that the county is responsible for providing firefighters.
“The decision of fire suspension is totally up to the fire chief of the county,” Kennedy said. “It is the county’s responsibility to provide fire suspension.”
If a firefighter is injured or killed during a response to a call, Cal-OSHA can launch an investigation. If authorities find that Station 17 did not follow code, the department would be given a civil citation.
In the last three-year period, the number of responses to calls at Station 11 increased by 1,500 Scherrei said.
“[Station 11] is one of the busiest companies,” he said. “Student lives are at risk and if something happens, our ability to do something is hampered.”
Kirkelie said the university is perfectly safe, despite Scherrei’s concerns.
“That’s his perception of the situation,” he said. “We have very safe residence halls. We also feel that we have done an excellent job of putting state-of-the-art alarm systems in our buildings.”
Kennedy said UCSB meets all California building codes.
“The university is not an unsafe place to be,” he said. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here.”