Santa Barbara County Fire Chief John Scherri said the fire department and UCSB officials are exploring options to “increase the university’s level of public safety” by hiring a fourth firefighter at UCSB’s Fire Station 17.

Scherri spoke positively of his most recent meeting with Everett Kirkelie, UCSB Associate Vice Chancellor of Administrative and Auxiliary Services, but said his department is still evaluating proposals regarding the funding of a fourth firefighter.

“I’m hoping for some sort of partnership with the university,” Scherri said. “The number of incidents at UCSB has been growing as the student population has increased, but our total number of first-responding staff people has actually decreased from its level of 30 years ago.”

UCSB Fire Station 17, located on Mesa Road just north of Harder Stadium, currently employs only three fulltime firefighters.

According to code 1710, released in May 2001 by the National Fire Protection Association, and new regulations from the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal-OSHA), urban firefighting companies must have at least four firefighters on the scene of a blaze before a minimum of two firefighters can enter a burning structure to perform search and rescue operations. Thus, in the event of a fire-related incident on campus, the three station 17 firefighters must wait for additional units from Fire Station 11 on Storke Road or from units based in downtown Santa Barbara before rescue and fire suppression operations can commence.

According to Scherri, the firefighter-to-population ratio in the station’s area is about 1-to-10,000, while the average ratio for the rest of the county is about one for every 3-4,000 people.

“The bottom line is money,” Scherri said. “In 1990 we employed 208 people in first responding safety positions, while in 2002 that number has dropped to 198. We’d like to keep that number up if we had the money.”

Scherri said that Station 17 received 680 calls last year, a number that has been steadily growing. For 2002, the countywide call total is expected to have exceeded 9,000.

In a written statement, Chancellor Henry T. Yang said that since 1973 the county of Santa Barbara has been responsible for providing fire protection services and determining the number of firefighters that are appropriate for the university.

“The campus has invested, for example, over $75 million to renew our residence halls to ensure that state-of-the-art equipment and materials for fire prevention and protection are in place,” he said. “We are working cooperatively with the county to address their concerns, and ours, regarding fire prevention and the ability to respond quickly and appropriately to the threat of fire on our campus.”

Chief Scherri said he agreed the university has been constructing new buildings with correct sprinkler and fire suppression systems; however, he said Fire Station 17 still needs a fourth firefighter in order to have enough personnel for a “quick attack” at the site of a possible blaze.

Scherri said since the university pays no state property taxes, every new building constructed on campus results in more area the fire department must serve with less money to do so.

UCSB’s recent acquisition of the Francisco Torres residence hall complex at the intersection of Storke and El Colegio roads will further decrease the local property tax revenue funding fire department services.

“UCSB is also in a unique situation compared to other UC schools because it is the only campus located on a peninsula,” Scherri said. “Campuses like UCLA or Davis can be approached quickly from all sides, but it would take much longer to get a large number of firefighters on scene at UCSB in the event of a major incident.”

Chancellor Yang said the university would continue to discuss with the county possible solutions to ensure an appropriate level of service and safety for the entire campus community.