North County tribal fire departments ready to help, leaders say

North County Times 10.7.10


As the wildfire season kicks into full swing, four North County tribes have begun airing a TV ad telling the public that their fire departments are ready to help in case of an emergency.

The Pauma, Pala, Rincon and San Pasqual reservation were all affected by the devastating 2003 and 2007 wildfires. San Pasqual and Rincon in Valley Center were hit especially hard; dozens of homes were lost in the Paradise and Poomacha fires.

Since 2003, each of the tribes has built modern fire departments using revenue from their casinos.

The TV spots airing on various channels since early last week show images of wildfires and the new fire stations built by the tribes to fight them in the future.

"With the heat and winds, we are looking over our shoulder for signs of smoke every day," Bo Mazzetti, chairman of the Rincon Band of Mission Indians, said last week when temperatures soared past 100 degrees.

Each of the four reservation fire departments is funded by the separate tribal governments, but they serve on and off their reservations and augment the region's firefighting resources, according to the tribal leaders.

"We feel it's more important than ever that the reservations are now equipped to assist in protecting the rural communities," Pala Chairman Robert Smith said.

The Poomacha fire in 2007 burned more than 1,800 acres in Pala, which is about 15 miles north of Escondido near Pauma Valley, but no structures were damaged.

The Pala, Pauma, San Pasqual and Rincon reservation fire departments have a combined force of 88 firefighters, paramedics and emergency medical technicians, according to the tribes.

 They have four fire engines, four brush and wildfire engines and three water tenders.

The annual operating budget of the four departments is $9.4 million, with more than $30 million invested in equipment and fire stations, the tribes said.

Each of the departments has mutual aid agreements with other firefighting agencies in North County.

Each year, the Pala Fire Department responds to an average of 450 calls for fires, traffic accidents and paramedic services that occur outside the Pala reservation boundaries, Smith said.

Mazzetti said the tribal fire departments bring peace of mind to their communities.

"Once you've been through a wildfire, the fear is constant," Mazzetti said. "Today, we feel safer with our own fire station and mutual aid agreements."


Call staff writer Edward Sifuentes at 760-740-3511.

Pala Band of Mission Indians

More information...