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Campus to Face Safety Concerns

CSUCI leaders and fire officials meet today to discuss a report that questions emergency preparedness at school.

May 09, 2003|Jenifer Ragland | Times Staff Writer

Ventura County firefighters and Cal State Channel Islands officials will meet today to discuss a grand jury report that questions whether the campus near Camarillo is adequately prepared for emergencies.

The May 2 report found, among other things, that the nearest fire station to the new university is at least a 10-minute drive away -- three minutes longer than the National Fire Protection Assn. recommends for a safe response time.

The university has been relying on the county Fire Department's Las Posas Road Station for protection since late 2000, when a $1.2-million contract with the county was canceled.

For the last several months, university Police Chief Jeff Young has been working to establish a volunteer firefighting force that would be supervised by four paid captains on campus, university officials said.

But in the meantime, the report said, "Many students and personnel at [Cal State Channel Islands] ... could be affected by substandard fire protection."

University leaders disagree and assured students and employees this week that the campus is safe.

"There has never been one ounce of doubt raised that the county wouldn't be able to respond during a disaster, or that they wouldn't do that effectively," said university spokeswoman Peggy Hinz.

School President Richard Rush said he believes the university's proposal to use a volunteer firefighting team remains a viable plan, especially given state budget constraints. That force is expected to cost a fraction of what the county contract cost, officials said.

"Safety has been our paramount concern, and we have a record of being concerned," said Rush, who said he was "surprised and disappointed" by the grand jury's findings. "It's easy to make accusations, but I would suggest that the facts do not support the allegations."

But Ventura County Fire Chief Bob Roper said the response time from the Las Posas Station to the front gate of the university is already on the outside edge of industry standards. It could take even longer to respond, he said, depending on where the emergency is on campus.

When the campus was a state hospital it had its own fire department, Roper said.

Because the university also is a state agency, it pays no property taxes into the county fire authority. The county is obligated to respond to any calls for service, Roper said, but he stressed that the current situation is not ideal.

"There's a public expectation that you dial 911 and help's going to come and it's going to be timely," Roper said. "I have a moral obligation to tell the public that timeliness out there is an issue."

He said he hopes the county Fire Department and university officials will begin to resolve the issue at today's meeting.

In its four-page report, the grand jury also questioned the response time for medical emergencies. Hinz said most of the university's 13 police officers are also trained emergency medical technicians.

"These are the same people you would have if an ambulance was pulling up," she said. "We have that security blanket around us."

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