Fire Department Updates
As high fire season approaches, your Montecito firefighters train for the inevitable: weeks of grueling work fighting wildfires across California and, potentially, here at home. Your firefighters are put through a wildland firefighting refresher course each spring in preparation.
Due to the physical demands of wildland firefighting, the refresher course includes a timed, arduous test of physical fitness. In Montecito, your firefighters have the unique advantage of completing this test by hiking one of the physically demanding trails in our community. During a wildland fire, we often use these trails as control lines.
On April 20, two Montecito fire engines were parked on East Mountain Drive while the firefighters completed their training hike up Cold Spring Trail. At the summit, the firefighters practiced deploying their fire shelters in a life-threatening scenario as if they were in the direct line of advancing wildfire with no viable escape routes. This training realistically prepares them for life-or-death events that have unfortunately become increasingly common due to the intensity of today’s wildfires. We appreciate the community’s support of this critical training and respect for our firefighters as they train for a rigorous and challenging fire season.
All Montecito firefighters will complete the training over the coming weeks. Our engines will again park on East Mountain Drive. Our firefighters diligently place traffic cones around the engines to alert drivers of the engines’ presence on the narrow roadway. It’s often necessary for emergency response vehicles to partially or entirely block the right-of-way during an emergency. Additionally, it’s necessary for our engines to partially impact the right-of-way on East Mountain Drive for a few hours while firefighters train.
If there is an emergency call during our training, rest assured that other firefighters cover our fire stations. At no time will all your on-duty Montecito firefighters be engaged in wildland fire training on the trails.
Hot Springs Parking
As engaged members of the Montecito community, we are also very aware of the ongoing challenges with parking at the Hot Springs trailhead. We recognize the importance of community access to our world-class hiking trails. It is not our intent to limit access to this valuable community resource.
As your fire department, however, we ask that our community strive to find the balance between trailhead parking and the ability of our community to evacuate safely during the next inevitable wildfire.
Your firefighters have been working on this balance for over 18 months. I have been meeting since November 2020, regularly, with neighborhood groups, the Montecito Association, the Montecito Association Land Use Committee, 1st District Supervisor Williams and his staff, CHP, the Sheriff’s Office, Los Padres National Forest, Congressman Carbajal, and Santa Barbara County Public Works.
After our initial meetings, the Fire Chiefs Association of Santa Barbara County created a Public Safety Task Force. This task force developed solutions to three South Coast life safety issues: parking that impacts community member evacuation and emergency vehicle ingress, dispersed camping, and homeless encampment fires.
As for parking, the Task Force recommended implementing restrictions that maintain community evacuation and emergency vehicle access at all times. The Task Force also recommended additional parking restrictions in the highest-risk areas of Montecito during Red Flag conditions for the same purposes.
Recent reporting on the legal matter between four Montecito residents and the County of Santa Barbara mentions Montecito Fire’s pending evacuation analysis report.The trailhead parking issue was not the driving reason behind our evacuation analysis. Instead, it was one of many compelling reasons we presented to our Board of Directors in our request to analyze and potentially improve our evacuation processes. We are grateful that we will soon have scientific data to help determine what alternatives we can implement in the event of an evacuation in our community. We understand Montecito residents’ request for a public process to examine the adverse impacts of increased fire risk and environmental damage from the County creating new parking spaces at the Hot Springs trailhead. We also understand the County’s position of wanting to construct the parking in the right-of-way.
We are all looking for a solution to this issue – as your fire department, however, our primary consideration is always life safety. I am always available to the community at Fire Station 91, 595 San Ysidro Road, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kevin Taylor, Fire Chief, Montecito Fire Department