Devoted to Duty
The Encinitas Fire Department provides a wide array of public safety services for the communities of Encinitas, Leucadia, Cardiff, New Encinitas, and Olivenhain. Upholding a sense of professionalism, commitment to duty, integrity, and respect at all times, the department truly embodies a sense of leadership. Learn more about the inner workings of the department, the history of each station, and lesser known facts about the day in the life of a firefighter below as we speak with Fire Chief Mike Daigle.
Q&A with Fire Chief Mike Daigle
When did the Encinitas Fire Protection District open?
The Encinitas Fire Protection District was established by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors in 1945 to meet the fire protection needs of the coastal, rural, and agricultural communities of Encinitas, Leucadia, and Cardiff-by-the-Sea. The district remained inactive for six years until operations began out of an old garage in 1951.
Can you provide us with information regarding the history of the fire departments?
In 1957, fire district operations moved to a new location at 415 Second St. The new fire station served as the district’s headquarters. About this same time, the district’s name was changed to Encinitas Local Fire District, and remained so until the early 1960s when it was renamed the Encinitas Fire Protection District.
A second fire station located in Cardiff-by-the-Sea was opened in 1960 to serve the expanding coastal population. The Leucadia station, the third in the district’s system, began operations in 1964.
A fourth station was opened in a small house on Seeman Dr. in 1981 to serve the growing community in the eastern part of the district. This station was closed in 1983 and then reopened two months later. It remained open until 1985, when the station was relocated to a temporary building at 135 El Camino Real.
In 1985, the district’s administrative offices and the fire prevention bureau moved from station one at 415 Second St. to leased offices at 527 Encinitas Blvd. On Oct. 1, 1986, the City of Encinitas was formed as a result of an incorporation election held in June of the same year. Upon incorporation, the Encinitas Fire Protection District became a subsidiary district of the newly formed city, with the five elected city council members serving as the board of directors for the fire district.
At the time of incorporation, the district served about fifteen square miles within the city and one square mile outside the city limits. In an effort to consolidate responsibility of emergency and fire protection services, a reorganization of the Encinitas Fire Protection District took place on Jan. 1, 1988. The reorganization expanded the boundaries of the district to encompass the entire city limits along with additional territory in a defined sphere of influence. With reorganization, the Encinitas Fire Protection District expanded to cover an area of over twenty-three square miles and serve a population of approximately 57,000 residents. The expansion included the communities of New Encinitas and Olivenhain.
On July 1, 1995, the Encinitas Fire Protection District was dissolved and the organization became a department of the City of Encinitas. The fifth fire station in the City opened in February 2002, at 540 Balour Dr., directly west of Oakcrest Community Park. In May 2012, the community of Olivenhain received the city’s sixth fire station.
Which areas does the fire department serve? Can you tell us about the fire stations in your district? What do they offer?
The Encinitas Fire Department has six fire stations strategically located in different areas of the city to provide round-the-clock coverage to the community. These stations house the department’s forty-eight fire suppression personnel, fire engines, and various other emergency apparatus needed for specialized responses.
There are three different shifts of personnel assigned to each fire station in order to provide twenty-four-hour service to the community. Each station houses an engine company, which consists of three firefighters assigned to a particular piece of fire apparatus. Personnel assigned to engine companies include a company officer (captain), driver/operator (engineer), and a firefighter/paramedic.
Can you tell us about the new Olivenhain station that opened in 2012?
The department put station six in service in 2012. An engineer and a firefighter crew it. They have a Type 3 brush engine that can respond to medical aid calls and fires. We hosted a launch party for the opening at the Olivenhain Town Meeting Hall back then and it was a great success. The residents of the area are very appreciative of the new station, and they are so supportive of the firefighters. We are very happy to be there.
What is your role within the department? What is your professional background and how did it lead you to your current position?
As the fire chief, I oversee the daily operations and administrative duties. My regular duties include meetings with staff in the three cities that we serve. This includes working with several departments within those cities, as well as the firefighters who are on duty.
I have been a firefighter for thirty years. I worked three years as a paid-call in Orange County and the other twenty-seven years have been dedicated to Encinitas.
What is the structure of the Encinitas Fire Department, in terms of personnel, apparatus, and shifts?
The department is organized into four divisions, which include Fire Operations, Fire Prevention, Fire Administration, and Marine Safety. We provide fire management for the cities of Encinitas, Solana Beach, and Del Mar. This includes approximately ninety-five personnel. We have forty-eight firefighters on the floor in Encinitas, five engines, one truck, and two brush rigs.
What is a typical shift like at the department?
There is not a “typical” shift. As we respond to 911 emergencies, our days can be filled with a little uncertainty about the type of calls we will receive. With that being said, we do try to keep a schedule. Our shift begins at 8 a.m. Everyone gets to work early enough to prepare his/her gear and give and receive a turnover from the previous shift. The firefighter and engineer then check out the equipment on the engine/truck to make sure everything is response ready. While the equipment is being checked, the captain consults the battalion chief over a conference call and goes over any needs or training for the day ahead.
After, we begin the station chores. The day usually brings some type of training, so we will either attend a class on medical protocols/procedures, or hit the training tower to work on techniques used to extinguish fires or rescue people from cliffs. As firefighters we have at least two hours of training a day.
Each station and crew has a responsibility to get a certain amount of business inspections and hydrant maintenance done. We usually try to fit those tasks in between training and calls. Sometimes we get to it, sometimes we don’t.
Many firefighters are also in charge of certain functions of the fire department. Our days are pretty busy. Remember we need to get all of these tasks done and still respond to 911 emergencies at a high level and quickly. We then try to get a workout in. Staying physically fit is very important. We do functions that take a lot of physical strength and conditioning.
Dinner is usually made together as a crew. After dinner, we try to wind down, finish the paperwork, and rest for the 911 emergencies that can happen in the middle of the night. Then the shift ends and we get to do it all over again the next day.
Do you offer safety classes such as CPR for community members?
We currently are very active in promoting “sidewalk CPR”, which is a hands-only compression CPR. This is because there is an emerging trend to teach this life-saving skill set to the public because it has been found to be as effective as traditional mouth-to-mouth CPR. We offer these free educational demonstrations at different times and locations throughout the community all year.
We are also hosting a CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) Academy in November. Encinitas is a strong supporter of CERT and has encouraged citizens to keep up on emergency preparedness.
What mission or philosophy does the fire department hold true?
Our mission is to serve the community by providing the highest quality emergency and prevention service.
What is the most gratifying aspect, for you, of servicing the 92024 areas?
The most gratifying aspects are meeting the citizens in our community and helping whenever we can.
What challenges do you face in this particular region?
The department faces many diverse challenges throughout the five communities in the city. When people think of a fire department they think of structure fires, but people forget that we also respond to traffic accidents within the city, as well as on the I-5 freeway. We respond to wild land fires too. The drought has really affected Saxony Canyon and other urban interface areas making the fire potential in those areas very high.
Also, as Encinitas is a tourist destination city, our beaches can get very busy. This creates challenges when we need to respond to cliff rescues, confined space rescues, as well as trench rescues. We work closely with the Encinitas lifeguards to assist with water rescue and help provide medical care. All of the Encinitas Fire Department firefighters are paramedics. The fire department responds to all medical aid calls and is committed to giving the best care possible to all of those that need our assistance.
What type of ongoing training for personnel at the department occurs on a regular basis?
The city has a training chief who is charged with planning and scheduling our yearly training. Some training is mandated and must meet a certain hour requirement, other training is developed by the chief to address any needs the firefighters might have. Some training includes firefighting tactics and strategies, cliff rescues, and suppression techniques.
Do you have any advice for the 92024 residents about ensuring their safety?
We encourage the public to educate themselves as much as possible about how they can help to keep their families and neighbors safe in all types of emergencies. The public can visit the fire department website at www.encintiasca.gov/fire for safety tips and also information about the CERT program.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
The most rewarding aspect is being able to help reduce the impacts of whatever the emergency is, if possible.
What sets the department apart from other fire departments in San Diego?
The firefighters who serve the City of Encinitas are what set us apart. They work and train hard to provide the best emergency services for the city, its residents, and its visitors. First and foremost, I believe it’s our fire department employees and the community we serve that set us apart. We like to say that “Encinitas is five unique communities thriving as one great city,” and that’s very true.
One of the most admirable things about the fire service is that we all want to serve our communities to the highest standard possible, no matter what department we work for. The fire service around the nation is educated and trained to do many different things. We go to paramedic school. We train in a fire academy. We learn how to safely cut cars around people who are trapped in them. The amount of time and energy spent to educate and train firefighters is immense. It takes special people to do the job that we do. The job as a firefighter takes a toll mentally, physically, and emotionally.
What’s in store for the fire department in the future?
We will continue working to stay on the leading edge of all aspects of today’s fire service. We will also continue to contain costs while improving efficiencies in our service delivery.
Do you have any events going on in November or December that you would like to share with our readers?
The Encinitas Firefighters Association is having a charity event in November. The 1st Annual Navy Seals Fund Golf Tournament will be presented by the association on Nov. 3 at the Encinitas Ranch Golf Course. All of the proceeds will go to the families of those Navy Seals who lost their lives defending our freedom. It should be a great event.
“The pride I feel when a new firefighter passes probation.” – retired captain
“How the cities all worked together during the recent Carlsbad fires.” – truck captain
“When I helped deliver a baby off of the freeway one morning.” – firefighter
“I realize that memorable moments are made every day in the Encinitas Fire Department. They don’t always make the news; in fact they rarely do, but every day there’s a firefighter assisting, helping, and improving the lives of others. Every day memorable moments are made; they are just rarely shared. That is what makes the job of a firefighter so rewarding.” – Josh Gordon, engineer/paramedic
At-A-Glance Encinitas Fire Department
Areas Served: Encinitas, Leucadia, Cardiff, New Encinitas, Olivenhain