New name, same mission for agency

New name, same mission foragency

25 January 2007

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USA — Tobetter reflect its primary role as a firefighting agency, the CaliforniaDepartment of Forestry and Fire Protection has adopted a new name.

The agency, which provides fire protection services for San Luis ObispoCounty and much of California’s unincorporated territory, is now known asCAL-FIRE.

And while the CAL-FIRE name will slowly transition onto badges, truck logosand the organization’s Web site, officials say the agency’s current mission willnot change.

“We’re such a large department, with so many different aspects, and reallythe goal is to incorporate all those pieces under one name – a shorter name,”said agency spokesman Daniel Berlant.

A bill calling for the name change was signed by the governor in Septemberand became law Jan. 1.

A driving force for the change was the California State Firefighters’Association, better known as CDF Firefighters, Berlant said.

“The primary reason (for the change) is to clarify that this is thesecond-largest full-service fire department in the United States,” said TerryMcHale, public policy director for CDF Firefighters.

McHale said that while the agency mostly had been known for its“forestry” role since its founding in 1905, the new name will show that theagency does more than forestry and wildland protection.

With the exception of six counties, including Santa Barbara County, CAL-FIREhandles more than 31 million acres of state wildland – unincorporated territory.

CAL-FIRE pays those six counties to do the state agency’s job in thoserespective areas.

But 36 out of 58 counties – including San Luis Obispo – use the agency’s variedservices via contracts.

About 21 fire stations in San Luis Obispo County serve mostly unincorporatedareas such as Nipomo.

And through contracts with the county, CAL-FIRE responds to a few cities with nofire departments, including Pismo Beach, Los Osos and Avila Beach, Parker said.

Communities such as San Miguel, Cambria, Cayucos, Santa Margarita and Templetonhave their own fire departments, but all contract with CAL-FIRE for dispatchservices, he added.

In the past, McHale said, whenever firefighters would show up at an emergencycall – still bearing the CDF badge – most people would ask, “Why is theDepartment of Forestry here?”

“People couldn’t quite understand” the agency’s full scope ofresponsibilities – which varies from structure-fire protection, disaster rescueand water rescue to wildfire response and hazardous-materials cleanup, he said.

In 2006, the agency responded to 146 vegetation fire calls, compared to 1,443nonwildfire calls in San Luis Obispo County, Berlant said.

However, the bulk of the calls were medical aids and public service calls, headded.

Statewide, the ratio of nonwildfire response to wildfire response calls wasalmost 3-to-1 in 2006.

As time goes by, CAL-FIRE is gaining more contracts with counties for emergencyservice, Berlant said.

Luis Ernesto Gomez can be reached at 739-2218, or lgomez@

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