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Rancho Santa Fe Fire Chief Offers Way Out of Dilemma

Times Staff Writer

Under pressure from dissatisfied firefighters, embattled Rancho Santa Fe Fire Chief Peter Fox on Thursday proposed kicking himself upstairs and hiring another chief with “fire suppression” responsibilities.

Fox’s plan, presented at the monthly meeting of the Rancho Santa Fe Fire District board, was not discussed by the directors, who tabled the matter until the anticipated dissolution of a joint powers agreement that links the district with the Solana Beach Fire Department.

Fox resigned last month as chief of the Solana Beach Fire Department after receiving a no-confidence vote from the firefighters there. Earlier in April, the San Diego County Grand Jury issued a report that cited the department for irregularities including favoritism, the use of firefighters to perform personal errands for their supervisors, and inadequate emergency medical training.

Under the joint powers agreement, Fox was chief of both the Solana Beach Fire Department and the Rancho Santa Fe Fire Department.

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After Fox’s resignation from the Solana Beach post, Rancho Santa Fe firefighters expressed dissatisfaction with the way he runs the department in a “list of concerns.” Among the concerns are low morale, “a lack of openness” between Fox and his lieutenants and the firefighters, and a lack of objectivity in hiring, testing and promotion. Also, communications between supervisors and the firefighters have been described as “not particularly effective” by Wyleen Luoma, counsel for the San Diego County Employees Assn., which represents the firefighters.

Nancy Roberts of the Employees Assn. called Fox’s proposal on Thursday “a step in the right direction.” In asking that his title be changed, Fox noted that he currently functions as district manager for both departments and has increasingly been saddled with administrative responsibilities.

In a related matter, the directors approved contracting with a firm to search for a new fire chief, although directors made it clear that no one will be hired before the joint powers agreement is dissolved. That is not expected before July, according to Solana Beach City Manager Michael Huse, who called the dissolution process “extremely complicated.”


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