La Jolla Town Council honors emergency responders

La Jolla emergency responders say a group ‘cheese’ on the La Jolla Rec Center stage.

La Jolla Town Council’s (LJTC) Oct. 10 meeting felt even safer than usual, since emergency responders nearly outnumbered civilian audience members. At one point, when the brass all piled onto the Rec Center stage for a group photo, deputy fire chief Doug Perry joked: “As your fire marshal, the stage is now overcrowded.”

Led by LJTC first vice president Cindy McGowan in president Ann Kerr Bache’s absence, the entire meeting was dedicated to a forum on public safety. It began with the presentation of awards to Perry, acting Northern Division police captain Matt Novak, lifeguard chief James Gartland and several other police officers.

“Thank you,” Novak said, “because it doesn’t happen too often that they get recognized for the work that they do.”

Next on the program, responders provided updates about their departments. Novak said his was “looking into drones, like everyone else.”

Perry said that Fire-Rescue was concerned that Soledad Mountain “doesn’t become another Oakland Hills,” referring to the 1991 firestorm that killed 25 and destroyed more than 3,000 homes. (As he spoke, flames still raged in both the Saddleridge Fire in northern Los Angeles and a wildfire in Riverside County.)

While acknowledging that staffing limitations prevent brush-management inspectors from coming by more than once every four years or so, Perry said “it’s a requirement that you maintain your vegetation.”

“We don’t like to say that it’s a requirement, though,” he added. “We like to think of it as an opportunity to save your home.”

Amber Hill, from the City’s Office of Homeland Security, suggested making a disaster plan that includes where to meet the members of your family in an emergency, and how to get in touch with them if cell towers are down. She also recommended keeping one three-day kit with water, food, radio and extra batteries in the car, and another in the house.

Lifeguard chief James Gartland introduces lifeguard lieutenant Maureen Hodges.

California State Parks supervising ranger Nicole Van Doren warned audience members never to congregate under a bluff, and said that the stairs leading down the beach at Torrey Pines State Park are closed for maintenance, so hikers need to enter and exit from the trail heads.

The highlight of the evening, judging by audience applause, was hearing from returning Maureen Hodges, the first woman promoted to San Diego lifeguard lieutenant.

“I’m really excited to be back in La Jolla and looking forward to seeing you all out there,” she said.

During a brief Q&A session, audience members were encouraged to ask the responders to clarify policies or dispense advice.

LJTC trustee Ron Jones asked Novak about the helicopters circulating nocturnally above La Jolla. “What can be seen at night?” he asked.

Novak replied: “We have some technology that’s able to see at night, as well as powerful search lights — especially if we’re searching for someone who is lost, it’s a pretty great resource, because we can direct officers on the ground who don’t have that high vantage.”

— La Jolla Town Council next meets 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 13 at the Rec Center, 615 Prospect St.