Canyon Lake History: Formation, closure, reopening, and purchase of the Canyon Lake Fire Department

Crews work on building Canyon Lake’s first fire station.

When Canyon Lake was established in 1968, the area was rural and the closest fire station was Fire Station 5 in Quail Valley. The station was staffed with volunteers and didn’t have a paramedic service or organized ambulance service.

Formation of the Canyon Lake Fire Department

In May 1978, concerned residents formed a Canyon Lake volunteer fire company. John Purchase served as the first president. The volunteers were given firefighter and driver training and subsequently CPR and first aid training for rescue work. A fire truck was assigned and the construction of a fire station had been approved.

The POA provided the land, which was granted to the POA by the Corona Land Co. in 1970, and a $25,000 budget for a new fire station. Residents held various fundraisers to raise money for equipment and construction of the station.

Breaking ground at the site of the new fire station on April 5, 1980 are, from left, Riverside County Supervisor Norton Younglove, Riverside County Fire Chief Dave Flake, and POA General Manager Jack McLean.

These fundraisers included rummage sales and swap meets, bake sales, variety shows, and pancake breakfasts. The preschool class painted glass jars that were used to collect cash donations. Residents could also support the volunteer fire company by purchasing a fire department auxiliary membership for $5.

On August 1978, a 2,500-acre brush fire threatened Canyon Lake property. Many homeowners, volunteer firefighters, volunteer security, and POA employees joined the various fire fighting units in helping to contain the fire. 

The fire burned down the hill toward the golf course maintenance yard and strong gusts of winds kept area homeowners busy with hoses to prevent flying sparks from igniting roofs. It was a time of great concern for Canyon Lake residents and emphasized the need for trained people and proper equipment for the protection of everyone in the area.

Pastor Pete Van Dyke give the invocation at the April 5, 1980, groundbreaking for Canyon Lake’s first fire department.

Fire Department Groundbreaking

In 1980, the volunteer fire company formally established Fire Station 60. On April 5, 1980, county officials and local volunteers dedicated Station 60.

Groundbreaking ceremonies opened at 10 a.m. with a flag salute, followed by an invocation by Pastor Pete Van Dyke of Canyon Lake Community Church.

POA Board President Ben Price served as MC and talked about the importance of the fire station in Canyon Lake and the role volunteer firefighters and auxiliary volunteers play in keeping the station staffed and operating. 

County Fire Chief Dave Flake was introduced and commented that all volunteer firemen had been trained by Riverside County and the California Department of Forestry.

Men who played key role in the opening of the Canyon Lake Fire Department

Fred Snow, president of the volunteers and organizer of the groundbreaking ceremonies, was introduced and urged more residents to join the ranks of volunteers, either as firefighters or as auxiliary volunteers. 

A special thank you went to Al Beer, who drew the plans at no charge, and to Dave Diels, past president of the volunteer fire department, for the important role he played in getting plans and specs finalized.

The new 2,760-square-foot fire department would house two engines and provide a sleeping area, showers, and a kitchen.

Fire Department Grand Opening

On August 2, 1980, Fire Station 60 was formally transferred to Riverside County in a dedication ceremony at the fire station. An opening ceremony was held from 12 to 1 p.m. Residents were invited to tour the station from 12 to 4 p.m. Auxiliary members served as hosts for the afternoon. Light refreshments were served.

Canyon Lake Fire Station and fire truck at a formal dedication ceremony on August 2, 1980.

Later that evening, a dedication dinner was held around the pool at the lodge, starting with a cocktail hour from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., followed by a dinner, a variety program, and dancing to a live band until 2 a.m. More than 200 residents paid $50 a plate to attend the event.

The entertainment was provided by celebrities of movies and television, headed by actor and filmmaker Burgess Meredith. The celebrities in attendance included Broadway actress Mary Martin, Alison Arngrim of “Little House on the Prairie,” actor and producer James Keach, singer Paula Ramsey, and the self-proclaimed superhero “Captain Sticky,” who attended with his “Stickymobile.”

Residents admiring the fire truck provided by the county for the new fire department.

On July 6, 1980, the engine made its initial attack when it answered to three incidents: a heart attack at the lodge, a brush fire in Lake Elsinore, and a 700-acre fire Quail Valley fire that was close enough to be seen by many Canyon Lake residents, according to an article printed in the August 1980 issue of the Canyon Lake Lighthouse Magazine.

In 1984, volunteers purchased a squad with donated funds.

In late 1985, the County of Riverside Board of Supervisors voted to provide the necessary funds to man the fire station. Up until that time, the station was manned by volunteers. The County of Riverside took over Staton 60 on May 15, 1986, and assigned Captain Pixie Vogt to man it.

Vogt arrived in Canyon Lake with 11 years of firefighting experience. She was the first female fire captain in the state, a position she earned five years prior to being assigned to Canyon Lake.

Pixie Vogt served as Canyon Lake’s first fire captain. She is pictured on the left in 1986 and on the right in 2010.

Staffing consisted of one paid person on duty at a time. Vogt recalled being on duty 24 hours a day from Sunday through Tuesday. 

In addition to Vogt, there were only two other paid firefighters: Engineer Eric Kielhorn and Engineer Michelle Aleman. When Vogt was off duty, the station was in the hands of Kielhorn from Wednesday through Friday and Aleman on Saturdays. The rest of the staff consisted of volunteers.

The volunteer crew consisted of President Harry Pahel, Emelio Castro, Jaime Contreras, Gary Fallan, Tim Foppiano, brothers Steven Fox and Tony Fox, Tracy Hobday, Scott Shafer, and Mark Thoman.

Vogt said she left Canyon Lake when she became pregnant in June 1988. Today, the 64-year-old former Canyon Lake fire captain is happily retired and living in Hemet, California.  

Around 1989/1990, the station was renovated so that firefighters could live at the station. A bedroom, a second bathroom with two showers, a front office, and a third apparatus bay were added. The kitchen was also remodeled.

Closure and Reopening of the County-Run Canyon Lake Fire Department

In the 1990s, staffing increased from one to two paid firefighters on duty at a time.

In 2006, the country implemented its paramedic program and staffing was increased from two to three personnel on duty each day. Due to increased costs associated with the additional personnel, and a dispute with county fire officials over the cost of services, Station 60 was closed when the contract with the county expired on July 1, 2015.

City council members, the crew of Station 60, and county fire officials pose for a group photo during a grand reopening for Fire Station 60 on July 15, 2017. Photo by Canyon Lake Insider.

After nearly two years of pleading with the county to serve Canyon Lake with a smaller crew at a lesser cost so Canyon Lake’s lone station could reopen, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors approved a new one-year fire protection contract for the city on May 9, 2017. This enabled Station 60 to operate with a city-owned engine manned by two firefighters, including one certified as a paramedic.

Reopening the station came at a cost of $1.4 million, which was a substantially lower cost than the $2.1 million it was headed before the station closed.

After a two-year hiatus, Fire Station 60 reopened on July 3, 2017. Closed for two years, the station was in need of repairs. The city council approved $110,000 for the much-needed repairs, which were underway prior to the reopening.

On July 15, 2017, the city held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the reopening of Station 60. The ceremony included a ribbon-cutting, appearances and speeches by city and county officials, tours of the station, and light refreshments and cake.

Then-Mayor Randy Bonner expressed the significant accomplishment of having Fire Station 60 reopened after being closed for two years. “This is particularly important for the north and west sections of Canyon Lake where responses were 10 to 12 minutes while Station 60 was closed…. much greater than five minutes or less for the standard acceptable response time,” Bonner said.

Formation of the City’s New Fire Department

During the city council’s Goals Session special meeting on May 8, 2019, the council established as a top goal of the city to reduce the skyrocketing public safety costs, which had thrown the city’s budget into a structural deficit. This was an ongoing issue that had challenge the city for many years.

The cost of the city’s contract with the county for fire protection services had been particularly challenging, with the fire budgets imposed on the city by the county rising deeply over the past few years. Revenue generated by property taxes, sales tax, and the utility users tax had not kept up with these cost increases.

Over the years, various city councils have grappled with how best to address the ever-increasing costs associated with public safety. Many options had been explored, including contracting with another municipality instead of with the county, forming a fire department under a joint powers authority with neighboring cities, or closing Station 60 and paying a reduced fee to be serviced by fire stations located in surrounding jurisdictions.

As the council and staff researched the options for more than a year, it became evident that forming a municipal fire department would be the most realistic alternative to contracting with the county.

On September 26, 2019, the council authorized staff to engage a consultant to lead the process of putting a new city fire department in place. It was determined that prior to moving forward with an implementation plan, the city would first update and expand on a feasibility study that was conducted by Emergency Services Consulting Incorporated (ECSI) in 2016.

On December 4, 2019, the council authorized the city manager to enter into a contract with ESCI to produce an update and more detailed feasibility analysis, including an implementation plan for the start-up and ongoing operation of a city fire department, ESCI presented the completed analysis on July 13, 2020.

Over the next few months, staff and the Fire Ad Hoc Committee worked with the city’s county supervisor, the County Executive Office, the county fire chief, and other municipalities to acquire additional information.

City Manager Chris Mann pins Chief Jeff LaTendresse, who was selected to help Mann form the city’s new fire department and to serve as the department’s first fire chief. Photo provided by the City of Canyon Lake.

On November 4, 2020, the council directed the city manager to move forward with establishing a city fire department by January 1, 2022. Per the cooperative agreement with the county for fire services, the city had until November 30, 2020, to let the county know if it was going to renew the agreement. 

In February 2021, Jeff LaTendresse was chosen out of a pool of 38 applicants to serve as the new fire consultant/interim fire chief. Working alongside the city manager to establish the city’s new fire department, LaTendresse exceeded all expectations and was subsequently offered the full-time fire chief position.

On June 2, 2021, in preparation for the opening of the city’s fire department on January 1, 2022, the council authorized the city manager to enter into a cooperative agreement for dispatch and communication services with the County of Riverside. The approximate cost for services from January 1, 2022, to June 30, 2022, was $55,798.

On November 3, 2021, LaTendresse was sworn in as the new fire chief. During his transition from the interim fire chief to the fire chief, LaTendresse and his wife, Mindy, sold their home in Orange County and relocated to Canyon Lake.

In November 2021, new Battalion Chief Mike Samuels began work heading up the department’s orientation training academy ahead of the department’s scheduled January 1, 2023, launch.

Bailey Ward, who was already working for the city as an office specialist, was handpicked by Latendresse to serve as the department’s first administrative assistant/analyst.

City council honors Captain Brent Carter for his two decades of service to Canyon Lake and Fire Station 60. Photo provided by the City of Canyon Lake.

On December 6, 2021, the city council honored Captain Brent Carter for his two decades of service and dedication to the City of Canyon Lake and Fire Station 60. Hired by Cal Fire in 1985, Carter served Canyon Lake from 1995 to 2000 before transferring to San Diego. 

Carter returned to Canyon Lake in 2002 and continued to serve as the captain of Fire Station 60 until it closed in 2015. When the station reopened in 2017, Carter again returned to Canyon Lake and continued to serve until the city launched its own fire department on January 1, 2022.

Launch of the City’s New Fire Department

At 8 a.m. on January 1, 2022, after decades of contracting with the Riverside County Fire Department, the city launched its own fire department with 11 sworn personnel, 15 reserve firefighters, an administrative assistant/analyst, one Type 1 fire engine, one Type 6 wildland fire engine, two command vehicles, one reserve engine, and three shifts comprised of a fire captain, fire engineer, and firefighter/paramedic. Station 60 was renamed Station 1.

The fire department’s first call was a medical call on Tumbleweed Drive. The patient was provided ALS medical services and was transported to a local hospital by AMR.

Chief Jeff Latendress, right, is pictured with the first crew of the city’s new fire department. Photo by Canyon Lake Insider.

The first crew of the city’s new fire department consisted of Fire Chief Jeff LaTendress, Battalion Chief Michael Samuels, Captain Chris Bertrand, Captain/Paramedic Brennain Gorter, Captain Humberto “Chico” Sanchez, Engineer/Paramedic Jonathan Grant, Engineer Tim O’Marra, Engineer Cory Willis, Firefighter/Paramedic Christopher Bratt, Firefighter/Paramedic Nathaniel Garcia, Firefighter/Paramedic Matt Green, Firefighter/Paramedic Ryan Moore, Medical Director Dr. Zeke Foster, and Administrative Assistant/Analyst Bailey Ward.

The station was remodeled to accommodate the new staff. The captain’s dorm was converted into an office for the chief, walls were added to construct an office for the battalion chief, the EOC was converted into an office and dorm for the captain, kitchen cabinets were repurposed, and new flooring was installed.

Grand Opening for the New Fire Department

On February 26, 2022, the city held a grand opening at the fire station from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The event was attended by approximately 200 community members, as well as local dignitaries and representatives from the California State Assembly, California State Senate, Riverside County Board of Supervisors, Menifee City Council, Wildomar City Council, Eastvale City Council, March Air Reserve Base, and the Rincon Fire Department.

Mayor Jeremy Smith addresses the crowd during a grand opening for the city’s new fire department. Pictured, from left, are Councilman Dale Welty, Councilwoman Jennifer Dain, Councilwoman Kasey Castillo, Mayor Pro Tem Larry Greene, and Mayor Jeremy Smith. Photo provided by the City of Canyon Lake.

City Manager Chris Mann welcomed the crowd and praised the city council members for their efforts in informing the city’s own fire department. Battalion Chief Michael Samuels led the Pledge of Allegiance. Mayor Jeremy Smith introduced the dignitaries, and Chief Jeff LaTendresse introduced his crew and staff.

Attendees were treated to a catered lunch, desserts, a DJ, and tours of the fire station, fire engines, and the REACH Air Medical Services helicopter.

The crew received several gifts from residents, including a custom Wahoo board game. The Canyon Lake Association of Men presented a $1,000 donation to go toward a new barbecue for the station’s barbecue island.

On September 14, 2022, Chief LaTendresse presented the city council with a fire station dedication plaque in honor of the city’s new fire department. The plaque reads: Fire Station 1 is dedicated to the residents, visitors, and those who do business in Canyon Lake, and to the firefighters of past, present, and future who have, and will continue to, respond from this station in service to the City of Canyon Lake.

Captain Brennain Gorter, left, is the recipient of the first Canyon Lake Firefighter of the Year Award. Gorter is pictured with Pieter Koopman, the recipient of the first Reserve Firefighter of the Year Award. Photo provided by the City of Canyon Lake.

On October 27, 2022, during the State of the City Address Chief LaTendresse presented Captain Brennain Gorter with the first Canyon Lake Firefighter of the Year Award and Pieter Koopman with the first Reserve Firefighter of the Year Award. They were selected by their peers to receive these distinguished awards.

Purchase of the Fire Station

In 1970, the Corona Land Co. granted the Canyon Lake POA Parcel #12. In 1980, the POA allowed a fire station to be built on the property.

In April 1983, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors approved a lease agreement with the POA for a fire station building at an annual rental equal to the annual county tax assessment against the premises but not to exceed $2,500, according to County Press Service. This action allowed the fire department to occupy the existing building in Canyon Lake for a fire station.

In 2006, the POA entered into a 10-year lease agreement with the County of Riverside for use of the fire station, with the cost of the annual property taxes as annual consideration.

When the station closed in 2015, a notice of non-renewal of the fire station lease was sent to the county and the POA and the city entered into a new two-year lease with a 60-day termination clause, and either the cost of the annual property taxes or $1, whichever is greater, as annual consideration.

In 2019, the POA and city again entered into a two-year lease with the same terms as the prior lease. In January 2021, the lease expired and negotiations for a new lease began. Meanwhile, the terms of the expired lease continued on a month-to-month basis. 

In March 2021, the POA offered the city a lease with similar terms as the 2019 lease, but with a five-year term. However, the city was seeking a true long-term lease, rather than a short-term lease that included a 60-day termination clause. Therefore, the proposed lease was not executed and the city continued under the terms of the previous lease on a month-to-month basis.

In January 2023, after failed negotiations, the POA informed the city that it was no longer willing to lease the fire station to the city for $1 per year or to provide the city with a long-term lease. The POA Board sought “market rent” in the amount of $115,944 per year and the ability to terminate the lease with a 60-day notice.

These terms were unacceptable to the city since Station 60 is the only fire station within city limits, and it would take significantly longer than 60 days to relocate its operations if the POA terminated the lease. The city was seeking long-term stability to ensure the continuation of operations and to justify the expenditure of public funds for maintenance and future upgrades to the facility.

The city said it was also concerned that the POA’s calculation for “market rent” was based on rents paid by commercial businesses and not by public agencies using an existing facility built by the community to provide that public service.

In lieu of a lease, the city also explored the possibility of a donation or sale of the fire station by the POA to the city. According to the city, the POA general manager informed the city that the POA’s rules prohibited the sale or donation of property valued at more than $200,000 without a vote of the POA members (i.e., the residents of Canyon Lake), even though the POA rules and bylaws do not state this.

Unable to negotiate a sale, donation, or come to acceptable terms on a lease, the city began exploring the possibility of obtaining ownership through eminent domain. The process included a survey of the area containing the fire station and an appraisal. The appraisal determined the value of the property at $1,390,000.

Although the POA had informed the city that the POA Board would be unable to approve a sale without a vote of the POA members, the city was legally required to make an offer to purchase the property at the price determined through appraisal prior to moving forward with the eminent domain process.

On January 20, 2023, the city offered the POA $1,390,000 to purchase the portion of the property that houses the station. The other portion of the property includes the parking lot supporting access to the north lake.

The POA Board met in executive session and voted to accept the city’s offer despite previously advising the city that they did not have the legal authority to do so.

On January 30, 2023, the Canyon Lake POA accepted the city’s offer to purchase the property the fire department was build on more than 40 years ago. Photo by Canyon Lake Insider.

On January 30, 2023, the POA notified the city of its acceptance of the city’s offer to purchase the fire station property. The parking lot and launch ramp to the north ski area will be severed from the property and will remain the property of the POA.

Based on this new representation of the POA Board, the city determined that eminent domain would not be necessary and directed the city attorney to prepare a Purchase and Sale Agreement for consideration by the city council. The agreement would be to purchase the fire station for $1,390,000 with additional terms related to due diligence inspections and the ability of the POA to convey good title.

At the February 8, 2023, council meeting, the council unanimously approved to authorize the city manager to negotiate and enter into a Purchase and Sale Agreement on the terms that the city offered the POA.

The benefits of the city owning the fire station include utilizing the station as its needs change, avoiding future cost increases to taxpayers in the form of rising lease rates, ensuring the continued stability of emergency operations, and being able to receive FEMA Public Assistance grant funds in the event of a disaster. The city can also apply for special state, government, and private grants.

Pictured is the Fire Station 60 sign that was displayed at the station prior to it reopening in July 2017. Photo by Canyon Lake Insider.
Pictured is the new Fire Station 60 sign that was installed when the station reopened in July 2017. Photo by Canyon Lake Insider.
Pictured is the sign the city installed when it launched its own fire department and renamed Fire Station 60 to Fire Station 1. Photo by Canyon Lake Insider.
On September 14, 2022, Canyon Lake Fire Chief LaTendresse presented the city council with a fire station dedication plaque in honor of the city’s new fire department. Photo provided by Jeff LaTendress.

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