Emergency dispatcher knows about fire evacuations from first-hand experience

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SAN DIEGO – Late October often brings Santa Ana winds and 911 calls to San Diego County. Emergency dispatcher Juliana Rubio knows about both.

“Oh yeah, it can be a bit overwhelming,” Rubio said.

She has been working as a dispatcher for 31 years. With an experienced staff, the county’s dispatch center in Kearny Mesa can answer an emergency call and dispatch a crew faster than most.

“Thirty seconds or less, no problem,” Rubio said with obvious pride.

Historically, late October is the most dangerous time of year for wildfires to break out in San Diego County. At least four fires have ignited in the county in the past two weeks, including the Fairmount Fire in Talmadge, the Sawday Fire in Ramona and the Miller Fire in Valley Center. Rubio and her team handled the Fairmont Fire.

“We’ve been taught by our fire chief that with these wind events, ask a lot of questions,” Rubio said. “We ask what size the fire is, so we know what to send.”

If anyone knows what residents are experiencing during a fire emergency, it’s Rubio. Sixteen years ago, the Cedar Fire took the lives of 15 people as it burned thousands of homes. It nearly took Rubio’s home too.

“I understand the fear,” she said. “The wind means something totally different to me now. When I go home and see the wind, it makes me nervous.”

And she takes that experience to work, where she connects to people on the other end of the phone. She works 12 hours a day for four straight days, and even when she’s not on the clock, Rubio and her coworkers are ready to come in.

If a fire breaks out, “they don’t even call,” she said of her team. “They just come in and sit down and put a headset on, and they’ll stay late.”

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