Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Fire protection a hot topic for Plumas County supervisors

Dan McDonald
Staff Writer

Still smarting from a 2009 – 10 grand jury report that blasts the county for leaving nearly a fifth of its full-time residents without fire protection, the Board of Supervisors held a forum with fire chiefs and concerned citizens last Tuesday.

“We need you to solve this problem,” Charles Plopper, speaking on behalf of the former grand jury, told the board.

The objective is to make sure all 20,007 Plumas County residents fall under the protection of a fire district. More than 4,000 residents do not.

The board voiced its commitment to solve the problem as soon as possible and agreed to put the issue on the agenda, possibly before the end May.

“I’ll keep putting this on the agenda for the next two years if that’s what it takes to get this done,” Supervisor Lori Simpson said.

Some grand jury proposals discussed during the standing-room-only meeting included:

•Formation of new districts.

•Annexation to existing districts.

•Expansion of responsibilities of existing community service districts to include fire protection.

•Contracting with CalFire in adjacent counties for local service.

A proposal that generated the most discussion was the idea of instituting a county fire warden to oversee expanded fire districts.

“The concept is existing fire districts would be responsible for providing fire service for those unprotected areas of the county,” said Larry Walker, president of the Plumas County Special Districts Association. “It would be done by increasing spheres of influence, redeveloping spheres of influence and taking in all those unprotected areas into an existing district.”

One of the proposals to pay for the expanded service is a property-tax exchange between the county and the districts.

Graeagle Fire Chief Ed Ward said the Plumas County Fire Chiefs Association has developed a job description for a potential fire warden.

“The fire warden position would be responsible for coordinating and being a liaison between the fire chiefs and the Board of Supervisors,” Ward said.

“I think now that we have this job description, we do have the funding for that position if it is found to be legal,” Supervisor Robert Meacher said.

County Counsel Craig Settlemire said he would review the job description to ascertain its legality.

Many of the more than 4,000 unprotected property owners aren’t aware they don’t live within a fire district.

That doesn’t mean a fire crew won’t show up for a fire; it just means the property owners are probably going to get a bill for the service.

“Ninety percent of what I do as a fire chief is answering that telephone every time we send out a bill,” Ward said, adding that 46 percent of the calls to which Graeagle Fire responds are outside his district. “The caller says, ‘Why am I getting a bill? I live in Plumas County. I have fire protection.’”

The best way for residents to find out if they live within a fire protection district is to check with the nearest fire station.

However, if the nearest station is run by the U.S. Forest Service, people need to know the USFS’s job is to protect the forests. It is not authorized to fight structure fires.

Likewise, CalFire is not contracted to provide residential fire service in Plumas County.

That doesn’t mean the forest service and CalFire won’t fight a structure fire. But they aren’t required to do it.

No comments: