It’s time to upgrade fire service

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webmaster | 07/10/14

Has the time finally come to fully fund adequate fire protection in Madera County? 

If our supervisors can’t find the money, residents may need to step up.

As onerous as it might be, enough people just might be willing to pay a little more to upgrade the dedicated, but dwindling, hit-and-miss and understaffed volunteer system in place now, to know their homes would be safer.

No doubt any new fire protection fee, or fire tax, would initially be hugely unpopular, well ... just because it’s a new fee for services. The same fire services residents think they already have paid for with their taxes. 

Many residents also have doubts our supervisors could be trusted to spend the money wisely, or for the intended purpose of improving fire staffing.

But either way, Madera County residents already pay the price, and suffer higher priced or even canceled homeowners’ fire insurance policies if you live in our county. 

Finger pointing aside — I have spent the last 10 years watching Cal Fire and county fire volunteers do a courageous and impossible job with what little they have been allotted by Madera County to work with. 

I have also watched too many Madera County residents collapse to their knees in anguish in stunned silence or sobbing in their own front yards, as their homes, pets and property were lost to flames.

To better protect us, our first responders need more help and more funding, now. 

The gaping holes in coverage with a largely volunteer fire service have finally come home to roost, and are painfully obvious for anybody paying attention.  

You get what you pay for. Most county residents are shocked to find out when they call 911 their fire or emergency response is one paid person on a fire engine. Anyone else who shows up is a local volunteer — who may be retired, or has dashed away from a job or business, dinner, or gotten up out of bed to help. 

This “blended” fire protection system, part paid staff and 90 percent volunteer, may have been necessary and marginally workable in the past, but no longer. The results of these poor funding and staffing decisions no longer can be denied. 

The recent loss of an occupied home in broad daylight in Madera Ranchos, four doors away from the best staffed volunteer fire station, for lack of personnel and a water tender driver, didn’t have to happen. 

More intensive Cal OSHA-mandated training and other requirements appear to exclude most local volunteer participation, and the time has come to acknowledge the end of an era. Volunteers no longer can be expected to carry such a heavy load. 

There may be other reasonable, affordable solutions. Many experienced, local fire volunteers would likely welcome real, if part time, work as predictably scheduled and paid county extra help at fire stations. Training hours could be paid and reimbursed after so many months of volunteer service.

The ideal solution would be to upgrade all six county fire stations to have two paid firefighters on duty at all times, instead of just one person. 

Another less costly alternative would be to staff stations No. 19, Madera Ranchos, and station No. 3, Madera Acres, with a second paid fire fighter/driver to operate their water tenders at all times, with volunteers supplementing that response, as available. 

The public needs to know what these options would cost and then be allowed to decide. 

How many more homes have to be lost for lack of funding for adequate fire coverage?  

Who, or how long will it take to cut you or a family member out of a badly wrecked car, as spectators watch or turn away in horror?

The good news, if any, about the dismally low turnout in the recent election is that it now only takes 20 percent of the roughly 20,000 or so total of votes cast, or about 4,000 signatures on a petition, to put a new fire funding initiative before the voters, if a special election should become necessary. 

The current method of inadequate funding for county fire coverage — some would say charade — has been in effect for the last decade or two, and now needs to change to reflect the new reality. You do have a choice.

Perhaps our existing, or soon to be elected board of supervisors will step up to face and tackle this critical issue? Perhaps they could hold an evening meeting so more could attend.

Please get involved. Call your county supervisor at 675-7700, if you wish to share your concerns.  

DJ Becker,
Madera

 

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