Out-of-District Responses Challenge Local Fire Departments

The Humboldt County Fire Chiefs’ Association’s annual report to the Board of Supervisors highlights the challenges of out-of-district responses and the benefits of the first year of Measure Z tax funding.

At their Aug. 23 meeting, county supervisors were given a summary of firefighting and emergency services for 2015. Detailed in a department-by-department annual report, the responses, training and maintenance work of the county’s 650-plus volunteers absorbed a total of 102,862 service hours.

The report describes last year’s $2.3 million in Measure Z sales tax funding as “vital to our county fire service.” The revenue was used to pay for self-contained breathing apparatuses, dispatch fees and a countywide planning effort to “address the mismatch between fire related district boundaries and where services are actually being provided.”

Board Chairman Mark Lovelace said expanding fire district boundaries is fair and necessary.

“There are areas outside of those places where people are getting the benefit of fire response without paying for those districts,” he continued, describing assessment expansions as “an equity issue.”

The Garberville Fire Protection District responded to 282 incidents in 2015, representing a total of 1,080 volunteer response hours.

The district identifies “working toward closure of a multiple-year-long process to redefine boundaries for the district” among its “challenges and needs.”

Expanding district boundaries would “increase the number of potential volunteers, improve service and response times and is expected to provide additional funding for resource and training improvement,” according to the report.

The Redway Volunteer Fire Department responded to 165 incidents, with 724 hours of volunteer work. “Providing adequate training facilities” is cited as an ongoing financial challenge.

Shelter Cove’s volunteer department responded to 119 incidents with 899 volunteer response hours and Petrolia’s department responded to 37 incidents and logged 1,000 volunteer hours.

Developing the district’s financial ability to replace two engines and “convincing absentee property owners to reduce the fuel loads on undeveloped lots and clean up and prevent illegal grows that become toxic dumps when abandoned” are named as goals.

SoHum’s numerous smaller departments were also active. The area’s firefighting activity included 54 responses for Alderpoint, 81 for Briceland, 98 for Miranda, 75 for Myers Flat, 50 for Phillipsville and 62 for Weott.

Supervisor Estelle Fennell sponsored the report presentation and she highlighted a new aspect of this year’s report — giving each of the county’s departments the opportunity to detail their challenges and needs.

She said doing so is important “so people understand just what the challenges are” and added that Southern Humboldt fire departments are working hard to address them.

“There are some companies along the Avenue of the Giants, for instance, that are having a really difficult time actually finding volunteers or making things work and funding it,” Fennell said. “To see how dedicated people are is just phenomenal.”

During the presentation, Association President Jeff Robison told supervisors that county departments are now fighting wildfires and numerous engines are also assisting with out-of-the-area wildfires.

Association vice-president Bill Gillespie said wildland fuel moisture is now at mid to late October levels, which he described as being “unheard of.”

The report is dedicated to former firefighters who died in 2014 and 2015, including longtime Redway Volunteer Fire Department members Harrell Snodgrass and John Van Meter.

Also honored is Howard Phun, a founding member of the Telegraph Ridge Fire Department and former assistant chief of the Telegraph Ridge Fire Protection District.

The report notes that Phun “continues to serve the community” even after his death, as the Telegraph Ridge Fire Department’s headquarters is located on his property under a long term lease.