Thursday, April 18, 2019

Foothill Communities May Lose Fire Station and Paramedics

By Wes Moody, Meadow Vista

The foothills communities of Meadow Vista, Weimar, Applegate, Heather Glen, Clipper Gap, Eden Valley and Sleepy Hollow are in grave danger of losing one of their two staffed fire stations and associated paramedic services. Support for a mail-in ballot in the May 7 special election, MEASURE A, is essential to maintaining the emergency support services that our communities need.

These communities now receive fire protection and advanced life support services from the Placer Hills Fire Protection District, which is the first responder agency for fire protection and emergency medical and rescue response for 12,500 residents in a 35-square mile area. They respond to 1200 emergency calls each year, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, from two stations: one in Meadow Vista and one in Weimar. Response time is 5 to 7 minutes.

The fire district has operated at a deficit for the past 5 to 6 years, using reserves intended for capital assets and equipment to make up the shortfall from what the district receives from our property taxes and two voter-approved special taxes. These reserves will be depleted in 1 to 2 years. The fire district's share of our property taxes was set at 1970's levels following Proposition 13, before our stations were built and when we had a volunteer fire department. The two voter-approved special taxes amount to $134 per parcel per year. The State provides NO funding for our fire district. The fire prevention fee imposed by the State Legislature -- the State Responsibility Fee of $152.33 or $117.33, depending on where you live --  went entirely to the State. It has now been suspended. The County has said fire districts must turn to their communities for support through special taxes, do not look to the County for assistance. Our fire district has taken many steps to reduce costs or share costs with other districts. This, alone, is not enough.

Although the five-member Board of Directors for the fire district will decide if one of our two stations will close, the retired Fire Chief, the current Fire Chief and a number of citizens who have studied the issue, including the author, have concluded that without additional funding, one of our two staffed fire stations will close and we will lose our paramedics.

Closure of either of our two stations will adversely affect response times. Even if the station closest to your residence stays open, firefighters or paramedics may be on a call in the area nearest the closed station when you call for help. Our fire district estimates that response times will increase to 12 minutes or more. When response times increase, the ability to save lives is diminished. For each minute a heart attack victim goes without life support, the chance of survival drops by 10%. A response of 12 minutes compared to the current 5 to 7 minutes means the chance of survival goes down by 50 to 70%.

In this era of catastrophic wildfires, insurance companies are increasingly reluctant to continue to insure homes and businesses in wildland urban interface areas like ours. If one of our fire stations is closed, the rating system used by insurance companies will reflect this reduction in fire protection, resulting in premium increases at the least and policy cancellations at the worst.

Cal Fire does not represent a solution. Cal Fire's primary responsibility is forested and vegetative areas controlled by the State, not structure fires in nearby communities.. A majority of firefighters battling catastrophic fires in California are from local agencies like the Placer Hills Fire Protection District. Cal Fire does not serve the residents of the Placer Hills communities with advanced life support paramedic services, only EMTs.

A ballot measure, MEASURE A, will be on a mail-in only ballot that residents of Meadow Vista, Weimar, Applegate, Heather Glen, Clipper Gap, Eden Valley and Sleepy Hollow will receive in the first week of April. Ballots must be returned by May 7, 2019. If approved, MEASURE A imposes an annual tax of $185 per parcel “to maintain current fire station staffing, to ensure firefighters are available to respond to all emergencies, to keep property insurance rates manageable, and to adequately train and equip firefighters.” These are the words of Placer County Counsel's Impartial Analysis included with the ballot measure.

Funds raised by this special tax CANNOT be diverted to the State or County. Strict accountability provisions ensure all funds will be used locally, only for fire protection and paramedic services.

I expect that an increase in my property tax of $185 per year (or viewed another way, $68 more than I was paying for the State-imposed fire prevention fee which has now been suspended) is but a fraction of what my homeowner's insurance cost will go up when my insurance company accounts for the loss of our local fire station. I also believe it is a vital investment in having a prompt response to a 911 call.

I urge you to get informed, talk to your friends and neighbors about this issue, make sure you are registered to vote (deadline is April 22, 2019) and please join me in voting YES ON MEASURE A.

(Wes Moody is a Registered Professional Engineer and retired President and CEO of a subsidiary of Edison International. He has served as a Board Member and President of several non profit organizations, including one that has raised several million dollars for public schools in Southern California. He and his wife are residents of Meadow Vista)

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