Madera County Fire Department will close the Ahwahnee and Raymond Cal Fire stations.
Editor: How come a salary cut is never an option? It is always service cuts?
The Madera County Board of Supervisors voted last week to close the Ahwahnee and Raymond Cal Fire Stations at the end of the current fire season, probably in December.
When Madera County was forced to make a number of budget cuts last month, the Madera County Fire Department was not able to escape that process and the department was asked to research options for cutting costs by about $273,000.
Madera County Fire(link) Chief Dale Hutchinson presented three options to the supervisors last week and on a 3-2 vote, Option One was selected, which will close the Ahwahnee and Raymond Cal Fire stations.
Hutchinson told the board before the vote, "Based on our level of service and what we need to provide on a daily basis, we need every staffed Cal Fire station and every volunteer station," Hutchinson said. "Whatever we do, it's a dramatic impact to our service level. I know that this is an extremely difficult decision for the board."
"We don't want to do this but we have our backs to the wall. We could cut salaries but it wouldn't be enough," said Supervisor Ronn Dominici.
The Raymond and Ahwahnee Cal Fire stations will be closed seasonally with all calls handled by the few paid volunteer departments in those areas. Paid call firefighters typically have other full-time jobs or are retired, and may be out of the area at the time of an emergency.
Backup for the Raymond area will come from Indian Lakes and Yosemite Lakes Park volunteer departments and the Oakhurst Fire Department will respond as backup to the Ahwahnee volunteers.
County residents at the meeting said closing stations could endanger lives due to the lengthier, volunteer only response time to 911 calls for fires or medical aid.
Former firefighter and author of the D.O.G. Report -- Demand Open Government -- Dale Drozen responded to the board saying, "First, which of the three options really doesn't matter. You are going to put people's lives in danger. Hopefully we won't lose lives over it, but you will be putting them in danger. The potential is there. Raymond and Ahwahnee have very few volunteers. There's only so much they can do."
"Twenty minutes or more response for a heart attack is too late," Ahwahnee resident Tony Ward said.
Dan Francoeur, current chairman of the Ahwahnee Community Council, addressed the supervisors with his concerns and suggested cuts be made for library services or administrative assistants or personal service contracts to ex-employees rather than "remove boots on the ground to protect people in the area."
"We are concerned it will increase response time to emergencies in the area and it could be life threatening to citizens," Francoeur said. "The county's job, in our minds, is to first protect public safety. In this case, we think they could have gone elsewhere than public safety. I am very disappointed in this decision but only time will tell whether it was a good or bad decision."
"This county has neglected the fire department and it's been cut to the bone," Drozen said. "There is no cut that won't affect people's lives. Can you say that about the arts council that you funded? The Arts Council doesn't affect people's lives."
Drozen said he thought supervisors has promised to protect essential services of fire and police in their campaigns while running for office.
Supervisors Tom Wheeler and Frank Bigelow did not vote for Option One.
"I think it's time that we try to do a public facility sales tax that goes to sheriff and fire protection so they can go on even in a down economy and I'd like to get it on the ballot in November," Wheeler said.
Wheeler said he suggested a 5% cut in wages. "Things like that could be done. We've cut back 100 employees already and we've got more to do. I don't like it but it's something we've got to do."
Valley Supervisor Vern Moss said the cuts were regrettable but the amount of the cuts to the fire department had been agreed upon by the board.
"I know the county is in tremendous financial need to reduce its budget," Hutchinson said. "I would like to keep all engines year round. I understand the current budget situation...we're concerned...we will monitor the situation and hope this is the only one (cut) we have to make."
The three options presented by Hutchinson were:
Option One: Eliminate one training captain, one fire captain and two fire apparatus engineers at the Cal Fire Amador stations at Ahwahnee and Raymond during the non-fire season.
Option Two: Eliminate one battalion chief and close one of the following fire stations: Bonadelle Station 19, Madera Acres Station 3, Madera Station 1 or Oakhurst Station 12.
Option Three: Eliminate one training captain or a battalion chief and close one of the fire stations on a rotating basis.
Related info: The Madera County Fire Department is a full service fire department providing emergency services to all unincorporated areas of Madera County through a network of fire stations, personnel and equipment. This network is comprised of 17 fire stations, a fleet of 56 apparatus and support vehicles, and a personnel staff that includes 32 career fire suppression personnel, 175 paid call firefighters and 7 support personnel. The department is administered, and career suppression personnel are provided, through a contract with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE). Clerical and automotive support personnel are County employees. The department assists with fire protection to the City of Madera through a mutual aid agreement and also has a cooperative agreement with Central California Women's Facility for fire protection services in the North end of Madera County.
Madera County Fire Stations #1 (Madera Valley), #3 (Madera Acres), #9 (Rolling Hills), #12 (Oakhurst) and #19 (Bonadelle Ranchos) are staffed 24 hours a day by a full time career Fire Captain or Fire Apparatus Engineer and are augmented by paid call firefighters. Madera County Fire Station #8 (Indian Lakes) is staffed 24 hours a day by a full time career Fire Captain or Fire Apparatus Engineer and two Firefighters. Central California Women’s Facility Fire Station (#5) is staffed with a full time career CDCR Fire Captain and two to four inmates. Stations #2 (Chowchilla), #4 (Dairyland), #10 (Yosemite Lakes), #11 (North Fork), #13 (Coarsegold), #14 (Bass Lake), #15 (Raymond), #16 (Ahwahnee), #17 (O'Neals) and #18 (Cedar Valley) are staffed exclusively by paid call firefighters.