Citizens fight for Cal Fire
A group of Ahwahnee citizens are circulating petitions to present to the Madera County Board of Supervisors in an attempt to save two Cal Fire stations that are scheduled to close Jan. 11.
Members of the Ahwahnee Community Council have organized the signature drive. Members of the council had petitions in front of Vons last Thursday and will continue to gather signatures in Oakhurst and Raymond through December.
The group hopes to get 1,000 signatures asking the supervisors to rescind their decision of Sept. 15 to close the Ahwahnee and Raymond Cal Fire stations during the winter months. The savings from the budget to close the two stations this winter was $270,000.
In September, Madera County Fire Chief Dale Hutchinson presented three options to the supervisors. On a 3-2 vote, option 1 was selected, which will close the two 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. Whatever we do, it's a dramatic impact to our service level."
The planned closing of the two stations will leave both communities with understaffed volunteer fire departments through spring, when the Cal Fire stations would open again with state funding.
With the Cal Fires stations closed, backup for the Ahwahnee Volunteer Station will come from the county No. 12 Oakhurst station and the Raymond volunteers will be assisted by Indian Lakes and Yosemite Lakes Park volunteer departments.
The petitions state that funds for these stations be reinstated in order to restore essential fire protection and emergency services and that budget reductions must come from outside fire protection or public safety will be severely compromised.
Ahwahnee and Raymond residents have voiced concerns over public safety since the decision to close the two Cal Fire stations.
County government watchdog Dale Drozen, also a retired firefighter, told the supervisors back in September the vote to close the two stations would put people's lives in danger.
"Hopefully we won't lose lives over it (the vote), but you will be putting them in danger."
Dan Francoeur, chairman of the council, says the group feels cuts were made to fire service when there are other areas in county government that could be cut that would not put the public at risk.
"There are areas in county administration that this money could come from," said Francoeur.
Francoeur said fire is not the group's biggest concern. It is the slower response to medical emergencies that will result with the stations closed.
"We have people going to the board of supervisors every week to remind them of the importance of keeping these stations open," said Francoeur.
Helping Francoeur gather signatures at Vons last week was Dale Miller and Larry Linch. The three men are residents of Ahwahnee. Miller is retired after 40 years in fire service and Linch is retired after 33 years of service with the Los Angeles Fire Department.
The idea of the supervisors to rescind an earlier vote, although allowed by law, fueled much discussion when the Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau went through the process in October. The bureau received a 2-2 vote on its plan to increase the hotel tax to raise funds for bureau marketing. The bureau went back to the board to have the issue voted on by the full board, which they did after a lengthy discussion.
In addition to Francoeur, the Ahwahnee Community Committee is made up of Tony Ward, Fern Facchino, Larry Ballew, Wayne McAdams, Jerry Bosworth, Dr. Mike Horasanian and Ken Croker.