Fire fee could threaten mutual aid
El Dorado Hills Fire Chief Dave Roberts worries that the state Fire Prevention Fee will threaten the effectiveness of California’s vaunted Mutual Aid System, which plays out locally as a cross-boundary chess game of move ups, coverage and “auto-aid” (closest resource) responses overseen by Cal Fire’s Camino Command Center.
The fee effectively played the one trump card cash-strapped rural fire districts had left: a local fire assessment, fee or tax to offset reductions in county funding which, until recently, kept them in the black.
Homeowners in the Pioneer Fire Protection District did just that in 2011, overwhelmingly approving a ballot measure that created an $85 per year parcel tax to keep their fire district afloat.
Roberts argues that tax-weary residents are much less likely to approve any similar fees or assessments on top of the state-imposed fire fee.
The resulting staff reductions and station closures will increase fire threat in rural fire districts and also limit their ability to participate in mutual aid. Better-funded agencies such as El Dorado Hills Fire would see mutual-aid demands increase, along with response times in their home districts.
Fire boards would have to question their role in the mutual aid system and at some point consider placing limits on their participation, according to Roberts.
In an August 2012 press release Roberts outlines his concerns with the fire fee, including its potential to undermine the state Master Mutual Aid System.
Despite the fact that his department gives far more than it receives, Roberts cites the system as a “model of collaboration,” and the key to avoiding large-scale fire events in a county with vast fire-prone areas protected by rural fire agencies.
When rural districts reduce staffing and shutter stations the “model of collaboration” breaks down, he said.