During a regularly scheduled Little Lake Fire Protection District board meeting Sept. 11, Chief Chris Wilkes reported to the five-member board concerns about the new firehouse, the Political Action Committee (PAC) signage progress, changes in the Assistance By Hire Agreement, current grant funding statuses, and budget updates. Board members Nancy Stipe, Arnie Mello, Skip Lucier and Tom Herman were present, but board member Tony Madrigal was absent.
With Measure J coming up on the November general election ballot, Wilkes told the board he has come up against criticism about the proposed firehouse. The current firehouse has been deemed uninsurable according to an audit conducted through the department’s insurance underwriter who determined the structure had very little replacement value due to its age and poor physical shape. So, for the second time, LLFPD is seeking to establish a special tax of $39 per unit to raise $409,500 annually and sunset as soon as the new fire station is complete.
“One of the things we ran up against is the use of the word ‘Taj Majal’… That is something we have not been able to overcome since 2013… One of the reasons why (the new firehouse has) been called a Taj Mahal is because we’ve provided for a fitness room in the building even though we have not budgeted for any fitness equipment for the room. We simply have labeled it that because it is a requirement of NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) … We haven’t allocated any money towards putting fitness equipment in the room, we just have to show that it’s a fitness room, but yet we are being held captive and hostage for building a ‘Taj Mahal,'” said Wilkes. ” As another example, there are two laundry rooms in the building. Well, we are required that, too, because of contaminant issues to keep our turn-outs separate from regular laundry… I would call it a base-model firehouse with the minimum needs that we need to make it serve this community for the next 50 or 60 years.”
LLFPD board member Skip Lucier said he thinks the proposed firehouse is a “very spartan project.” He said, “My background is in construction and I’ve bid electrical for fire houses in the past and the design of this fire house is… I won’t call it bare bones, but (it’s) no Taj Mahal. It’s a metal building, a metal structure, not a block building with a bunch of fancy fascia and things that aren’t needed. It’s a fire house and that’s it.”
After further discussion about how to help the public understand that the firehouse requirements are state regulated, board member Arnie Mello pointed out his primary concern is that the public may not understand the urgency of the situation. He said, “(The firehouse) isn’t something we would like to have. This is something we need and if it doesn’t pass and we can’t build a new firehouse, we can’t stay where we’re at. So, our backs are kind of up against the wall and we just want to make sure the public understands that.”
Political Action Campaign
According to Wilkes, the PAC for Measure J is well underway. He said public signage, including smaller yard signs and large 4-foot by 8-foot billboards, is ready to be installed, and door hangers and handouts have been printed and will be distributed soon. Wilkes explained that the campaigning efforts have been ramped up this year because in past years, the LLFPD firehouse funding measure has not passed. He said, “One place we fell short before is that we didn’t do a very good job of campaigning before the absentee voters got their ballots. About 72 percent in our district are absentee (voters)…” Wilkes also told the board that he was very proud of his staff and praised the team for being the only fire department with all of their PAC paperwork in order at a recent committee meeting.
Assistance By Hire Agreement
Addressing the rising fuel costs reported in the budget, Wilkes told the board the increase was due to two factors: the increase in the price of fuel throughout the state and the need to cover fuel costs when deployed on ABH agreements. He said, “It used to be when we were hired by (another agency) we became their resource – they would do what they wanted with us at the time – which included we always got fuel… That’s no longer the case. So, in the module for the assistance by hire agreement, we now have to pay for our own fuel…”
Wilkes said this new agreement took them by surprise at first because it is not how the ABH usually operates. In the case of LLFPD, fire engines are loaned to neighboring cities who don’t have their own. So, according to Wilkes, “Our engine ends up doing station coverage and doing assignments that it doesn’t normally do. It get’s used all over the county, transferred from Legget to Covelo back to Legget, to Laytonville, to Howard Forest, back up to Laytonville… Well, that whole time, it’s our fuel. Granted we are getting paid for that (ABH) module but it’s not something our county fire chiefs are used to…”
Apparently, in 2017, LLFPD still worked under the 2016 ABH agreement because Cal Fire never completed a new one for 2017, said Wilkes. In 2018 Cal Fire issued a new ABH but Wilkes said it’s not an agreement at all, its a policy, and local agencies have no say in the matter. He said there will be a discussion about the new policy at the next district fire chief meeting at the end of the month and he will report the outcome to the board at the next board meeting.
“They just said this is what you are going to get paid…” said Wilkes. “When our fuel costs go up and our engine is out, I need to be able justify that to (the board).”
Wilkes reported to the board that LLFPD got the go-ahead to make purchases for the ‘Run Book’ mapping grant through the California Fire Foundation. Every fire department has a ‘Run Book,’ or book of maps, that serves as a guide for firefighters called out to rural areas and many departments relied heavily on their map books during the Redwood Complex fires last year. Wilkes explained that LLFPD has map books that have “been put together kind of by hand in the past” and they have served the department well, but updates were needed so the department applied for a grant to purchase hand held devices and units on which to view digital maps.
“(The map books) served their purpose for a long time but mapping just kind of gets away from you and we are in 2018 and technology with Google Earth and all the different GIS (geographic information system) programs… It’s gotten way good,” said Wilkes. “And, one of our identified problems in the Redwood Complex was mapping, especially up in the Pine Mountain area… So, we are looking forward to having a new, up-to-date update-able mapping… It’s going to help us out tremendously.”
LLFPD also applied for a FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) grant in the amount of $55,000 that would allow them to purchase state-of-the-art rescue and vehicle extrication tools that use electric over hydraulic power, which means the hand-held tools are battery-powered and self-contained. Although the grant has not yet been awarded, Wilkes said he is excited because LLFPD has a good chance of receiving the funds.
“I think we have a really good shot because it’s late in the game and we are still in the running. We have a need for it and I think we showed it well in our grant package…” said Wilkes. “One of our big issues is that we go over the bank a lot of the time. Our firefighter’s could end up 1,200 feet over the bank in a vehicle extrication tonight, and that’s hard to do with an 85-pound rescue tool, plus the hose, plus a power unit. This is all incorporated into one unit… We are looking forward to that upgrade.”
Lastly in the board agenda, Wilkes presented a resolution to amend reserve funds listed in the previous budget report. He explained that LLFPD has received a total accumulated amount of $113,890.39 in donations from the Rotary Club of Willits, and that Rotary Club of Willits wishes to allocate the amount of $4,500.00 to the Yes on Measure J committee which falls under the category of building improvements. Therefor, Wilkes proposed the budget be amended mid-year leaving the balance of Fund Balance Reserve Capitol Improvements as $1,145,793.34 and the new balance for Building Improvements as $143,000.00. The board unanimously passed and adopted the resolution.
The LLFPD meets on the second Tuesday of each month at 5 p.m. at Willits City Hall. For more information, visit littlelakefire.org.
Source : https://www.willitsnews.com/2018/09/12/little-lake-fire-board-discusses-new-firehouse-budget/